2 July, 2013
Slavery is one of America’s, both historically and presently, most studied and talked about cultural topics of its entire history. This is, of course, because slavery is one of the key entities that formed America into what it is today. It led to a road of oppression of Africans in America for centuries, a monumental civil rights movement, and finally equality with all other Americans, of every shape and size. But where did this monumental event start? How did it begin? Was race the real reason behind this? The answer to these questions lies in seventeenth century Chesapeake. In Virginia, the introduction was different than most others of its kind in early America. It was slow, gradual, and almost an innate event. Before the 1660’s, the Chesapeake’s, consisting of Maryland and Virginia, mainstay of labor was not of race-based slavery, but of indentured servitude, from England. “Of the 120,000 emigrants to the Chesapeake in the 17th century, 90,000 were indentured servants” (Lecture 4). A massive seventy-five percent of those who immigrated to Virginia then became indentured laborers. This was a monumental number of people compared to the comparatively miniscule number of African slaves, who numbered just about 1,700. Many of these indentured servants, if the survived to fulfill their contracts, hoped to become great, wealthy plantation owners themselves. However, many of them ended up living on the edge of poverty. The indentured servants regarded their servitude much alike to a form of slavery, without any of the comforts and rights allotted to a normal human being (Divine 61). However, dramatic change was coming to the Chesapeake, in the form of race-based slavery.
Somewhere in the 1680’s or 1690’s, historians find it very difficult to pin down exactly, there was a spectacular shift in demographic in the Chesapeake at large. Those who had survived a brutal childhood of being the first children born in America were now adults, and taking the leadership positions in young America. One political historian phrased it, “emergence of the Creole majority” (Divine 61). It was discovered by these “creoles” the key to success as a farmer and plantation owner in America was owning the most slaves. The mantra became that whoever owned the most, black slaves could grow the most tobacco, whoever grew the most tobacco, could gain the most money, with which they could buy more slaves. (Divine 61). However, these slaves were not “slaves” in the sense that one might think today. These slaves were generally released after 4-5 years, and many became socially acclimated into Chesapeake society. The idea of race-based segregation and enslaving was a later concept, not coming of age until after 1700 (Lecture 4). The modern idea of “slavery” was not a sure thing at the start, but an idea that grew and festered over time.
The first black slaves were brought into and sold in America by a