History of Slavery in America Facts & Worksheets

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    • Origins of slavery in America
    • Growth of enslaved population in the United States
    • Division between the North and the South
    • Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation
    • Abolition of slave trade and slavery
    • Introduction of the Black Codes

    Key Facts And Information

    Let’s know more about slavery in America!

    • In the early 16th century, the importation of enslaved people began to arrive at the Caribbean islands. Initially settled by European labourers, enslaved Africans came in to meet the demand for cheap labour in the growing plantations.
    • In 1619, enslaved Africans were brought to the Jamestown colony in Virginia as part of the final Circum-Caribbean slave society. Through the Transatlantic Slave Trade, hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans worked on plantations and significantly populated the Southern region of the British colony.

    Origins of slavery in America

    • In the 15th century, Portuguese expeditions became the first European ships to have regular contact with sub-Saharan Africa. The region of Sahara was known to be the main source of enslaved people transported to the Mediterranean. Through sea routes, the Portuguese expanded the slave trade and discovered new channels.
    • In 1460, Portuguese settlers moved to the Cape Verde Islands, which granted them monopoly over the slave trade. Some enslaved Africans worked on plantations of indigo and cotton in Cape Verde, while others were sold in Madeira and Seville.
    • Due to the growing market for enslaved people, the coast of the African region became known as the Slave Coast or Portuguese Guinea.
    • With the growing market for enslaved people and the prosperity of plantations in the Cape Verde Islands, enslaved Africans were then transported to the Portuguese colony of Brazil.
    • By the 18th century, other European naval powers, such as Britain, showed interest in this profitable commerce.

    Triangular Slave Trade

    • John Hawkins was the first Briton to engage in the slave trade in 1562, making a considerable profit transporting enslaved people from Africa to the Caribbean Islands. By the time the transatlantic trade was coming to an end in 1808, only 6 per cent of enslaved Africans landing in the New World were going to North America.
    • In the mid-16th and 17th centuries, a number of British merchants began to establish charters and settlements on the west coast of Africa for gold, ivory, dyewood, and indigo.
    • Due to the lucrative profits to be found on the continent of Africa, competition between the European powers of Holland, Denmark, and Portugal grew. Rivalry grew further with the introduction of slavery.
    • An estimated 10 to 12 million enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries.
    • In 1502, Spanish conquistadors took enslaved Africans to the Caribbean. In the 17th century, English and French merchants dominated the transatlantic slave trade with human cargo from West Africa.
    • The trade crossed the Atlantic Ocean, which completed the three stages of the triangular trade. Between 1640 and 1807, the British slave trade dominated the industry.
    • To aid the labour-intensive cultivation of tobacco in the Jamestown colony, about 20 enslaved Africans were purchased from Dutch privateers.
    • As demand for labour intensified, the British crown expanded the slave trade in its colonies in the Americas. Through the Navigation Act of 1660, only English-owned ships were allowed to enter its colonies.
    • To further expand the slave trade monopoly, Charles II had sole rights to the Company of Adventurers Trading to Africa. Overseen by James, the Duke of York, Britain monopolised the trade of gold, silver, and enslaved people from West Africa.
    • When European indentured servants began to leave the plantations, the labour system changed. Initially, Native Americans were forced to work on farms. However, the spread of European diseases decimated their population.
    • In order to meet the demand for labour, plantation owners turned to enslaved Africans. In 1750, there were about 235,000 enslaved Africans, of which 85% lived in the South. With the expansion of the slave trade, plantation farming also grew, specifically in South Carolina and Georgia.

    Plantation System

    • Although the plantations were on American soil, and although its workers were unpaid enslaved Africans, Europe possessed full control of these lands and their revenue. In essence, the overseas territories and unpaid labour fuelled European economic growth for centuries.
    • When the British economy started flourishing and more jobs became available, cheap labour was still needed in the plantations in order to sustain the growing demand for products exported to Europe.
    • As a consequence, importing enslaved people from Africa became a ‘morally, legally, and socially acceptable’ trend both within Europe and the new colonies.
    • In the 16th century, the term ‘plantation’ designated overseas areas in which the English had settled. Examples of such zones included Massachusetts Bay and Virginia.
    • The settlers were able to thrive by exporting the natural resources that these lands had to offer: exotic goods started to be exported from the Americas to Europe.
    • In Virginia, tobacco plantations became dominant. By the 19th century, Southern colonies produced cotton, while many wealthy landowners planted a variety of crops including coffee, rice, sugarcane, and indigo.
    • It is believed that the first wave of Africans to Jamestown was not described as 'slaves', rather listed as ‘negroes’.
    • Enslaved people were primarily engaged in agriculture, which was the backbone of the Southern economy, working on indigo, tobacco, and rice plantations on the southern coast in Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia.
    • They made up a tenth of the total Southern population in 1680, and grew to a third by 1790.
    • Aside from being suited to the tropical climate, enslaved Africans had skills in crop cultivation. Moreover, unlike Native Americans, Africans had some immunity to tropical diseases like malaria and yellow

    Cotton Boom

    • By 1812, there was a considerable increase in cotton farming, called the Cotton Boom. In 1787, little to no farmers were investing in cash crops because, in the beginning, cotton production was labour-intensive.
    • The South grew a hybrid cotton called Gossypium barbadense, also known as the Petit Gulf, which grew well in a variety of soils and climates. It was the major cash crop in the Mississippi Valley, which included Iowa, Mississippi, Illinois, Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Missouri.
    • Before the cotton gin, enslaved people could only process one pound of cotton per day and, after its invention in 1793 by Eli Whitney, they were able to work through fifty pounds a day. After processing, they packed the cotton into bales.
    • This simple mechanised device helped the struggling tobacco industry in the South to shift into large-scale production of cotton. As the shift happened, the Southern region of the United States reinforced its dependence on slave labour.

    Enslaved population in the United States

    • Enslaved people made up a tenth of the total Southern population in 1680, and grew to a third by 1790. About 293,000 enslaved people lived in Virginia alone, making up 42% of all enslaved population in the US. Maryland, and North and South Carolina each had over 100,000 enslaved people. After the American Revolution, the Southern enslaved population exploded to 1.1 million in 1810, and over 3.9 million by 1860.
    • However, poor food supply and horrible working conditions contributed to their high mortality rate in the Americas, especially in the Caribbean.
    • Due to relatively small populations in New England and the Middle Colonies (with only 3% to 6% enslaved population), slavery had minimal impact on colonial society compared to Chesapeake and South Carolina, which had significant enslaved populations.

    How were slaves treated?

    • Like with other colonial empires, enslaved people were at the bottom of the social hierarchy, with little to no legal rights. They were treated as property and sold in marketplaces. Aside from working hard, the lives of the enslaved were entirely dependent on their enslavers.
    • Among their treatments were the following problems:
      • Enslavers who sexually abused enslaved people were not punished.
      • Beating and killing enslaved people was not covered by the law.
      • Enslaved people in plantations were more overworked than those in urban areas.
      • Enslaved people were considered property and not people.
    • Even before the end of the transatlantic slave trade, the South did not need a constant supply of forced immigrants to work into slavery. This was in part due to the vast existing local population of enslaved people and the equal male to female ratio of enslaved people brought into the US in 1730-50 that resulted in an increased enslaved birth rate.

    Division between the North and the South: The road to the American Civil War

    • Throughout the 19th century, the US experienced tremendous growth that amplified the differences between the northern and the southern states. In the North was manufacturing and industry with few small-scale farmers, while the south had large-scale plantation farmers who mostly depended on slave labour for cash crops, such as cotton and tobacco.
    • Civil War historians assert that the existence of slavery as an institution in the United States created sectional tensions. This institution was the reason behind the impossibility of resolving constitutional, political, and economic issues within the US during those times.
    • Free states included California, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Maine, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Oregon, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kansas, New York, Nevada, Vermont, Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia.
    • Between 1820 and 1860, the following states permitted slavery: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
    • The issue of states’ rights was rooted in whether to abolish or permit slavery.
    • This struggle for political power widened the divisions between Northern and Southern states. Southern states believed that the federal government was too weak to address the issue of each state, particularly in the institution of slavery.
    • Decades before the Civil War, the expansion of territories to the West also meant an extension of slavery. This led to Congressional debates as Southern states wanted to admit new territories to the Union as slave states, while Northerners opposed it.
    • Following the Louisiana Purchase, the status of new states was contested by Northern and Southern politicians.
    • In 1820, Henry Clay temporarily eased the conflict over Missouri’s application to the Union. With Missouri entering the Union as a slave state, and Maine as a free state, the compromise provided a tentative balance.
    • In 1846, the result of the Mexican-American War led to the US acquisition of new territories. This event re-opened the national debate on land expansion and slavery.
    • Pennsylvania Representative David Wilmot attempted to solve the problem and halt the further expansion of slavery. He proposed a proviso, which prohibited slavery in new territories brought about by the Mexican-American War.
    • Southern politicians successfully blocked the Wilmot Proviso, despite it having the backing of Northern states.
    • In 1849, the issue resurfaced again in Congress when California petitioned for statehood. With their anti-slavery stance, Southern states did not want to accept California to the Union.
    • Through the Compromise of 1850, Congress admitted California as a Free state, and popular sovereignty was granted to Utah and New Mexico territories.

    In Depth: The Dred Scott Case

    • In 1857, the Dred Scott decision confirmed the legality of slavery in southern states and in westward expansion, but the abolitionist movement made it clear to southerners that the north was bent on dismantling the institution of slavery.
    • Also known as Dred Scott v. Sanford, the case of freedom of an enslaved African lasted a decade. Dred Scott was born into slavery in 1799 in Virginia. He moved with his enslaver, Peter Blow, to Alabama.
    • In 1830, Scott moved to St Louis, Missouri. Both Alabama and Missouri were slave states.
    • Two years later, Blow died and Scott was bought by Dr. John Emerson, who later moved him to Illinois and to Wisconsin territory - where slavery was outlawed under the Missouri Compromise.
    • While in Wisconsin, Scott married Harriet Robinson, also an enslaved, whose ownership was transferred to Emerson.
    • In 1837, Emerson met and married Eliza Sanford when he moved to Louisiana, a slave state. After several months, Scott followed Emerson. In October 1838, the Emersons and their enslaved people returned to Wisconsin.
    • In 1843, John Emerson died in Iowa. His enslaved people became his wife’s property. When Sanford returned to Missouri, she denied Scott from buying his freedom.
    • Dred and Harriet Scott filed lawsuits against Irene Sanford in April 1846. Under two Missouri statutes: (1) Any person of any colour is allowed to sue for wrongful enslavement, and (2): Any person taken to a free territory would gain freedom and could not be subjected to slavery if returned to a slave state.
    • The Scotts received support from abolitionists, churchmates and the Blow family, who once enslaved Dred.
    • After a retrial in 1850, Scott won his freedom. The lower court’s decision in 1852 was reversed by the Missouri Supreme Court. On 15 May 1854, Scott and his family were enslaved again after the reversal of the federal court.
    • On 11 February 1856, Scott’s trial reopened after his appeal to the US Supreme Court. The following year, he lost his fight for freedom. Chief Justice Roger Taney said that all people of African descent (free or enslaved) were not citizens of the United States, therefore, had no right to sue. Moreover, he justified that under the Fifth Amendment, enslaved people were legal properties of their enslavers.
    • In 1854, another statehood controversy emerged with the petition of Kansas and Nebraska.
    • Congress attempted to resolve this conflict by passing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise. The act granted residents of both territories to vote through popular sovereignty.
    • After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, northern and southern settlers flooded Kansas to influence the decision. As a result, violence between pro- and anti-slavery erupted. This period of violence became known as Bleeding Kansas.
    • On 20 December 1860, South Carolina called a state convention, which formally announced their secession from the Union due to the election of Lincoln. Between January and February 1861, the cotton states of Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas followed.
    • Southern states feared Northern domination with the election of Lincoln, a Republican who opposed the westward expansion of slavery.
    • After the states from the deep south, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina followed. Early in February 1861, representatives met in Montgomery, Alabama, to draft their own constitution.

    Slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation

    • On 12 April, the first shots of the American Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Since South Carolina seceded, it demanded that Union troops leave the forts they hold in the state. When the Union refused and instead tried to resupply their troops by boat, the vessels were fired on by the state militia.
    • On 17 July 1862, Congress approved the enlisting of Black soldiers into the Union army, a change of policy. The Second Confiscation and Militia Act authorised the enlistment of any persons of African descent in the militia to suppress the rebellion.
    • Infantry units composed of African-Americans were formed in New Orleans, Louisiana, Kansas and South Carolina. In February 1863, Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew issued the first official call for African-American soldiers.
    • About one-quarter of the soldiers recruited to the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment came from slave states, others were from Canada and the Caribbean. It was the first African regiment formed in the North.
    • In the initial months following the recruitment of African-Americans, they were paid $10 a week, compared to $13 for white soldiers. In 1864, Congress passed a bill authorising equal pay for both.
    • When the war ended in 1865, about 180,000 African-American soldiers served in the army. Half were formerly enslaved people from the south, while the rest were either free African-Americans from Border and Northern states.
    • On New Year’s Day, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which liberated around three and a half million enslaved people in the Southern states. Lincoln explained that the proclamation was a wartime measure for states under rebellion. The proclamation did not cover Border states and Southern states controlled by the Union Army.
    • Despite having little effect on the institution of slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation got the attention of Britain and France, who had considered supporting the Southern cause. Since France and Britain had ended slavery, they could not support the South.
    • When the war ended, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became the basis of the 13th Amendment, which constitutionally abolished slavery in the United States.

    Abolition of slave trade and slavery

    • Prior to the abolition of the slave trade in 1808, slavery was not widespread in the North, as many businessmen gained enormous wealth through industry rather than agriculture. Despite outlawing slavery, the population of enslaved Africans tripled in number within 50 years.
    • An act was passed by Congress in 1807, which ended the slave trade in the United States and fined those who continued to participate in such a trade.
    • Slave ships were confiscated and traders were hit with heavy penalties.
    • In 1818, Congress passed an amendment to the Act of 1807, which reduced fines and jail time for offenders.
    • Under this amendment, enslavers who owned enslaved African borns needed to prove how they acquired them.
    • In 1819, Congress passed another act, which created the African Squadron that patrolled the waters of Africa to finally stop the slave trade. It also mandated the return of enslaved Africans to their continent of birth, rather than being sold to any part of the United States.
    • In 1820, the final statute regulating the slave trade was passed. It stipulated that any American citizen who participated in the slave trade would be judged a pirate, a crime punishable by death. Moreover, crews of the African Squadron were given incentives for doing their duty.

    Slave rebellion and the Abolitionist Movement

    • Nat Turner, an enslaved person in southern Virginia, led an uprising of about 70 enslaved Africans and killed about 60 white people. After two days of terror on several plantations, the militia infantry suppressed the rebellion.
    • After the insurrection, about 55 enslaved people were executed. Due to the low success rate of slave rebellions in the South, Turner’s Rebellion is considered the bloodiest.
    • Despite their already limited rights, lawmakers in Virginia further prohibited enslaved people from learning how to read and write.
    • Moreover, enslaved people were not allowed to assemble. Working hours in a week were extended to prohibit enslaved people from meeting with one another on Sundays.
    • Even during the American Revolutionary War, the abolitionist feeling was already emerging. By the 1820s, at the time of the Second Great Awakening, abolitionism became a movement along with religious revivals, women’s suffrage, and temperance.
    • In the early 1830s, William Lloyd Garrison openly published his sentiments on freeing enslaved African-Americans in his newspaper, The Liberator. In 1833, along with more than sixty delegates, Garrison founded the Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia.
    • By the 1840s, abolitionist ideas continued to spread, mixing with religion and calls for women’s suffrage. Abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, and Lucy Stone became household names.
    • In 1850, a revised Fugitive Slave Act was passed as a result of growing slave resistance and rebellion.

    The Thirteenth Amendment

    • In 1865, the American Civil War ended with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Days after the Confederate surrender, the Great Emancipator, President Lincoln, was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathiser.
    • Vice President Andrew Johnson immediately assumed leadership as President of the United States. The Reconstruction Era followed the war, and lasted until 1877. During this period, Congress passed several acts, which aimed to reintegrate the South with the Union.
    • One of the political impacts of the Civil War was the Constitutional Amendments or Reconstruction Amendments.
    • With a vote of 119-56, the US House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution on 31 January 1865. The following day, President Lincoln signed the resolution and proposed its ratification. However, Lincoln did not get to witness the final ratification in December of the same year.
    • The 13th Amendment states that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

    Reaction and resistance: The Black Codes

    • The Reconstruction Period saw great resistance from many racist groups, such as the White League, the Red Shirts, and the Ku Klux Klan.
    • Violence against Black communities and actions which violated the 14th Amendment became a common occurrence in the South.
    • After the adoption of the 13th Amendment, Southern states passed state laws, known as the Black Codes, in an attempt to force African-Americans back into indentured servitude.
    • The Black Codes caused widespread resistance among African-Americans in the South, and the northern states argued that the laws undermined the principles of free labour. Two pieces of legislation were instrumental in ensuring that there was respect for the rights of African-Americans in the South.
    • The first was the Civil Rights Act of 1866 passed after Congress overrode President Johnson’s veto, and the second was the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which required southern states to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted equal protection of the constitutional rights of formerly enslaved.
    • In addition, the southern states were also required to grant universal male suffrage before they were allowed back into the Union.
    • The Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed the right to vote, regardless of ‘colour, race or previous condition of servitude’.

    Timeline of History of Slavery in America

    This timeline presents the history of slavery in America between the year 1500 and 1774

    1501 Enslaved Africans in the New World brought in by Spanish settlers brought enslaved people from Africa to Santo Domingo present-day Capital of the Dominican Republic
    1562 Britain joins the slave trade courtesy of John Hawkins the first Briton to engage in slave trade
    1581 Enslaved people arrive in the first permanent settlement in Florida established by Spaniards
    August 1619 20 enslaved people arrive in Jamestown, Virginia classified as indentured servants and freed, like their white counterparts after a certain period.
    1636 The first slave carrier is built and Launched in Massachusetts marking the beginning of slave trade in colonial North America
    9 July 1640 Paul Punch – The first Documented Slave For Life. After the General Court of Colonial Virginia extended the years of required service for the white men but John Punch, a Black man, was sentenced to servitude for life. All were trying to escape from their enslavers
    1641 Massachusetts legalises slavery
    1643 The New England Confederation of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven enacts the Fugitive Slave Law
    1650 Connecticut legalises slavery.
    1652 Rhode Island Restricts Slavery forbidding enslavement for more than ten years
    1657 Virginia enacts a Fugitive Slave Law
    1662 Hereditary Slavery law in Virginia provides that children of Black mothers “shall be bond or free according to the condition of the mother.”
    1663 – 1664 Maryland, New York and New Jersey legalises Slavery
    1664 States Maryland mandates lifelong servitude for all enslaved Africans. New York, New Jersey, the Carolinas, and Virginia mandate lifelong servitudes for enslaved Africans
    1666 Maryland passes the fugitive slave law
    1668 New Jersey passes the fugitive slave law.
    1676 Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia by enslaved Africans, and black and white indentured servants
    1688 Pennsylvania Quakers antislavery Pass Resolution
    1691 Virginia passed the first anti-miscegenation law and prohibits the manumission of enslaved people within its borders
    1700 Pennsylvania legalises slavery
    1705 Enslaved people are declared to be real estate, and enslavers are allowed to “kill and destroy” runaways. Christians are also declared enslaved people in Virginia and New York
    1708 Southern colonies enlist enslaved people as militia
    1708 Rhode Island Enacts visitation rules of enslaved people
    1712 Slave Revolt
    1715 Rhode Island legalises slavery.
    1715 Maryland mandates enslaved people to be lifelong servants
    1717 New York enacts a fugitive slave law
    1723 Virginia abolishes manumissions.
    1730-1750 Equal male and female enslaved people are imported into North American colonies
    1735 Georgia prohibits the importation and use of enslaved Africans
    1735 Georgia Petitions for the legalisation of slavery
    1738 Georgia permits the importation of enslaved Africans
    1740 South Carolina passed the comprehensive Negro Act making it illegal for enslaved people to move, assemble in groups, raise food, earn money, and learn to read English. Enslavers are allowed to kill rebellious enslaved people
    1740 Georgia and Carolina consider invading Florida because of runaway policy among enslaved people
    1749 Georgia permits the importation of enslaved Africans
    1772 James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw’s writes the first autobiographical narrative of an enslaved.
    1773 Phillis Wheatley becomes first published African-American poet