Slavery in the United States began with the African slave trade. At the end of the 14th century, Africans were taken to Europe without consent and used as servants for the rich. The Europeans claimed that the
servants would have better chances of becoming Christians this way. The Spanish and the Portuguese also took natives from Africa as slaves. Eventually, the chiefs over these Africans began to barter with the people who were taking the people as slaves. Forts were set up along the coastline to hold the slaves until the slave ships came. Some of the slaves were people that had been captured in tribal battles. The demand for slaves was becoming very high, and people were willing to take desperate and violent measures to get them.
Soon after America had been founded, a court ruled that slavery was acceptable. Even from the beginnings of slavery in the United States, slavery was more popular in the South rather than the North. This is because the South was an agricultural land. Families needed the slaves to help on the farms where much manual labor is needed. The north did not need slaves as much because they were industrial. The only places in the north for slaves were within homes of the northerners, so there was not such a high demand for them there. Ninety-five percent of the slave population was in the southern states as opposed to the 1% population in the north. Slaves were not only owned by whites, but also by Native Americans and even free African Americans. The wealth of the United States increased greatly because of all the free labor provided by the slaves. Productivity was at its best, and the Americans were doing the least of the work yet making all of the profits.
About 12 million slaves were shipped to the Americas within the 17th and 19th centuries. By the time the Civil War was about to begin, there were around 4 million slaves in the United States. The means by which the slaves were brought to the Americas was disturbing and unnerving. Since profit was the number one priority of the traders, they attempted to fit as many slaves into one ship as they possibly could. A slave ship named “The Brookes” was made to hold 451 people at the most. This ship was found out to have carried 600 people. On the ship, the slaves were tightly seated and chained at their hands and feet. These journeys were long, and many slaves remained crippled for being chained up for so long. The death rate of slaves on the ships was fifty percent. Because there were so many of them and they were in such close quarters with one another for so long, disease became an issue. The conditions of travelling in the ships were the absolute worst. Some slaves slowly killed themselves by not eating. Slaves were bought in Africa for around $25 and sold in the states for $150. When slavery became illegal, the prices augmented greatly. Even though the death rate of the slaves on board the ships was so high, the traders could always make a high profit. Slave markets were built as location to purchase slaves. Locations of slave markets were New Orleans, Philadelphia, Charleston, and Richmond.
Slavery receives its negative connotation from the mistreatment of the slaves by their masters. The slave owners became very greedy after their profits began to increase due to the free labor and higher productivity. The slaves were under a great deal of strain to work hard to make more money for their masters. If the work of a slave was less than desirable, they were harshly punished. The most widely-known form of punishment was being whipped. Slaves were whipped brutally, sometimes in front of large crowds of other slaves in order to serve as an example to the rest. Some masters tortured their slaves and even branded them like cattle, most times on their faces.
Most slave-owning homes had twenty or fewer slaves, but the plantations with a large number of slaves, such as 100, had to have someone watching after the slaves to be sure they were all doing their jobs. This person was known as an overseer. The overseer was under much pressure from the plantation owners to make sure the slaves were performing at their best in order to increase productivity. The harsh punishments carried out by the overseers led to death at times. Thirty percent of slaves died within a four year period because of such ruthless treatment.
Slaves worked from sunrise to sunset. Most work days lasted 18 hours. Men and women alike worked the same amount of time. Pregnant women were expected to work as well, all the way up until the day of their child’s birth. They were then given a month after delivery to recover. After that month, the child was carried on the mothers back while the mother worked in the fields. Children were expected to work by the time they were five years old. Slave owners advocated reproduction among the slaves in order to have even more workers to help. Some slave owners promised freedom to women after they had a certain amount children. Women were expected to start having children at around 13 years old, and they were expected to have nearly 5 children by the time they were twenty.
Sometimes, the slave owner or one of his white friends would father the children of slave women. The children that were half black and half white were called “mulattoes.” If a white man raped a black woman, it was not considered a crime.
The plantation systems came about from the division of land and private ownership of that land. The major crops grown on these lands were cotton, tobacco, rice, and sugar cane. These crops required a great deal of manual labor, and that is why slaves were so greatly demanded in the agricultural southern states.
Because the conditions on the plantation for the slaves were less than desirable, there was always an issue of slaves trying to escape. Running away was an issue that had to be thought through thoroughly before carried out. Runaways were unsuccessful more often than not. Most slaves were hesitant to run away because they did not want to leave their families behind. If the slave made a successful getaway, there was always a risk that the runaway’s closest family member would be punished brutally. Most slaves were found, and when they were brought back to the plantation they were beaten. The accounts of a slave named Moses Roper received 200 lashes from the master with the whip. The master would not have stopped at that number if it had not been for his wife begging him to stop. Most runaways were younger men slaves. According to records, most slaves that attempted to run away were field slaves rather than house slaves.
The Underground Railroad was organized in order to help slaves escape to freedom. About 50,000 slaves were taken to safety through this escape method. Eventually, slave owners got Congress to pass a law that fined $1000 to any marshal who did not arrest runaway slaves and to any home that housed or fed runaway slaves.
House slaves were in better condition than slaves that worked in the fields. They usually had less physically demanding jobs and better food. Slaves that worked inside usually got to sleep inside and became friends with the family. Some women tried to educate the slave children even though it was illegal. Some slaves that were valued in the home were promised freedom when their masters died, but this promise was rarely kept.
Slaves were rationed a certain amount of food every month or a small patch of land where the slaves could grow their own food. The slaves were given clothes every year. Their wardrobe consisted only of a couple of shirts and a couple of pairs of pants. If the clothes did not last, they went naked until the next allowance of clothing was given out. Slaves living in the house were often given the clothing that the family members no longer wore.
Marriage among the slaves was encouraged because slave owners believed it would keep the slaves from running away if they had a loved on or family. Slave houses were wooden shacks with dirt floors and only one room. One to two families lived in these houses. The beds were straws and rags piled up on the ground.
Slavery finally came to an end at the end of the Civil War. The north defeated the south, and slavery was abolished. All slaves were free, but some chose to stay with their masters because they had been treated well and had a home there.