In part one of this series, I covered an introduction to slavery and some – I say “some” due to the fact that this subject could easily command a 50,000 page book – of the events in ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. In part two, I am skipping history time forward to the 1,000’s to take a look at what is considered the more modern history of slavery.
Historical scholars point-out that this is more modern, as if to say our modern day’s society, where I have to, and am going to assume, their meaning is more of the fact that more historical events have been recorded, thus giving us the ability to write about it.
Slavery features in the Mesopotamian Code of Hammurabi (c. 1860 BC), which refers to it as an established institution. Slavery became common within much of Europe during the early middle ages and it continued into the following centuries. The Byzantine–Ottoman wars – 1265 to 1479 – and the Ottoman wars in Europe – 14th to 20th centuries – resulted in the capture of large numbers of Christian slaves.
The Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, Arabs and a number of West African kingdoms played a prominent role in the Atlantic slave trade, especially after 1600. The Republic of Ragusa became the first European country to ban the slave trade in 1416. In modern times Denmark-Norway abolished the trade in 1802.
Although slavery is no longer legal anywhere in the world, – some say that inmate labor is slave labor, but I disagree due to the fact that all inmate labor is paid for in some way by the prison system – human trafficking remains an international problem and it’s estimated that 25 to 40 million people were enslaved as of 2013, the majority in Asia. During the 1983–2005 Second Sudanese Civil War people were taken into slavery.
Evidence emerged in the late 1990’s of systematic child slavery and trafficking on cacao plantations in West Africa. Slavery has continued into the 21st century. Although Mauritania criminalized slavery in August 2007, an estimated 600,000 men, women and children of Mauritania are currently enslaved, many of them used as bonded labor. Slavery in the 21st century continues.
With the top ten countries, with the highest prevalence according to the Global Slavery Index being North Korea, Eritrea, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Mauritania, South Sudan, Pakistan, Cambodia and Iran. Islamist quasi-states such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Boko Haram have abducted and enslaved women and children, often to serve as sex slaves.
Evidence of slavery predates written records as mentioned before, and has existed in many cultures. Mass slavery requires economic surpluses and a high population density to be viable. Due to these factors, the practice of slavery would have only proliferated after the invention of agriculture during the Neolithic Revolution, about 11,000 years ago.
Slavery was known in civilizations as old as Sumner, as well as in almost every other ancient civilization, including ancient Egypt, ancient China, the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, Babylonia, ancient Iran, ancient Greece, ancient India, the Roman Empire, the Arab Islamic Caliphate and Sultanate, Nubia and the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas. Such institutions were a mixture of debt-slavery, punishment for crime, the enslavement of prisoners of war, child abandonment, and the birth of slave children to slaves.
French historian Fernand Braudel noted that slavery was endemic in Africa and part of the structure of everyday life. Slavery came in different guises in different societies. There were court slaves, slaves incorporated into princely armies, domestic and household slaves, slaves working on the land, in industry, as couriers and intermediaries, even as traders. During the 16th century, Europe began to outpace the Arab world in the export traffic, with its slave traffic from Africa to the Americas.
The Dutch imported slaves from Asia into their colony in South Africa. In 1807 Britain, which held extensive, although mainly coastal, colonial territories on the African continent, including southern Africa, made the international slave trade illegal, as did the United States in 1808.
In Senegambia, between 1300 and 1900, close to one-third of the population was enslaved. In early Islamic states of the Western Sudan, including Ghana (750–1076), Mali (1235–1645), Segou (1712–1861), and Songhai (1275–1591), about a third of the population was enslaved. In Sierra Leone in the 19th century about half of the population consisted of slaves. In the 19th century at least half the population was enslaved among the Duala of the Cameroon, the Igbo and other peoples of the lower Niger, the Kongo, and the Kasanje kingdom and Chokwe of Angola.
Among the Ashanti and Yoruba a third of the population consisted of slaves. The population of the Kanem was about a third slave. It was perhaps 40% in Bornu (1396–1893). Between 1750 and 1900 from one- to two-thirds of the entire population of the Fulani jihad states consisted of slaves. The population of the Sokoto caliphate formed by Hausas in northern Nigeria and Cameroon was half-slave in the 19th century. It is estimated that up to 90% of the population of Arab-Swahili Zanzibar was enslaved. Roughly half the population of Madagascar was enslaved.
Slavery in Ethiopia persisted until 1942. The Anti-Slavery Society estimated that there were 2,000,000 slaves in the early 1930’s, out of an estimated population of between 8 and 16 million. It was finally abolished by order of emperor Haile Selassie on August 26, 1942.
When British rule was first imposed on the Sokoto Caliphate and the surrounding areas in northern Nigeria at the turn of the 20th century, approximately 2 million to 2.5 million people there were slaves. Slavery in northern Nigeria was finally outlawed in 1936.
Across the Sahara, through the Red Sea, from the Indian Ocean ports and across the Atlantic. At least ten centuries of slavery for the benefit of the Muslim countries, from the ninth to the nineteenth. Four million slaves exported via the Red Sea, another four million through the Swahili ports of the Indian Ocean, perhaps as many as nine million along the trans-Saharan caravan route, and eleven to twenty million across the Atlantic Ocean.
Zanzibar was once East Africa’s main slave-trading port, and under Omani Arabs in the 19th century, as many as 50,000 slaves were passing through the city each year.
Prior to the 16th century, the bulk of slaves exported from Africa were shipped from East Africa to the Arabian peninsula. Zanzibar became a leading port in this trade. Arab slave traders differed from European ones in that they would often conduct raiding expeditions themselves, sometimes penetrating deep into the continent. They also differed in that their market greatly preferred the purchase of female slaves over male ones.
The increased presence of European rivals along the East coast led Arab traders to concentrate on the overland slave caravan routes across the Sahara from the Sahel to North Africa. The German explorer Gustav Nachtigal reported seeing slave caravans departing from Kukawa in Bornu bound for Tripoli and Egypt in 1870.
The slave trade represented the major source of revenue for the state of Bornu as late as 1898. The eastern regions of the Central African Republic have never recovered demographically from the impact of 19th-century raids from the Sudan and still have a population density of less than 1 person/km². During the 1870’s, European initiatives against the slave trade caused an economic crisis in northern Sudan, precipitating the rise of Mahdist forces. Mahdi’s victory created an Islamic state, one that quickly re-instituted slavery.
The Middle Passage, the crossing of the Atlantic to the Americas, endured by slaves laid out in rows in the holds of ships, was only one element of the well-known triangular trade engaged in by Portuguese, Dutch, Danish-Norwegians, French, British and others. Ships having landed slaves in Caribbean ports would take on sugar, indigo, raw cotton, and later coffee, and make for Liverpool, Nantes, Lisbon or Amsterdam. Ships leaving European ports for West Africa would carry printed cotton textiles, some originally from India, copper utensils and bangles, pewter plates and pots, iron bars more valued than gold, hats, trinkets, gunpowder and firearms and alcohol. Tropical ship-worms were eliminated in the cold Atlantic waters, and at each unloading, a profit was made.
The Atlantic slave trade peaked in the late 18th century when the largest number of slaves were captured on raiding expeditions into the interior of West Africa. These expeditions were typically carried out by African states, such as the Oyo empire (Yoruba), Kong Empire, Kingdom of Benin, Imamate of Futa Jallon, Imamate of Futa Toro, Kingdom of Koya, Kingdom of Khasso, Kingdom of Kaabu, Fante Confederacy, Ashanti Confederacy, Aro Confederacy and the kingdom of Dahomey.
Europeans rarely entered the interior of Africa, due to fear of disease and moreover fierce African resistance. The slaves were brought to coastal outposts where they were traded for goods. The people captured on these expeditions were shipped by European traders to the colonies of the New World. As a result of the War of the Spanish Succession, the United Kingdom obtained the monopoly (asiento de negros) of transporting captive Africans to Spanish America.
It is estimated that over the centuries, twelve to twenty million people were shipped as slaves from Africa by European traders, of whom some 15 percent died during the terrible voyage, many during the arduous journey through the Middle Passage. The great majority were shipped to the Americas, but some also went to Europe and Southern Africa.
Arab slave traders and their captives along the Ruvuma river (in today’s Tanzania and Mozambique), 19th-century drawing by David Livingstone.
African states played a role in the slave trade, and slavery was a common practice among Sub Saharan Africans before the involvement of the Arabs, Berbers and Europeans. There were three types. Those who were slaves through conquest, those who were slaves due to unpaid debts, or those whose parents gave them as slaves to tribal chiefs. Chieftains would barter their slaves to Arab, Berber, Ottoman or European buyers for rum, spices, cloth or other goods.
Selling captives or prisoners was commonly practiced among Africans, Turks, Berbers and Arabs during that era. However, as the Atlantic slave trade increased its demand, local systems which primarily serviced indentured servitude expanded. European slave trading, as a result, was the most pivotal change in the social, economic, cultural, spiritual, religious, political dynamics of the concept of slave trading. It ultimately undermined local economies and political stability as villages’ vital labor forces were shipped overseas as slave raids and civil wars became commonplace. Crimes which were previously punishable by some other means became punishable by enslavement.
Before the arrival of the Portuguese, slavery existed in Kingdom of Kongo. Despite its establishment within his kingdom, Afonso I of Kongo believed that the slave trade should be subject to Kongo law. When he suspected the Portuguese of receiving illegally enslaved persons to sell, he wrote letters to the King João III of Portugal in 1526 imploring him to put a stop to the practice.
The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into transatlantic slavery, who otherwise may have been killed in a ceremony known as the Annual Customs. As one of West Africa’s principal slave states, Dahomey became extremely unpopular with neighboring peoples. Like the Bambara Empire to the east, the Khasso kingdoms depended heavily on the slave trade for their economy. A family’s status was indicated by the number of slaves it owned, leading to wars for the sole purpose of taking more captives. This trade led the Khasso into increasing contact with the European settlements of Africa’s west coast, particularly the French. Benin grew increasingly rich during the 16th and 17th centuries on the slave trade with Europe. Slaves from enemy states of the interior were sold, and carried to the Americas in Dutch and Portuguese ships. The Bight of Benin’s shore soon came to be known as the “Slave Coast”.
In 1807, under internal and external pressures, the United Kingdom made illegal the international trade in slaves. The Royal Navy was deployed to prevent slavers from the United States, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, West Africa and Arabia. The King of Bonny (now in Nigeria) allegedly became dissatisfied of the British intervention in stopping slave trading.
Joseph Miller states that African buyers would prefer males, but in reality, women and children would be more easily captured as men fled. Those captured would be sold for various reasons such as food, debts, or servitude. Once captured, the journey to the coast killed many and weakened others. Disease engulfed many, and insufficient food damaged those who made it to the coasts. Scurvy was so common that it was known as mal de Luanda (Luanda sickness). The assumption for those who died on the journey, died from malnutrition. As food was limited, water may have been just as bad. Dysentery was widespread and poor sanitary conditions at ports did not help. Since supplies were poor, slaves were not equipped with the best clothing that further exposed to more diseases.
If the fear of disease caused terror, the psyche of slaves for being captured was just as terrifying. The most popular assumption for being captured was Europeans were cannibals. Stories and rumors spread that whites captured Africans to eat them. Olaudah Equiano accounts his experience about the sorrow slaves encountered at the ports. He talks about his first moment on a slave ship and asked if he was going to be eaten. Yet, the worst for slaves has only begun, and the journey on the water proved to be more terrifying. For every 100 Africans captured, only 64 would reach the coast, and only about 50 would reach the New World.
Others believe that slavers had a vested interest in capturing rather than killing, and in keeping their captives alive. This coupled with the disproportionate removal of males and the introduction of new crops from the Americas (cassava, maize) would have limited general population decline to particular regions of western Africa around 1760–1810, and in Mozambique and neighboring areas half a century later. There has also been speculation that within Africa, females were most often captured as brides, with their male protectors being a bycatch who would have been killed if there had not been an export market for them.
During the period from the late 19th century and early 20th century, demand for the labor intensive harvesting of rubber drove frontier expansion and forced labor. The personal monarchy of Belgian King Leopold II in the Congo Free State saw mass killings and slavery to extract rubber.
Accounts like these raised many questions as some slaves grew philosophical with their journey. Smallwood points out the challenges for slaves were physical and metaphysical. The physical would be obvious as the challenge to overcome capacity, lack of ship room, and food. The metaphysical was unique as the open sea would challenge African slaves’ vision of the ocean as habitable. At essence, the journey on the ocean would prove to be an African’s biggest fear that would keep them in awe. Combining this with the lack of knowledge of the sea, Africans would be entering a world of anxiety never seen before. Yet, Europeans were also fearful of the sea, but not to the extent of Africans. One of these dilemmas came with the sense of time.
Africans used seasonal weather to predict time and days. The moon was a sense of time, but used like in other cultures. On the sea, Africans used the moon to best count the days, but the sea did not provide seasonal changes for them to know how long they were at sea. Counting the days on a ship was not the main priority, however. Surviving the voyage was the main horror. No one escaped diseases as the close quarters infected everyone including the crew. Death was so common that ships were called tumbeiros or floating tombs.
What shocked Africans the most was how death was handled in the ships. Smallwood says the traditions for an African death was delicate and community-based. On ships, bodies would be thrown into the sea. Because the sea represented bad omens, bodies in the sea represented a form of purgatory and the ship a form of hell. In the end, the Africans who made the journey would have survived disease, malnutrition, confined space, close death, and the trauma of the ship.
In Algiers during the time of the Regency of Algiers in North Africa in the 19th century, 1.5 million Christians and Europeans were captured and forced into slavery. This eventually led to the Bombardment of Algiers in 1816 by the British and Dutch, forcing the Dey of Algiers to free many slaves.
The trading of children has been reported in modern Nigeria and Benin. In parts of Ghana, a family may be punished for an offense by having to turn over a virgin female to serve as a sex slave within the offended family. In this instance, the woman does not gain the title or status of wife. In parts of Ghana, Togo, and Benin, shrine slavery persists, despite being illegal in Ghana since 1998. In this system of ritual servitude, sometimes called trokosi (in Ghana) or voodoosi in Togo and Benin, young virgin girls are given as slaves to traditional shrines and are used sexually by the priests in addition to providing free labor for the shrine.
During the Second Sudanese Civil War people were taken into slavery. Estimates of abductions range from 14,000 to 200,000. Abduction of Dinka women and children was common. In Mauritania it is estimated that up to 600,000 men, women and children, or 20% of the population, are currently enslaved, many of them used as bonded labor. Slavery in Mauritania was criminalized in August 2007. During the Darfur conflict that began in 2003, many people were kidnapped by Janjaweed and sold into slavery as agricultural labor, domestic servants and sex slaves.
In Niger, slavery is also a current phenomenon. A Nigerien study has found that more than 800,000 people are enslaved, almost 8% of the population. Niger installed an anti-slavery provision in 2003. In a landmark ruling in 2008, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice declared that the Republic of Niger failed to protect Hadijatou Mani Koraou from slavery, and awarded Mani CFA 10,000,000 – about $20,000 USD – in reparations.
Sexual slavery and forced labor are common in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many pygmies in the Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo belong from birth to Bantus in a system of slavery. Evidence emerged in the late 1990’s of systematic slavery in cacao plantations in West Africa.
According to the U.S. State Department, more than 109,000 children were working on cocoa farms alone in Ivory Coast in the worst forms of child labor in 2002.
On the night of April 14, 2014, a group of militants attacked the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria. They broke into the school, pretending to be guards, telling the girls to get out and come with them. A large number of students were taken away in trucks, possibly into the Konduga area of the Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram were known to have fortified camps. Houses in Chibok were also burned down in the incident. According to police, approximately 276 children were taken in the attack, of whom 53 had escaped as of May 2, 2014.
Other reports said that 329 girls were kidnapped, 53 had escaped and 276 were still missing. The students have been forced to convert to Islam and into marriage with members of Boko Haram, with a reputed bride price of ₦2,000 each – about $12.50 USD. Many of the students were taken to the neighboring countries of Chad and Cameroon, with sightings reported of the students crossing borders with the militants, and sightings of the students by villagers living in the Sambisa Forest, which is considered a refuge for Boko Haram.
On May 5, 2014 a video in which Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the kidnappings emerged. Shekau claimed that “Allah instructed me to sell them. I will carry out his instructions” and “Slavery is allowed in my religion, and I shall capture people and make them slaves”. He said the girls should not have been in school and instead should have been married since girls as young as nine are suitable for marriage.
During the Second Libyan Civil War, Libyans started capturing some of the Sub-Saharan African migrants trying to get to Europe through Libya and selling them on slave markets. Slaves are often ransomed to their families and in the meantime until ransom can be paid, they may be tortured, forced to work, sometimes worked to death, and eventually they may be executed or left to starve if the payment has not been made after a period of time. Women are often raped and used as sex slaves and sold to brothels. Many child migrants also suffer from abuse and child rape in Libya.
In Colombian Mesoamerica the most common forms of slavery were those of prisoners of war and debtors. People unable to pay back debts could be sentenced to work as slaves to the persons owed until the debts were worked off. Warfare was important to Maya society, because raids on surrounding areas provided the victims required for human sacrifice, as well as slaves for the construction of temples.
Most victims of human sacrifice were prisoners of war or slaves. Slavery was not usually hereditary. Children of slaves were born free. In the Inca Empire, workers were subject to a mita in lieu of taxes which they paid by working for the government. Each ayllu, or extended family, would decide which family member to send to do the work. The Spanish adopted this system, particularly for their silver mines in Bolivia.
Other slave-owning societies and tribes of the New World were, for example, the Tehuelche of Patagonia, the Comanche of Texas, the Caribs of Dominica, the Tupinambá of Brazil, the fishing societies, such as the Yurok, that lived along the coast from what is now Alaska to California, the Pawnee and Klamath. Many of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, such as the Haida and Tlingit, were traditionally known as fierce warriors and slave-traders, raiding as far as California.
Slavery was hereditary, the slaves being prisoners of war. Among some Pacific Northwest tribes about a quarter of the population were slaves. One slave narrative was composed by an Englishman, John R. Jewitt, who had been taken alive when his ship was captured in 1802. His memoir provides a detailed look at life as a slave, and asserts that a large number were held.
During the period from the late 19th century and early 20th century, demand for the labor-intensive harvesting of rubber drove frontier expansion and slavery in Latin America and elsewhere. Indigenous peoples were enslaved as part of the rubber boom in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Brazil. In Central America, rubber tappers participated in the enslavement of the indigenous Guatuso-Maleku people for domestic service.
Slavery was a mainstay of the Brazilian colonial economy, especially in mining and sugarcane production. 35% of all slaves involved in the Atlantic Slave trade went to Brazil. 4 million slaves were obtained by Brazil, 1.5 million more than any other country. Starting around 1550, the Portuguese began to trade African slaves to work the sugar plantations, once the native Tupi people deteriorated.
Although Portuguese Prime Minister Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, 1st Marquis of Pombal abolished slavery in mainland Portugal on February 12, 1761, slavery continued in her overseas colonies. Slavery was practiced among all classes. Slaves were owned by upper and middle classes, by the poor, and even by other slaves.
From São Paulo, the Bandeirantes, adventurers mostly of mixed Portuguese and native ancestry, penetrated steadily westward in their search for Indian slaves. Along the Amazon river and its major tributaries, repeated slaving raids and punitive attacks left their mark. One French traveler in the 1740’s described hundreds of miles of river banks with no sign of human life and once-thriving villages that were devastated and empty.
In some areas of the Amazon Basin, and particularly among the Guarani of southern Brazil and Paraguay, the Jesuits had organized their Jesuit Reductions along military lines to fight the slavers. In the mid-to-late 19th century, many Amerindians were enslaved to work on rubber plantations.
Escaped slaves formed Maroon communities which played an important role in the histories of Brazil and other countries such as Suriname, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica. In Brazil, the Maroon villages were called palenques or quilombos. Maroons survived by growing vegetables and hunting. They also raided plantations. At these attacks, the maroons would burn crops, steal livestock and tools, kill slave masters, and invite other slaves to join their communities.
Jean-Baptiste Debret, a French painter who was active in Brazil in the first decades of the 19th century, started out with painting portraits of members of the Brazilian Imperial family, but soon became concerned with the slavery of both blacks and indigenous inhabitants. His paintings on the subject helped bring attention to the subject in both Europe and Brazil itself.
The Clapham Sect, a group of evangelical reformers, campaigned during much of the 19th century for Britain to use its influence and power to stop the traffic of slaves to Brazil. Besides moral qualms, the low cost of slave-produced Brazilian sugar meant that British colonies in the West Indies were unable to match the market prices of Brazilian sugar, and each Briton was consuming 16 pounds (7 kg) of sugar a year by the 19th century. This combination led to intensive pressure from the British government for Brazil to end this practice, which it did in steps over several decades.
First, foreign slave trade was banned in 1850. Then, in 1871, the sons of the slaves were freed. In 1885, slaves aged over 60 years were freed. The Paraguayan War contributed to ending slavery as many slaves enlisted in exchange for freedom. In Colonial Brazil, slavery was more a social than a racial condition. Some of the greatest figures of the time, like the writer Machado de Assis and the engineer André Rebouças had black ancestry.
Brazil’s 1877–78 Grande Seca – Great Drought – in the cotton-growing northeast led to major turmoil, starvation, poverty and internal migration. As wealthy plantation holders rushed to sell their slaves south, popular resistance and resentment grew, inspiring numerous emancipation societies.
They succeeded in banning slavery altogether in the province of Ceará by 1884. Slavery was legally ended nationwide on May 13, by the Lei Áurea of 1888. It was an institution in decadence at these times, as since the 1880’s the country had begun to use European immigrant labor instead. Brazil was the last nation in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery.
Slavery was commonly used in the parts of the Caribbean controlled by France and the British Empire. The Lesser Antilles islands of Barbados, St. Kitts, Antigua, Martinique and Guadeloupe, which were the first important slave societies of the Caribbean, began the widespread use of African slaves by the end of the 17th century, as their economies converted from sugar production.
England had multiple sugar islands in the Caribbean, especially Jamaica, Barbados, Nevis, and Antigua, which provided a steady flow of sugar sales; slave labor produced the sugar. By the 1700’s, there were more slaves in Barbados than all the colonies combined.
Since Barbados did not have many mountains, the British were able to clear land for sugar cane. Indentured servants were initially sent to Barbados to work in the sugar fields. These indentured servants were treated so poorly that future indentured servants stopped going to Barbados, and there were not enough people to work the fields. This is when the British started bringing in African slaves. It was important for the slaves to be in Barbados because sugar had become a necessity for most people and the demand for it was high.
An important result of Britain’s victory in the War of the Spanish Succession of 1702–1714 was enlarging its role in the slave trade. Of special importance was the successful secret negotiation with France to obtain thirty-year monopoly on the Spanish slave trade, called the Asiento. Queen Anne of Great Britain also allowed her North American colonies like Virginia to make laws that promoted black slavery. Anne had secretly negotiated with France to get its approval regarding the Asiento. She boasted to Parliament of her success in taking the Asiento away from France and London celebrated her economic coup. Most of the slave trade involved sales to Spanish colonies in the Caribbean, and to Mexico, as well as sales to the British colonies in the Caribbean and in North America.
By 1778, the French were importing approximately 13,000 Africans for enslavement yearly to the French West Indies. To regularize slavery, in 1685 Louis XIV had enacted the code noir, which accorded certain human rights to slaves and responsibilities to the master, who was obliged to feed, clothe and provide for the general well-being of his slaves. Free blacks owned one-third of the plantation property and one-quarter of the slaves in Saint Domingue (later Haiti).
Slavery in the French First Republic was abolished on February 4, 1794. When it became clear that Napoleon intended to re-establish slavery in Haiti, Dessalines and Pétion switched sides, in October 1802. On January 1, 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the new leader under the dictatorial 1801 constitution, declared Haiti a free republic. Thus Haiti became the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States, and the only successful slave rebellion in world history.
Whitehall in England announced in 1833 that slaves in its territories would be totally freed by 1840. In the meantime, the government told slaves they had to remain on their plantations and would have the status of “apprentices” for the next six years.
In Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, on August 1, 1834, an unarmed group of mainly elderly Negroes being addressed by the Governor at Government House about the new laws, began chanting: “Pas de six ans. Point de six ans” (“Not six years. No six years”), drowning out the voice of the Governor. Peaceful protests continued until a resolution to abolish apprenticeship was passed and de facto freedom was achieved. Full emancipation for all was legally granted ahead of schedule on August 1, 1838, making Trinidad the first British colony with slaves to completely abolish slavery.
After Great Britain abolished slavery, it began to pressure other nations to do the same. France, too, abolished slavery. By then Saint-Domingue had already won its independence and formed the independent Republic of Haiti. French-controlled islands were then limited to a few smaller islands in the Lesser Antilles.
In late August 1619, the frigate White Lion, a privateer ship owned by Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick, but flying a Dutch flag arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia – several miles downstream from the colony of Jamestown, Virginia – with the first recorded slaves from Africa to Virginia. The approximately 20 Africans were from the present-day Angola. They had been removed by the White Lion’s crew from a Portuguese slave ship, the São João Bautista.
Historians are undecided if the legal practice of slavery began in the colony because at least some of them had the status of indentured servant. Alden T. Vaughn says most agree that both Negro slaves and indentured servants existed by 1640. Only a fraction of the enslaved Africans brought to the New World came to British North America, perhaps as little as 5% of the total. The vast majority of slaves were sent to the Caribbean sugar colonies, Brazil, or Spanish America.
By the 1680’s, with the consolidation of England’s Royal African Company, enslaved Africans were arriving in English colonies in larger numbers, and the institution continued to be protected by the British government. Colonists now began purchasing slaves in larger numbers.
The shift from indentured servants to African slaves was prompted by a dwindling class of former servants who had worked through the terms of their indentures and thus became competitors to their former masters. These newly freed servants were rarely able to support themselves comfortably, and the tobacco industry was increasingly dominated by large planters. This caused domestic unrest culminating in Bacon’s Rebellion. Eventually, chattel slavery became the norm in regions dominated by plantations.
The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina established a model in which a rigid social hierarchy placed slaves under the absolute authority of their master. With the rise of a plantation economy in the Carolina Lowcountry based on rice cultivation, a slave society was created that later became the model for the King Cotton economy across the Deep South. The model created by South Carolina was driven by the emergence of a majority slave population that required repressive and often brutal force to control. Justification for such a slave society developed into a conceptual framework of white superiority and aristocratic privilege.
Several local slave rebellions took place during the 17th and 18th centuries. Gloucester County, Virginia Revolt of 1663; New York Slave Revolt of 1712; Stono Rebellion of 1739; and New York Slave Insurrection of 1741.
Within the British Empire, the Massachusetts courts began to follow England when, in 1772, England became the first country in the world to outlaw the slave trade within its borders followed by the Knight v. Wedderburn decision in Scotland in 1778. Between 1764 and 1774, seventeen slaves appeared in Massachusetts courts to sue their owners for freedom. In 1766, John Adams’ colleague Benjamin Kent won the first trial in the present-day United States to free a slave.
The Republic of Vermont banned slavery in its constitution of 1777 and continued the ban when it entered the United States in 1791. Through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 under the Congress of the Confederation, slavery was prohibited in the territories north west of the Ohio River. By 1804, abolitionists succeeded in passing legislation that ended legal slavery in every northern state – with slaves above a certain age legally transformed to indentured servants. Congress banned the international importation or export of slaves on January 1, 1808.
Despite the actions of abolitionists, free blacks were subject to racial segregation in the Northern states. While England did not ban slavery in present-day Canada until 1833, free blacks found refugee and liberty there after the America Revolution and again after the War of 1812. Slavery in Canada was largely ended by judicial court decisions by the early nineteenth century. Refugees from slavery fled the South across the Ohio River to the North via the Underground Railroad. Midwestern state governments asserted States Rights arguments to refuse federal jurisdiction over fugitives. Some juries exercised their right of jury nullification and refused to convict those indicted under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
After the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act in 1854, armed conflict broke out in Kansas Territory, where the question of whether it would be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state had been left to the inhabitants. The radical abolitionist John Brown was active in the mayhem and killing in Bleeding Kansas. The true turning point in public opinion is better fixed at the Lecompton Constitution fraud. Pro-slavery elements in Kansas had arrived first from Missouri and quickly organized a territorial government that excluded abolitionists.
Through the machinery of the territory and violence, the pro-slavery faction attempted to force an unpopular pro-slavery constitution through the state. This infuriated Northern Democrats, who supported popular sovereignty, and was exacerbated by the Buchanan administration reneging on a promise to submit the constitution to a referendum – which would surely fail. Anti-slavery legislators took office under the banner of the newly formed Republican Party. The Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision of 1857 asserted that one could take one’s property anywhere, even if one’s property was chattel and one crossed into a free territory. It also asserted that African Americans could not be federal citizens. Outraged critics across the North denounced these episodes as the latest of the Slave Power taking more control of the nation.
The slave population in the United States stood at four million. Ninety-five percent of blacks lived in the South, comprising one third of the population there as opposed to 1% of the population of the North. The central issue in politics in the 1850’s involved the extension of slavery into the western territories, which settlers from the Northern states opposed.
The Whig Party split and collapsed on the slavery issue, to be replaced in the North by the new Republican Party, which was dedicated to stopping the expansion of slavery. Republicans gained a majority in every northern state by absorbing a faction of anti-slavery Democrats, and warning that slavery was a backward system that undercut democracy and economic modernization.
Numerous compromise proposals were put forward, but they all collapsed. A majority of Northern voters were committed to stopping the expansion of slavery, which they believed would ultimately end slavery. Southern voters were overwhelmingly angry that they were being treated as second-class citizens. In the election of 1860, the Republicans swept Abraham Lincoln into the Presidency and his party took control and legislators into Congress.
The states of the deep South, convinced that the economic power of what they called “King Cotton” would overwhelm the North and win support from Europe voted to seceded from the U.S. – then called “the Union”. They formed the Confederate States of America, based on the promise of maintaining slavery. War broke out in April 1861, as both sides sought wave after wave of enthusiasm among young men volunteering to form new regiments and new armies. In the North, the main goal was to preserve the union as an expression of American nationalism.
By 1862 most northern leaders realized that the mainstay of Southern secession, slavery, had to be attacked head-on. All the border states rejected President Lincoln’s proposal for compensated emancipation. However, by 1865 all had begun the abolition of slavery, except Kentucky and Delaware. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by Lincoln on January 1, 1863.
In a single stroke, it changed the legal status, as recognized by the U.S. government, of 3 million slaves in designated areas of the Confederacy from slave to free. It had the practical effect that as soon as a slave escaped the control of the Confederate government, by running away or through advances of federal troops, the slave became legally and actually free. Plantation owners, realizing that emancipation would destroy their economic system, sometimes moved their slaves as far as possible out of reach of the Union army. By June 1865, the Union Army controlled all of the Confederacy and liberated all of the designated slaves. The owners were never compensated. Over 200,000 free blacks and newly freed slaves fought for the Union in the Army and Navy, thereby validating their claims to full citizenship.
The severe dislocations of war and Reconstruction had a severe negative impact on the black population, with a large amount of sickness and death. After liberation, many of the freed men remained on the same plantation. Others fled or crowded into refugee camps operated by the Freed Men’s Bureau. The Bureau provided food, housing, clothing, medical care, church services, some schooling, legal support, and arranged for labor contracts. Fierce debates about the rights of the freed men, and of the defeated Confederates, often accompanied by killings of black leaders, marked the Reconstruction Era of 1863 to 1877.
Slavery was never reestablished, but after 1877, White Democrats took control of all of the southern states and blacks lost nearly all the political power they had achieved during Reconstruction. By 1900 they also lost the right to vote. They had become second class citizens. The great majority lived in the rural South in poverty working as laborers, sharecroppers or tenant farmers; a small proportion owned their own land. The black churches, especially the Baptist Church, was the center of community activity and leadership.
Looking at a map, to give one a better perspective of the reading above, one can see the time frame in which slavery was abolished.
As I close out part two of this series, I have to again remind the reader that this is only a short history of the events that relate to slavery. In part three, I’m going to concentrate on where we are today with slavery and give you the reader a lot more to ponder, as it relates not only to skin color as seen above, but it relates more in the lines of self-infliction by all races.