From Indentured Servants to Slaves for Life

Before the United States declared its independence from Great Britain in 1783, the Spanish, British, and French had colonies and slaves within what is now the United States. Since most of African-American acculturation is from the English, this will focus on the English colony of Jamestown.

By 1619 there were thirty-two Africans living in Jamestown. They were not considered enslaved because the English didn’t have a law for slavery; but they were indentured servants – they would work for a number of years and after the those years were up, they would gain their freedom. During this time, black and white servant worked together harvesting tobacco and they even slept in the same headquarters. However by 1640 race was starting to become a major factor in the English colonies.

Here are the reasons why:

  • The African population largely increased in the Virginia colony because the English maintained control of the Atlantic slave trade.
  • White indentured servants  had become very expensive. The reason being, white indentured servants had more opportunities outside of Virginia and less and less European men and women would sell their freedom.
  • The English had always separated themselves from people different from them. Therefore, Africans were an extreme physical difference. Although black and white servant possessed many commonalities, their masters divided them by race.
  • The masters begun to separated white from black in the tobacco fields – white women only did domestic work and black women would do the agriculture.
  • Africans could not become Christians (although Christianity along with Islam were huge religions in Africa and therefore many of the Africans were probably Christians).
  • By 1662 it became law that white people could not have intimate relationships with black people.

The laws regarding African servitude became more strict and harsh and eventually lifetime enslavement became the norm for Africans. They were no longer considered indentured servants – they couldn’t gain freedom after a number of years. Instead they were enslaved for life.

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