History has shown that slavery came into the lives of humans with the advent of civilization. The early man who were mostly hunters and gatherers with some few primitive farmers, did not see any economic advantage in owning a fellow human because they saw this as an extra mouth to feed on the little they collected or grew. When people start settling in towns, the demand for food to feed them increase, meaning that more has to be grown. This requires extra hands to work in the farms and workshops, whose owners do not want to incur any costs for labor and therefore slaves become the only option for cheap and readily available labor. Initially war was the main supply of slaves where by the victorious always took in the healthy and strong to be their workers and killing the rest. Piracy was also a contributor to slavery where the pirates could offer their captives for sale. Also criminals in the ancient societies could be sentenced to slavery. This essay is going to look at slavery in America.
History of slavery
Evidences show that slavery existed long past the written records in many cultures around the world. It has shown that slavery was rare among the hunters and gatherers of the then days. It only came up with the invention of agriculture about 11,000 years ago during the Neolithic revolution. Early records of slavery were traced to the Hammurabi Code of 1760 BC, and also the bible which shows that slavery was an established institution. Many ancient civilizations such as India, Egypt, china, the Ekkadian Empire, Greece, Assyria, in the Roman Empire, in the pre-Columbian civilizations of America and also in the Islamic Caliphate. Most of the slaves were used for labor but others used them for amusement, for instance the Romans used them as sex pets or gladiators. With time this was seen as oppression by the slaves and they started revolting. Slave trade in the middle ages was mainly carried out in the south and east mostly the between the Muslim world and the Byzantine Empire. Spain and Portugal were mostly the battle grounds between the Christians and the Muslims (Evans, 2009).
The Atlantic Slave Trade
This started in the mid fifteenth century and was famously known as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. It all started when the Portuguese changed their preferences from the more fabled gold deposits to the readily available slave commodity. The trade became more robust by the seventeenth century and peaking towards the close of the eighteenth century. This was a very fruitful trade because the merchants got profits on almost all the stages of the journey that gave it the infamous name “The triangular trade”. The main reason for the start of the trade was to find labor for the expanding European empires because the indigenous people proved unreliable. Most of them were dying from diseases and the climate did not favor them, but the Africans were resilient to these factors, they were resistant to the diseases, were used to the tropical climate and they could work very hard in mines and plantations (Evans, 2009).
But this was not new to Africa as the Africans had been traded for many years as slaves mainly to Europe through the Islamic-run and the famous trans-Saharan trade routes. The first slave market was a maritime town in Portugal called Lagos mostly dealing with imported African slaves. The Europeans did not like the slaves that they obtained from the North African coast who were dominantly Muslims because they seemed too well educated and were bound to rebel. Also slavery was a traditional norm in many African societies where kingdoms and states condoned forced labor, serfdom, chattel slavery and debt bondage (Slave Code, n.d.).
The triangular trade involved three stages where the first stage involved bringing of manufactured goods mainly cloth, tobacco, spirit, and many others to Africa, these were then exchanged for slaves. The second stage commonly referred to as the middle passage, involved shipment of slaves to America, and the final stage was the return of the slave traders to Europe with produce from the plantations in America. At first most of forced laborers in the plantations were whites, indentured servants, but as blacks started coming in, the whites were left out and this is where the notion of miscegenation propped up. This is basically race mixing, which was initially seen when white slave master had children with the female slaves as a way of increasing their labor force. But with time opposition to this become obvious and as a result anti-miscegenation laws were set up baring whites and blacks from marrying or even having sex (Evans, 2009).
There was also the issue of slave codes which were enacted to deny the Africans their rights. The English colonists categorized Africans as their cultural inferiors, human chattels who had no civil rights. For example, the southern colonies relied mostly on the slaves for their labor in cultivating the cash crops in the large plantations. This was mostly in Southern Carolina. To gain authority over the slaves, they came up with the 1740 Southern Carolina Slave Code which among other things, authorized whites to detain and examine any slave that was found not accompanied by a white outside a house or plantation, prohibited the leaving of plantations by the blacks, prohibited blacks from being taught how to read and write, called for severe punishment for blacks who engaged in criminal behavior especially against the whites and many other restrictions (Slave Code, n.d.).
For many years slavery existed to satisfy the greed for wealth and power of the colonists and the slave masters. People especially the blacks were stripped off their human dignity. But with time it becomes known that it was just a social sin. Its impacts were felt both from where the slaves were fetched to the slave masters abode. In America, racism emerged, miscegenation leading to anti-miscegenation laws was also seen, and the formation of the royal African company to fight for the rights of Africans was set up and many other initiatives.