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By that point, more than 4 million African-American slaves lived in the United States. Although their communities thrived and multiplied, these people were subject to harsh living conditions and enjoyed none of the rights or freedoms so fiercely protected by white Americans.
Native Americans were the first enslaved people in North America. Many aboriginal societies had practiced different forms of slavery for thousands of years before they had ever seen Europeans. The practice, however, represented a temporary condition and was used more as a badge of status than a moneymaking enterprise.
Most Indian slaves were women and children either purchased or captured as prizes in warfare. Some were adopted into their new tribe over time, their offspring being free persons who could even rise to positions of leadership. Slavery, therefore, was not a hereditary condition, nor was it based on race.
Europeans continued the practice of enslaving Indians after their arrival in the New World in the late 15th century. Spanish, English, and French colonists broadened the scope of Indian slavery by selling Indians, including men, into bondage in other colonies as punishment for warfare or rebellion.
The Spanish in particular created a vast system of slave labor in its colonies in Latin America. The English and French enslaved Native Americans much less frequently and seldom held Indian slaves to labor among them.
In general, the British colonists found it difficult to enslave Native Americans, who had great opportunities to escape from bondage and rejoin their tribes. The system of chattel slavery the personal ownership of a slave that developed in the New World and focused on African Americans was different than the slavery practiced against Native Americans.
Tobacco was an extremely labor-intensive crop, requiring field hands to spend long hours bending over plants under the blazing hot sun. Most whites proved entirely unsuited for this labor, in part because they were unused to such hot and humid weather conditions and in part because they flat out refused to do such work.
Some white indentured servants were forced to work in the fields, but as the 17th century progressed, it proved more and more difficult to convince Europeans to immigrate under these conditions. African slaves solved many of these problems. Physically, Africans were more used to such brutal weather conditions and capable of laboring in them for longer periods than whites.
As African slaves represented a diversity of nations and spoke a wide variety of languages, they also found it difficult to communicate with one another and organize resistance to their forced bondage. And unlike the Native Americans, Africans were too far from their homeland to run away from their white masters.
Finally, some West African leaders proved extremely receptive to the idea of selling other Africans into slavery for profit, so that most of the kidnapping of Africans and forcing them into bondage was actually done by other Africans, requiring even less effort on the part of whites to perpetuate the system.
For all these reasons, African slavery quickly emerged as a desirable and profitable labor system. Throughout the course of the 17th century, the various British North American colonies erected a series of laws and social conventions that served to establish African slavery at the heart of colonial society, particularly in the South.
Although African slavery spread to all of the colonies, it never took hold in the northern colonies as it did in the southern, primarily because of the nature of the work required. Northern colonies were populated with small family farms, and the rocky terrain proved inhospitable for crops like tobacco.
Slaves certainly existed in the northern colonies but not in nearly such large numbers as in their southern counterparts.AP’s high school United States History course is a rigorous, college-level class that provides an opportunity to gain skills colleges recognize.
BibMe Free Bibliography & Citation Maker - MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard. Efforts to Christianize the native peoples of North America was an essential part of early Spanish and French colonial efforts.
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