Colonial Slavery

1769 slave advertisement.jpg

1769 Slave Advertisement

The history of American slavery dates to the Jamestown settlement in 1619.  Slaves’ significant contribution forged the American economy.  Slave resistance emerged with the introduction of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  Colonial slaves escaped with white indentured servants into Native American territories.[1]  Fugitives also formed marooned communities isolated from white settlement or fled to Mexico.  By the 1770’s, slaves existed in all thirteen colonies.  During the Revolutionary War over one hundred thousand slaves escaped to the British Army.

By the end of the Revolutionary War, Northeastern slave holders recognized their hypocrisy at fighting for freedom from England while owning slaves.  The new nation abolished slavery in Northeastern states and many Virginia slave holders emancipated their slaves.  As the Eastern United States severed its dependency on slavery, the institution expanded south and west.  The United States government forced Native American nations further west, and fugitives started to cross the Ohio River.[2]




cotton gin.jpg

"The First cotton-gin" by William L. Sheppard.  Harper's weekly, 1869 Dec. 18.

Eli Whitney's cotton gin enabled southern plantation owners to harvest larger amounts of cotton.  The cotton gin allowed raw cotton to be cleaned.  Almost overnight cotton became a profitable crop, transforming the southern economy and the dynamics of slavery.  Within a decade the value of annual cotton revenue increase from less than $500,000 a year to over $8 million.  Large cotton plantations dominated the Deep South and slaveholders needed more and more workers. The first federal census of 1790 counted 697,897 slaves; by 1810, there were 1.2 million slaves.


 [1] Hudson, Blaine. Fugitive Slaves and The Underground Railroad in the Kentucky Borderland. (Jefferson, McFarland & Co.2002), 4.

[2] Ibid., p 46.

Slavery in America
Colonial Slavery