A Detailed Timeline Of The History of Slavery Of Africans in America

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A Detailed Timeline Of The History of Slavery Of Africans in America
A Detailed Timeline Of The History of Slavery Of Africans in America

People were kidnapped from Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries put into slavery in the American colonies, and exploited to work as indentured servants and labor in the production of products like tobacco and cotton. By the mid-nineteenth century, America’s westward expansion and the abolitionist movement had sparked a national discussion about slavery that would eventually lead to the terrible Civil War. Despite the fact that the Union triumph emancipated the country’s four million enslaved people, slavery’s impact continued to influence American history, from Reconstruction to the civil rights movement a century after emancipation and beyond.

What Year Did Slavery Begin?

Hundreds of thousands of Africans, free and enslaved, contributed to the founding and survival of colonies in the Americas and the New World. Many historians believe that the privateer The White Lion landed 20 enslaved Africans ashore at the British settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, which marked the beginning of slavery in America. The Africans were taken from the Portuguese slave ship Sao Jao Bautista by the sailors.

European settlers in North America used enslaved Africans as a cheaper and more plentiful labor source than indentured servants, who were largely poor Europeans, throughout the 17th century.

Though precise estimates are tough to come by, historians believe that 6 to 7 million enslaved individuals were carried to the New World during the 18th century alone, robbing Africa of some of her healthiest and most capable men and women.

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Enslaved Africans worked mostly on tobacco, rice, and indigo plantations along the southern coast in the 17th and 18th centuries, from the Chesapeake Bay provinces of Maryland and Virginia south to Georgia.

Many colonists, particularly in the North, where slavery was relatively unimportant to the agricultural economy, began to link the persecution of enslaved Africans to their own subjugation by the British after the American Revolution and called for the abolition of slavery.

What if I told you that Crispus Attucks, a formerly enslaved man who was executed by British soldiers during the Boston Massacre of 1770, was one of the earliest martyrs to the cause of American patriotism. During the Revolutionary War, around 5,000 black soldiers and seamen served on the American side.

However, during the Revolutionary War, the new United States Constitution implicitly sanctioned slavery, recognizing each enslaved person as three-fifths of a person for taxation and representation in Congress, and guaranteed the right to repossess any “person held to service or labor” (an obvious euphemism for slavery).

Cotton Gin

With the land used to cultivate tobacco practically depleted in the late 18th century, the South faced an economic crisis, and the future of slavery in America appeared to be in jeopardy.

At the same time, the mechanization of England’s textile industry created a tremendous demand for American cotton, a southern crop whose production was limited by the difficulties of manually extracting seeds from raw cotton fibers.

However, in 1793, Eli Whitney, a young Yankee schoolteacher, devised the cotton gin, a simple automated device that efficiently extracted the seeds. His invention was extensively duplicated, and within a few years, the South had switched from large-scale tobacco cultivation to cotton production, reinforcing the region’s reliance on enslaved labor.

Slavery was never popular in the North, but the slave trade and investments in southern plantations made many of the region’s businesses wealthy. Slavery was abolished in all northern states between 1774 and 1804, but slavery remained an important institution in the South.

Despite the fact that the African slave trade was abolished by the United States Congress in 1808, the domestic slave trade thrived, and the number of enslaved people in the United States nearly tripled during the next 50 years. It had grown to about 4 million people by 1860, with more than half of them living in cotton-producing states in the South.

Slavery’s History

In the antebellum South, enslaved people made up nearly a third of the population. Many owners possessed fewer than 50 enslaved persons and lived on huge plantations or small farms.

Through a system of stringent laws, landowners attempted to make their captives entirely reliant on them. They were frequently denied the opportunity to learn to read and write, and their behavior and mobility were restricted.

Enslaved women were frequently raped by their lords, who rewarded submissive behavior with favors, while rebellious enslaved persons were cruelly punished.

The enslaved were divided and less likely to organize against their masters due to a clear hierarchy among them (from privileged house employees and skilled artisans to lowly field hands).

Marriages between enslaved men and women were illegal, but many did marry and have large families; most owners of enslaved people encouraged this practice but did not hesitate to divide families by selling or removing them.

Slave Uprisings

Enslaved people staged rebellions, including those led by Gabriel Prosser in Richmond in 1800 and Denmark Vesey in Charleston in 1822, although only a few were successful.

The insurrection organized by Nat Turner in Southampton County, Virginia, in August 1831 alarmed enslavers the most. Turner’s group, which grew to roughly 75 Black males, murdered 55 white individuals in two days before being overrun by armed resistance from local whites and the advent of state militia forces.

Many southern states strengthened their slave codes in order to limit the education, movement, and assembly of enslaved people, citing Turner’s rebellion as proof that Black people were inherently inferior barbarians who needed an institution like slavery to discipline them. Fears of similar insurgencies led many southern states to strengthen their slave codes in order to limit the education, movement, and assembly of enslaved people.

Abolitionist Movement (Abolitionist Movement)

The greater repression of southern Black people only fueled the growing abolitionist movement in the north.

The movement to abolish slavery in America grew stronger from the 1830s to the 1860s, led by free Black people like Frederick Douglass and white supporters like William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the radical newspaper The Liberator, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the bestselling antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

While many abolitionists believed that slaveholding was a sin, others preferred the non-religious “free-labor” argument, which claimed that slaveholding was regressive, wasteful, and economically unproductive.

As early as the 1780s, free Black people and other antislavery northerners began assisting enslaved persons in escaping from southern plantations to the north via a loose network of safe homes. The Underground Railroad, as it was known at the time, grew in popularity in the 1830s.

Escapees were directed north by conductors like Harriet Tubman, while “stationmasters” included Frederick Douglass, Secretary of State William H. Seward, and Pennsylvania congressman Thaddeus Stevens. Although estimates vary, it is thought to have aided between 40,000 and 100,000 enslaved persons in gaining their freedom.

The Underground Railroad’s success aided the growth of abolitionist sentiment in the North, but it also heightened sectional tensions by assuring pro-slavery southerners of their northern countrymen’s commitment to overthrowing the institution that kept them alive.

America’s rapid expansion westward in the first half of the nineteenth century would give a broader stage for the escalating struggle over slavery in the United States and its future limitation or expansion.

A bitter debate over the federal government’s right to restrict slavery over Missouri’s statehood application ended in a compromise in 1820: Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slave state, Maine as a free state, and all western territories north of Missouri’s southern border were to be free soil.

Although the Missouri Compromise was intended to establish a fair balance between slave and free states, it only served to temporarily pacify sectionalism.

America’s rapid expansion westward in the first half of the nineteenth century would give a broader stage for the escalating struggle over slavery in the United States and its future limitation or expansion.

A bitter debate over the federal government’s right to restrict slavery over Missouri’s statehood application ended in a compromise in 1820: Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slave state, Maine as a free state, and all western territories north of Missouri’s southern border were to be free soil.

Although the Missouri Compromise was intended to establish a fair balance between slave and free states, it only served to temporarily pacify sectionalism.

Kansas-Nebraska Act

Another shaky agreement was reached in 1850 to handle the issue of slavery in territories gained during the Mexican-American War.

However, four years later, the Kansas-Nebraska Act established the rule of popular sovereignty above congressional fiat, causing pro and anti-slavery groups to duke it out in the new state of Kansas, resulting in significant bloodshed.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act sparked outrage in the North, resulting in the demise of the old Whig Party and the establishment of a new, all-northern Republican Party.

The Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision in 1857 effectively invalidated the Missouri Compromise by holding that all regions were open to slavery (involving an enslaved man who sought for his freedom on the grounds that his master had taken him to free territory).

John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry

Two years after the Dred Scott decision, in 1859, an occurrence happened that sparked national outrage over the topic of slavery.

The abolitionist and 22 men, including five Black men and three of Brown’s sons, invaded and occupied a government arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, resulting in the deaths of ten people and Brown’s execution.

Brown was celebrated as a martyred hero by northern abolitionists, but reviled as a mass murderer in the South, exposing the increasing national division over slavery.

Civil War

When Republican nominee Abraham Lincoln was elected president the next year, the South would approach a breaking point. Seven southern states seceded in three months to form the Confederate States of America; four more would secede once the Civil War began.

Though Lincoln’s anti-slavery sentiments were well-known, the major Union war goal was initially to preserve the United States as a nation rather than eliminate slavery.

Due to military necessity, growing anti-slavery sentiment in the North, and the self-emancipation of many people who fled enslavement as Union troops marched through the South, abolition became a goal only later.

When Did Slavery Come to an End?

Lincoln issued a preliminary emancipation proclamation on September 22, 1862, and on January 1, 1863, he declared that “slaves within any State, or defined part of a State…in rebellion,…shall be then, thenceforward, and permanently free.”

The Emancipation Proclamation freed almost 3 million enslaved individuals in the rebel states, depriving the Confederacy of the majority of its workforce and swaying foreign public opinion heavily in favor of the Union.

Despite the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation did not abolish slavery in America—that would come with the passing of the 13th Amendment after the Civil War ended in 1865—some 186,000 African-American troops joined the Union Army, with about 38,000 of them dying.

Slavery’s Legacies

Although the 13th Amendment abolished slavery on December 18, 1865, emancipated Black peoples’ status in the post-war South remained fragile, and substantial obstacles awaited them throughout Reconstruction.

Previously enslaved men and women received citizenship and the Constitution’s “equal protection” in the 14th Amendment, as well as the right to vote in the 15th Amendment, but these provisions of the Constitution were frequently ignored or violated, and it was difficult for Black citizens to gain a foothold in the postwar economy due to restrictive Black codes and regressive contractual arraignments.

Legacies of Slavery

Despite the fact that the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery on December 18, 1865, freed Black people’s status in the post-war South remained precarious, and they faced significant challenges throughout Reconstruction.

Previously enslaved men and women received citizenship and the Constitution’s “equal protection” in the 14th Amendment, as well as the right to vote in the 15th Amendment. However, these constitutional provisions were frequently ignored or violated, and it was difficult for Black citizens to gain a foothold in the postwar economy due to restrictive Black codes and regressive contractual arrangements.


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