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Slave Labor in Colonial America

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Slave Labor in Colonial America


        This paper is the focus on early colonial life, and the slave trade that flourished between the years of 1526 to 1867.  Topics to be covered will consist of the shortage of labor, and the growing demand of sugar in Europe.  The development between African and European traders in acquiring slaves, including the transportation to America and the lives lost in the process.  The cost of slavery never equated the price in human loss.

Colonial America

        Many techniques of slavery were developed throughout the colonies, their existence came in many shades and reasons.  Initially the forced labor in the Americas originated from Indentured servants, brought from Europe that held obligations of servitude.  But unlike slaves from Africa and Native tribes they would at some point become free of their obligations and do what they chose.  Virginia would become the first British colony to legally establish slavery in 1661 (U.S. History, 2017).  Slave labor did not come to represent a significant proportion of the labor force in any part of North America until the last quarter of the 17th century (Zagarri, 2017).  It would be the rise of complex large-scale plantation enterprises that would drive slavery into high gear.  At the time tobacco and cotton were huge exports to foreign markets, and the owners of these plantations required small amounts of labor to harvest.  After the abolition of the slave trade in 1808, the principal source of the expansion of slavery into the lower South was the domestic slave trade from the upper South. By 1850, 1.8 million of the 2.5 million enslaved Africans employed in agriculture in the United States were working on cotton plantations. It wouldn’t be until Sugar plantations start swallowing up smaller farms that we would see a massive rise in slave imports.  

  • Tobacco Plantations were established in the 1600s
  • Rice Plantations established in the 1700s
  • Indigo Plantations established in the 1700s
  • Cotton Plantations established in the 1800s
  • Sugar Plantations established in the 1800s (Plantations, 2017)

Chronological dating on population growth really exploded in the 1700s as slaves in colonial America only numbered 10,000 in the 1600s, but would reach an astronomical level of 400,000 in the 1700s.  

Acquisition of Slaves

        By the 1800s the slave trade involved all major European powers, but it was Brittan who became the world’s largest slave trading power (USI, 2017).  Known as the “Triangular Trade”, because of the movement from Europe to Africa, Africa to Americas, and back to Europe.  “During this era, Africans and Europeans stood together as equals, companions in commerce and profit (Stern, 2017).  Much of the slaves purchased by Europeans were obtained by five key factors, warfare, market supply, raiding and kidnapping, tribute and pawning (Gambia Information Site, 2017).  It’s said that over 12.5 million slaves were shipped from Africa and 10.7 million arrived in the Americas, considered the highest cost in human life of all long distant global migrations. The decade 1821 to 1830 still saw over 80,000 people a year leaving Africa in slave ships. Well over a million more – one tenth of the volume carried off in the slave trade era – followed within the next twenty years (GLIAH, 2017).  Only 6 percent of this number would reach the British North American colonies.  



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