The Origins of Slavery in America
The institution of slavery is a black mark on the history of America. The atrocities that were allowed to occur for hundreds of year are revolting to think about. History books and classes often detail the horrors of slavery, and the effects it had on our agricultural economy. However, they do not really explain why the practice of slavery was allowed to flourish in the colonies. They just present the facts of its occurrence. They do not consider the mindset of the people who thought it was justifiable to enslave a specific race. This paper seeks to answer this question using evidence from the studies of Degler, the ...view middle of the document...
The blacks arrived on the shores of America with no set status. They could have been afforded the same treatment as white servants, it “depended upon the reaction of those who received the negroes” (Degler). Had the colonists not harbored any feelings of superiority to the blacks, there would not have been such a difference in the treatment of white servants versus blacks. However, there are many cases that suggest the English did see the Africans as inferior.
For example, the English settlers in the West Indies had already set a precedent for colonists to follow by treating the blacks differently than the other white servants. There were cases of trying to maintain a maximum number of Africans, and not allowing them to carry weapons or tools out of fear (Degler). African women were forced to work in the field, while white women were not expected to carry out such tasks (Degler). In 1640 there were two cases involving runaways that clearly illustrate how African servants were treated differently than white servants. The first three runaways were caught; two white and one black name John Punch. They each received 30 lashes and the white men had their terms extended a year and also had to work for the colony for three more. Punch however, was punished by serving his master for the duration of his life, effectively enslaving him (Degler). Clearly, Punch was punished much more severely because he was black and did not have the same rights in the eyes of his master. In the second instance, six whites and one black ran away and were caught. It was documented that one white got the harshest punishment consisting of 30 stripes, a branding of the letter R, was shackled, and received an additional seven years added to his term. The only other runaway to receive such a punishment was the black, but he did not have the seven years. This is because he was already serving for life and adding more years would accomplish nothing (Degler). Finally, another telling sign that the blacks were already being enslaved were the inventory records from the early 1600’s. The blacks regardless of age or gender were always priced higher than their white counterparts, and the lengths of terms were absent. Their value was higher because their service was for life, explaining the absence of the length of term (Degler). Undoubtedly there are many more cases of blacks being treated as slaves and inferiors than there are of whites, even though there was a plethora of white servants. However, the presence of a large number of free Africans or those with defined terms of services shows us that the discrimination of blacks cannot be the sole cause of slavery. While slavery had definitely begun, it was not uniform or consistent by any means. Had there not been another factor involved, it is not unfathomable that different, albeit poorly treated, classes of Africans would have formed.
Continuing on the last point, were it not for specific economic conditions, slavery would not...