Planting of Slavery in the Colonies
From Chapter Four of A Social History of the American Negro : A History of the Negro Problem in the United States, by Benjamin Brawley -- It is only for Virginia that we can state with definiteness the year in which Negro slaves were first brought to an English colony on the mainland. When legislation on the subject of slavery first appears elsewhere, slaves are already present. "About the last of August (1619)," says John Rolfe in John Smith's Generall Historie, "came in a Dutch man of warre, that sold us twenty Negars." These Negroes were sold into servitude, and Virginia did not give statutory recognition to slavery as a system until 1661, the importations being too small to make the matter one of importance. In this year, however, an act of assembly stated that Negroes were "incapable of making satisfaction for the time lost in running away by addition of time"; 11 and thus slavery gained a firm place in the oldest of the colonies.
Negroes were first imported into Massachusetts from Barbadoes a year or two before 1638, but in John Winthrop's Journal, under date February 26 of this year, we have positive evidence on the subject as follows: "Mr. Pierce in the Salem ship, the Desire, returned from the West Indies after seven months. He had been at Providence, and brought some cotton, and tobacco, and Negroes, etc., from thence, and salt from Tertugos. Dry fish and strong liquors are the only commodities for those parts. He met there two men-of-war, sent forth by the lords, etc., of Providence with letters of mart, who had taken divers prizes from the Spaniard and many Negroes." It was in 1641 that there was passed in Massachusetts the first act on the subject of slavery, and this was the first positive statement in any of the colonies with reference to the matter. Said this act: "There shall never be any bond slavery, villeinage, nor captivity among us, unless it be lawful captives, taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us, and these shall have all the liberties and Christian usages which the law of God established in Israel requires." This article clearly sanctioned slavery. Of the three classes of persons referred to, the first was made up of Indians, the second of white people under the system of indenture, and the third of Negroes. In this whole matter, as in many others, Massachusetts moved in advance of the other colonies. The first definitely to legalize slavery, in course of time she became also the foremost representative of sentiment against the system. In 1646 one John Smith brought home two Negroes from the Guinea Coast, where we are told he "had been the means of killing near a hundred more." The General Court, "conceiving themselves bound by the first opportunity to bear witness against the heinous and crying sin of man-stealing," ordered that the Negroes be sent at public expense to their native country.12 In later cases, however, Massachusetts did not find herself able to follow this precedent. In general in these early years New England was more concerned about Indians than about Negroes, as the presence of the former in large numbers was a constant menace, while Negro slavery had not yet assumed its most serious aspects.
In New York slavery began under the Dutch rule and continued under the English. Before or about 1650 the Dutch West India Company brought some Negroes to New Netherland. Most of these continued to belong to the company, though after a period of labor (under the common system of indenture) some of the more trusty were permitted to have small farms, from the produce of which they made return to the company. Their children, however, continued to be slaves. In 1664 New Netherland became New York. The next year, in the code of English laws that was drawn up, it was enacted that "no Christian shall be kept in bond slavery, villeinage, or captivity, except who shall be judged thereunto by authority, or such as willingly have sold or shall sell themselves." As at first there was some hesitancy about making Negroes Christians, this act, like the one in Massachusetts, by implication permitted slavery.
It was in 1632 that the grant including what is now the states of Maryland and Delaware was made to George Calvert, first Lord Baltimore. Though slaves are mentioned earlier, it was in 1663-4 that the Maryland Legislature passed its first enactment on the subject of slavery. It was declared that "all Negroes and other slaves within this province, and all Negroes and other slaves to be hereinafter imported into this province, shall serve during life; and all children born of any Negro or other slave, shall be slaves as their fathers were, for the term of their lives."
In Delaware and New Jersey the real beginnings of slavery are unusually hazy. The Dutch introduced the system in both of these colonies. In the laws of New Jersey the word slaves occurs as early as 1664, and acts for the regulation of the conduct of those in bondage began with the practical union of the colony with New York in 1702. The lot of the slave was somewhat better here than in most of the colonies. Although the system was in existence in Delaware almost from the beginning of the colony, it did not receive legal recognition until 1721, when there was passed an act providing for the trial of slaves in a special court with two justices and six freeholders.
As early as 1639 there are incidental reference to Negroes in Pennsylvania, and there are frequent references after this date.13 In this colony there were strong objections to the importing of Negroes in spite of the demand for them. Penn in his charter to the Free Society of Traders in 1682 enjoined upon the members of this company that if they held black slaves these should be free at the end of fourteen years, the Negroes then to become the company's tenants.14 In 1688 there originated in Germantown a protest against Negro slavery that was "the first formal action ever taken against the barter in human flesh within the boundaries of the United States." 15 Here a small company of Germans was assembled April 18, 1688, and there was drawn up a document signed by Garret Hendericks, Franz Daniel Pastorius, Dirck Op den Graeff, and Abraham Op den Graeff. The protest was addressed to the monthly meeting of the Quakers about to take place in Lower Dublin. The monthly meeting on April 30 felt that it could not pretend to take action on such an important matter and referred it to the quarterly meeting in June. This in turn passed it on to the yearly meeting, the highest tribunal of the Quakers. Here it was laid on the table, and for the next few years nothing resulted from it. About 1696, however, opposition to slavery on the part of the Quakers began to be active. In the colony at large before 1700 the lot of the Negro was regularly one of servitude. Laws were made for servants, white or black, and regulations and restrictions were largely identical. In 1700, however, legislation began more definitely to fix the status of the slave. In this year an act of the legislature forbade the selling of Negroes out of the province without their consent, but in other ways it denied the personality of the slave. This act met further formal approval in 1705, when special courts were ordained for the trial and punishment of slaves, and when importation from Carolina was forbidden on the ground that it made trouble with the Indians nearer home. In 1700 a maximum duty of 20s. was placed on each Negro imported, and in 1705 this was doubled, there being already some competition with white labor. In 1712 the Assembly sought to prevent importation altogether by a duty of £20 a head. This act was repealed in England, and a duty of £5 in 1715 was also repealed. In 1729, however, the duty was fixed at £2, at which figure it remained for a generation.
It was almost by accident that slavery was officially recognized in Connecticut in 1650. The code of laws compiled for the colony in this year was especially harsh on the Indians. It was enacted that certain of them who incurred the displeasure of the colony might be made to serve the person injured or "be shipped out and exchanged for Negroes." In 1680 the governor of the colony informed the Board of Trade that "as for blacks there came sometimes three or four in a year from Barbadoes, and they are usually sold at the rate of £22 apiece." These people were regarded rather as servants than as slaves, and early legislation was mainly in the line of police regulations designed to prevent their running away.
In 1652 it was enacted in Rhode Island that all slaves brought into the colony should be set free after ten years of service. This law was not designed, as might be supposed, to restrict slavery. It was really a step in the evolution of the system, and the limit of ten years was by no means observed. "The only legal recognition of the law was in the series of acts beginning January 4, 1703, to control the wandering of African slaves and servants, and another beginning in April, 1708, in which the slave-trade was indirectly legalized by being taxed."16 "In course of time Rhode Island became the greatest slave-trader in the country, becoming a sort of clearing-house for the other colonies."17
New Hampshire, profiting by the experience of the neighboring colony of Massachusetts, deemed it best from the beginning to discourage slavery. There were so few Negroes in the colony as to form a quantity practically negligible. The system was recognized, however, an act being passed in 1714 to regulate the conduct of slaves, and another four years later to regulate that of masters.
In North Carolina, even more than in most of the colonies, the system of Negro slavery was long controlled by custom rather than by legal enactment. It was recognized by law in 1715, however, and police regulations to govern the slaves were enacted. In South Carolina the history of slavery is particularly noteworthy. The natural resources of this colony offered a ready home for the system, and the laws here formulated were as explicit as any ever enacted. Slaves were first imported from Barbadoes, and their status received official confirmation in 1682. By 1720 the number had increased to 12,000, the white people numbering only 9,000. By 1698 such was the fear from the preponderance of the Negro population that a special act was passed to encourage white immigration. Legislation "for the better ordering of slaves" was passed in 1690, and in 1712 the first regular slave law was enacted. Once before 1713, the year of the Assiento Contract of the Peace of Utrecht, and several times after this date, prohibitive duties were placed on Negroes to guard against their too rapid increase. By 1734, however, importation had again reached large proportions; and in 1740, in consequence of recent insurrectionary efforts, a prohibitive duty several times larger than the previous one was placed upon Negroes brought into the province.
The colony of Georgia was chartered in 1732 and actually founded the next year. Oglethorpe's idea was that the colony should be a refuge for persecuted Christians and the debtor classes of England. Slavery was forbidden on the ground that Georgia was to defend the other English colonies from the Spaniards on the South, and that it would not be able to do this if like South Carolina it dissipated its energies in guarding Negro slaves. For years the development of Georgia was slow, and the prosperous condition of South Carolina constantly suggested to the planters that "the one thing needful" for their highest welfare was slavery. Again and again were petitions addressed to the trustees, George Whitefield being among those who most urgently advocated the innovation. Moreover, Negroes from South Carolina were sometimes hired for life, and purchases were openly made in Savannah. It was not until 1749, however, that the trustees yielded to the request. In 1755 the legislature passed an act that regulated the conduct of the slaves, and in 1765 a more regular code was adopted. Thus did slavery finally gain a foothold in what was destined to become one of the most important of the Southern states.
For the first fifty or sixty years of the life of the colonies the introduction of Negroes was slow; the system of white servitude furnished most of the labor needed, and England had not yet won supremacy in the slave-trade. It was in the last quarter of the seventeenth century that importations began to be large, and in the course of the eighteenth century the numbers grew by leaps and bounds. In 1625, six years after the first Negroes were brought to the colony, there were in Virginia only 23 Negroes, 12 male, 11 female. 18 In 1659 there were 300; but in 1683 there were 3,000 and in 1708, 12,000. In 1680 Governor Simon Bradstreet reported to England with reference to Massachusetts that "no company of blacks or slaves" had been brought into the province since its beginning, for the space of fifty years, with the exception of a small vessel that two years previously, after a twenty months' voyage to Madagascar, had brought hither between forty and fifty Negroes, mainly women and children, who were sold for £10, £15, and £20 apiece; occasionally two or three Negroes were brought from Barbadoes or other islands, and altogether there were in Massachusetts at the time not more than 100 or 120.
The colonists were at first largely opposed to the introduction of slavery, and numerous acts were passed prohibiting it in Virginia, Massachusetts, and elsewhere; and in Georgia, as we have seen, it had at first been expressly forbidden. English business men, however, had no scruples about the matter. About 1663 a British Committee on Foreign Plantations declared that "black slaves are the most useful appurtenances of a plantation," 19 and twenty years later the Lords Commissioners of Trade stated that "the colonists could not possibly subsist" without an adequate supply of slaves. Laws passed in the colonies were regularly disallowed by the crown, and royal governors were warned that the colonists would not be permitted to "discourage a traffic so beneficial to the nation." Before 1772 Virginia passed not less than thirty-three acts looking toward the prohibition of the importation of slaves, but in every instance the act was annulled by England. In the far South, especially in South Carolina, we have seen that there were increasingly heavy duties. In spite of all such efforts for restriction, however, the system of Negro slavery, once well started, developed apace.
In two colonies not among the original thirteen but important in the later history of the United States, Negroes were present at a very early date, in the Spanish colony of Florida from the very first, and in the French colony of Louisiana as soon as New Orleans really began to grow. Negroes accompanied the Spaniards in their voyages along the South Atlantic coast early in the sixteenth century, and specially trained Spanish slaves assisted in the founding of St. Augustine in 1565. The ambitious schemes in France of the great adventurer, John Law, and especially the design of the Mississippi Company (chartered 1717) included an agreement for the importation into Louisiana of six thousand white persons and three thousand Negroes, the Company having secured among other privileges the exclusive right to trade with the colony for twenty-five years and the absolute ownership of all mines in it. The sufferings of some of the white emigrants from France—the kidnapping, the revenge, and the chicanery that played so large a part—all make a story complete in itself. As for the Negroes, it was definitely stipulated that these should not come from another French colony without the consent of the governor of that colony. The contract had only begun to be carried out when Law's bubble burst. However, in June, 1721, there were 600 Negroes in Louisiana; in 1745 the number had increased to 2020. The stories connected with these people are as tragic and wildly romantic as are most of the stories in the history of Louisiana. In fact, this colony from the very first owed not a little of its abandon and its fascination to the mysticism that the Negroes themselves brought from Africa. In the midst of much that is apocryphal one or two events or episodes stand out with distinctness. In 1729, Perier, governor at the time, testified with reference to a small company of Negroes who had been sent against the Indians as follows: "Fifteen Negroes in whose hands we had put weapons, performed prodigies of valor. If the blacks did not cost so much, and if their labors were not so necessary to the colony, it would be better to turn them into soldiers, and to dismiss those we have, who are so bad and so cowardly that they seem to have been manufactured purposely for this colony20." Not always, however, did the Negroes fight against the Indians. In 1730 some representatives of the powerful Banbaras had an understanding with the Chickasaws by which the latter were to help them in exterminating all the white people and in setting up an independent republic21. They were led by a strong and desperate Negro named Samba. As a result of this effort for freedom Samba and seven of his companions were broken on the wheel and a woman was hanged. Already, however, there had been given the suggestion of the possible alliance in the future of the Indian and the Negro. From the very first also, because of the freedom from restraint of all the elements of population that entered into the life of the colony, there was the beginning of that mixture of the races which was later to tell so vitally on the social life of Louisiana and whose effects are so readily apparent even to-day.(source: A Social History of the American Negro : A History of the Negro Problem in the United States, by Benjamin Brawley)