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It is a common held belief that slavery was a direct result of racism and that it appeared suddenly. As a matter of fact, racism developed gradually and was the consequence of certain business and economic decisions.
In Colonial America, there were three contending systems of production in Labor. There was the plantation system, which consisted in having large farms, and hired or enslaved laborers. Another system was the family based farming in New England and the Middle Colonies, which produces primarily for the family and local community.
The third system of production was the artisan crafts. There were 100 or more crafts (carpentry, printing).
The three main forms of European (White) Labor were, voluntary, semi-voluntary and involuntary. The voluntary laborers were indentured or went of their own freewill. The indentures would agree to work without pay for a certain amount of time. The semi-voluntary laborers were mostly young apprentices, while the involuntary laborers were transportees.
Two different experiences in Colonial America took place; one in the city of Jamestown in Chesapeake, and the other in New England.
-Jamestown was founded as a profit-making corporation with God, Glory, Gold as a slogan. Jamestown turned out to be a total disaster. Only 60 people had survived in 1609, out of the 800 who arrived in 1607. They had come with no real intention of working, and only a few were skilled workers. Their relations with the Indians were disastrous meaning a lot of people were killed. Most deaths were caused by starvation.
Tobacco was becoming more popular and this helped Jamestown to make a lot of money but also created economic problems such as labor shortage. Chesapeake could either exploit indentures or encourage immigrants. Those who survived made claims on their land bringing about inequalities between rich and poor planters and creating rebellions such as Bacons Rebellion in 1676: Nathaniel Bacon, a poor farmer, decided to unite poor White and Black farmers against the rich planters. The rich planters and militant Indians turned against Bacon. Bacon then tried to get help from the Governor who refused. This encouraged Bacon and his followers to find a scapegoat against whom they could vent their frustrations and place the blame for their misfortunes. This scapegoat was the local Indians. The Governor wanted to arrest Bacon for forming his own army and because he saw him as a threat. Bacon and the other angry farmers were able to escape from the Governor but were pursued by his troops. Bacon began attacking estates, sacking and eventually burnt Jamestown to the ground. The followers were all executed.
This became a convincer for either slavery or higher pay. Since rich planters wanted to make as much money as possible, slavery started. The White workers were given a higher rank, creating racism to prevent Whites and Slaves bonding.
-On the other hand, in New England things were different. The colonies were founded by Puritans who had come, not for money, but to build a society. In 1630, J. Winthrop began his mission of founding a new city by bringing 700 people from England. 600 of them survived the first winter. What differed from the Jamestown experience was that, in this case, they had not come with the intention of taking wealth back to England but to find a Christian utopia. In New England, the settlement was tightly controlled. The land was equally distributed, avoiding all rebellions such as the Bacon Rebellion. Socially, they were tightly controlled, as they had to go to church, they were watched all the time and were conformist and repressed. Their relations with the Indians were relatively good. Another advantage over Jamestown was that in New England, they had educational facilities, the inhabitants gathered together for town meetings and they also had a strict price control.
New England was therefore more of a success than Chesapeake in many different respects. Demographically also, New England succeeded in going from 25,000 people in 1650 to 100,000 people in 1700, whereas in the same length of time Chesapeake went from 75,000 to 70,000 people.
In the 1670s, important decisions were made concerning labor in favor of White labor. The government put limits on speculation, created and fostered sharp distinctions between races in order to foster White racial unity, attacked Indians and drove them into Kentucky and Tennessee and also passed laws curbing the mistreatment of indenture. White owners turned White workers against Black owners in order to be able to have a distinction between races and having the White workers with them would avoid them having any more rebellions.
They found their answer to their labor shortage problems by having an African servitude. Tobacco brought in enough money to the White owners to be able to purchase enslaved labor in Africa. At first there were no laws applied to slaves and no angry free class. The English were in charge of the slave trade.
Gradually through time, slavery became more important: in the 1650s there were only 500 Africans in the Chesapeake area. There was never a real starting point to slavery but after Bacons Rebellion, slavery increased dramatically. In the 1700s, there were 20,000 African slaves and over 100,000 more arrived during the period of 1700 to 1750s.
Slavery had a slow evolution as shown by the laws progressively being applied to slaves: In 1660, slavery was enshrined in law. A Virginian law established in 1662 declared that slavery was hereditary, that intermarriage was prohibited and that Christian conversion was no longer a synonym of freedom. By 1680, a harsh punishment was applied to Blacks who struck Whites and in 1699, a law declared the Masters not liable for murders during a slaves punishment. Finally, in 1705, the Full Slave Code was created.
There was no official beginning point for slavery, but it is certain that it progressed rapidly after Bacons Rebellion and that slavery was not the result of racism but of a business decision.
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