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Describe the history of slavery in the United States spans almost a century beginning from the 17th century and continuing until the 19th century.  The African slaves brought by the Dutch in 1619 were instrumental in building the modern American nation by producing profitable crops like cotton and tobacco. During the 17th century, European colonizers in North America looked to African slaves as an inexpensive, more abundant labor source than the poor contracted European servants (, 2018). Most of the black saves were posted on the rice, tobacco and indigo plantations of the southern coast comprising Maryland, Virginia and Georgia as the Chesapeake Bay colonies.

In the South, slavery was the most visible constituting almost one-third of the southern population where they lived mostly on smaller farms or large plantations. The white masters had an average of 50 slaves in their possession that they governed with strict codes and policies. These slaves were made to depend completely on their masters and the women slaves even had to bear sexual torture from their male masters. In regards to marriages, slaves had no legal confirmation but they still married and raised families.

Origins of Slavery in the United States

Slaver can be defined as any condition or situational context in which people are owned by others, who take full control of them regarding where they live and where they work as well. Slavery has been practiced all through history, in various places at various times. It was mostly practiced by the ancient Greeks, the Aztecs, the Incas and the Romans (Blake, 2011). The main purpose of this paper is to discuss the history of slavery and how this history impacts the contemporary society.

History of Slavery

Slavery started with civilization. Slaves were considered an important luxury for hunter gatherers. Due to massive growth of cultivation, individuals who were defeated in war became slaves, and would work in plantations. Slavery in the western can be traced back ten thousand years to Mesopotamia, which is called Iraq today. In those days, a male slave was valued more than an orchard of palms, while female slaves were highly demanded for provision of sexual services, and gained freedom from bondage only upon death of their masters. However, there were early abolitionists who arose in form of Therapeutae and the Essenes, the two Jewish sects. These sects engaged in abhorring owning of slaves by buying them for purposes of giving them freedom (Blake, 2011).

Slavery in America was practiced all through its colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries, where Africans were mainly tamed as slaves in order to help in building the modern America into a great economy via production of lucrative cash crops including cotton and tobacco. However, in the mid of the 19th century, the westward expansion of America and the abolition movement had already started provoking significant debates over slave trade, that could result into the nation being teared apart in the civil war that arose. Despite the fact that approximately four million slaves in the country were freed by the union from bondage, slavery legacy continued influencing the American history, starting from the era of reconstruction to the movement of civil rights that arose following emancipation (Smedley & Smedley, 2012).

In America, slavery and slave trade began during the year 1619, when twenty African slaves were brought into the country by a Dutch ship in the Jamestown Virginia, a British colony. During the entire 17th century, the European settlers in North America opted for African slaves, whom they considered as cheap labor which was also more plentiful than servants who were indentured, most commonly the poor Europeans. It has been approximated by some historians that around six to seven million black African slaves were transported to new places and continents during the 18th century. This deprived Africa most of its most abled and healthiest occupants, who could provide labor to the African continent (Skelton, 2014).

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the African slaves were mostly engaged in working in plantations of rice, tobacco and indigo in the southern coast. Upon the end of the American Revolution, many colonists especially in areas where slavery was not significantly essential for agriculture, started linking oppression of the African slaves to their own slave oppression by the British people, and called for abolition of slavery. However, after the end of the revolutionary war, a new constitution in US had significant acknowledgement of slavery. Every slave was counted and equated to three-fifths of an individual for taxation purposes (Smedley & Smedley, 2012).

Slavery in America: 17th to 19th Century

During the end of the 18th century, the land that was used for growing tobacco was almost getting exhausted and the south started facing significant crisis in their economies. The continued slavery growth in America was significantly in doubt too. During the same time, the textile industry in England was mechanized, which resulted into high demand for cotton in America (Engerman, 2009). However, production of cotton was limited due to the challenges in detaching its seeds from the fibers of raw cotton using hands.

However, during the year 1793, a simple device was invented by Whitney, which was highly mechanized and helped remove the seeds efficiently from the cotton fibers. The use of this device was largely adopted in other regions in America, which led the South to transit from producing tobacco on large scale to producing cotton instead. This switch led to reinforcing the high dependence of the region on the cheap labor acquired from slaves (Lovejoy, 2012).

Slavery itself had no widespread reach in North America, although the businessmen of most of these regions became rich due to their engagement and participation in slave trade as well as their investments in plantations in the southern regions. Between the years 1774 and 1804, slavery and slave trade was abolished in all states in the Northern part of America, but this slavery phenomenon was still practiced in the southern part. Despite the fact that the trade of African slaves was outlawed by the US congress in the year 1808, the trade flourished significantly resulting into tripling of the population of black African slaves in the United States. By end of the year 1860, the population was almost four million, with more than half of the slaves working in the southern states that were producing cotton (Stoler & Teaching Company, 2012).

The slaves living in the south of antebellum comprised approximately a third of the population in the southern estates. Many of these slaves lived on small farms and large plantations as well, and most of the masters had acquired more than fifty slaves (Smedley & Smedley, 2012). Owners of slaves or masters made their servants or slaves to be absolutely dependent on them, and the lives of slaves was governed by restrictive codes that were established by the masters. The slaves were not allowed to learn how to read and write, and there were tight restrictions on their movements and behavior. The masters also tamed women for their sexual liberties. The obedient slaves were favorably rewarded, while the rebellious ones were heavily punished. There was a strict hierarchy among the slaves, which always kept them divided so that they could not plan organizing against their masters (Smedley & Smedley, 2012).

The slave rebellions began in 1800 and went all through to the year 1822, but only a few of these rebellions were considered successful. Nat Turner led a slave revolt which terrified the white holders of slaves in the county of Southampton, Virginia in the year 1831. He group belonging to Turner, which comprised about seventy five black Africans, managed murdering around sixty white slaveholders within two days prior to armed resistance from the local white slaveholders who defeated them. This rebellion led to further strengthening of slave codes so that the movement, assembly and education of slaves could be limited for purposes of preventing such insurrections (Stoler & Teaching Company, 2012).

The Legacy of Slavery in America

However, between the years 1830 and 1860, the abolitionist’s movement of slavery acquired much strength in America. This movement was headed by free blacks who included Frederick Douglas as well as white supporters among them William Garrison, who founded The Liberator, a radical newspaper and Harriet Stowe, who published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the best-selling novel in antislavery (Green, 2012). The activism of most slavery abolitionists was based on the belief that it was sinful to hold slaves, while other activists argued non-religiously on the need for free-labor. This argument proposed that holding slaves was considered inefficient, regressive and did not make much economic sense (Stoler & Teaching Company, 2012).

As early as 1780s, fugitive slaves were being helped by free blacks and antislavery white supporters to escape from plantations in the southern regions to the northern parts of America. This practice became more effective during the 1830s and assisted approximately fifty thousand to hundred thousand slaves in acquiring freedom from bondage. This antislavery move was termed as Underground Railroad, and its success assisted in spreading feelings of the abolitionists in the North (Bradley, Cartledge, Eltis & Engerman, 2011).

Slavery and slave trade ended on January 1, 1863 when Lincoln made an issuance of a preliminary proclamation of emancipation, making it official that slaves held within any states or its designated parts were to be freed from thenceforward and forever. This freeing of slaves deprived the states their cheap labor forces. However, slavery in America did not end with proclamation of the emancipation, but until the 13th amendment was passed following the end of the civil wars during the year 1865, where around 186,000 black African slaves and soldiers joined the union army while others approximately thirty eight thousand died (Smedley & Smedley, 2012).

Impacts of Slavery History on Contemporary Society

The history of slavery effects the contemporary societies in a number of ways. To understand these impacts clearly, it is important to gain an understanding of the reasons that caused slavery to happen (Dipietro, 2016). The supporters of slavery argue most commonly that slavery is a way of life and it is essential for establishment of world powers. Slavery is viewed by its proponents as a thing that was absolutely inevitable, since it was used primarily for providing cheap labor development of the American economy. However, although this proposition is true about slavery, the underlying reason behind its occurrence is linked to superiority rather than the mere need for economic development. It happened as a result of superiority, since the Africans were viewed by the whites as inferior and vulnerable, thus taming them into slaves and exploiting them. Racism can be therefore be inferred as an integral aspect of slavery (De, 2014).

Racism is still a concern in the contemporary society. It can be explained as a direct repercussion of the desire for one ethnic race to acquire more superiority than another race, and to take significant control over it. The seeds for racism in the present day society were sawn by slavery. Slavery provided an entitlement sense for individuals who belong to races with much superiority and led to creation of a complex of inferiority to those who emerged from races that were marginalized. Slavery participated actively in drawing the lines of separation between the whites and the blacks, which are still experienced today (Paz-Fuchs, 2016). Generations from both races grew up with notions and mind sets that the two races are supposed to co-exist in that particular manner.

This phenomenon also gives a sufficient explanation as to why the black people have to engage in fighting for their rights and freedom via powerful movements. The ideology of superiority of the whites was already established, which offered one race (the whites) a powerful position that was better off than that of the Africans. This is still manifested in the present day societies (Dipietro, 2016).

It is a belief of many individuals that racism ended together with abolition of slavery and slave trade while blacks were fighting for their freedom and human rights in various movements and union armies. However, racism is still considered alive today and remains a major concern in the modern societies (Green, 2012). This is demonstrated through inequitable distribution of resources, racial profiling and segregation which is rampant in most schools. A good example of this segregation is the Tyre King’s case. This was a thirteen year old who was unfortunately shot by the police on reaching for his BB gun. The police shot him on their assumption that he was actually armed due to the color of his skin, but he was actually a harmless young individual. Those who protested to this case argued that young black men cannot be allowed to walk freely in the neighborhood in certain dress codes or pocketing hands in their hoods since they could be presumed to be potentially armed (De, 2014).

Furthermore, classism systems were directly impacted by slavery, and these effects are still rampant in today’s societies. Slavery resulted in to unfair treatment of African Americans, which was demonstrated by divisionary classes in societies. This system is still showcased today in all life facets, in areas such as political, economic and social demographics. Black Americans are forced to work more hard than the whites since job opportunities are not accessible to everyone in the modern society. This explains why a significant part of poverty in the US is associated with the African Americans, due to the fact that they have the highest percentage of unemployment, standing at approximately 13% (Carter & National Slavery Museum, 2008).

African Americans as well as other minority groups are placed at the lowest income percentile as the whites occupy the top and middle percentiles. The rationale behind this fact is that opportunities are directed towards races of much superiority since ancient slavery days. Even after abolition of slavery, finding a balance that would enable the black Americans to acquire the opportunities available to the white citizens (Wood, 2018). The same discrimination is still present in the modern societies.

If America was founded on much better principles, there would be prevalence of fairness and equity. However, due to slavery, ideologies advocating superiority pf some races at the expense of others were brought about ((Paz-Fuchs, 2016). This led to significant disparities that are currently faced by the black Americans as well as other minority groups. The African Americans are nowadays occupying positions of power and good financial endowment, but this can be greatly linked to their personal efforts and commitments as opposed to propositions of systems that have been established in the modern societies (Baker, 2017).

According to research, most tycoons who are black Americans have acquired their wealth mainly through acting, singing and sports. These aspects are among the limited approaches through which individuals from these inferior groups are considered to excel, as opposed to their fellow whites who are entitled to a sense of better opportunities as instilled by the slavery vice (Carter & National Slavery Museum, 2008).

Slavery remnants still exist in various societies today. Individuals who still treat minorities unfairly and inequitably do so due to the way they have been brought up as well as their great desire for being better off than others in the society (Paz-Fuchs, 2016). These are natural feelings and are considered usual. However, they are believed to cause potential divisions amongst people in the societies, which can be explained in terms of different religions, races, sexual preferences and political views that are adopted by various groups of people in modern societies. Slavery primarily resulted into creation of two societies, a superior one for the whites and an inferior one for the blacks and other minority groups (Carter & National Slavery Museum, 2008).


As discussed above, slavery in America can be traced back from the 17th century when the Africans were tamed by whites and moved to North and South America to work in cotton and tobacco plantations mostly in the southern parts (Channing, 2014). However, the vice came to an end in the 1860s resulting from severe rebellions by the slaves as well as strong abolition movements that was initiated by supporters of antislavery. Although slavery and slave trade ended, there is significant impacts of slavery that are still rampant in the modern societies. One of the direct effects of slavery in contemporary societies is unfair and inequitable treatment of the African Americans in the United States. Racism, which is considered the main cause for the ancient slavery, is still manifested rampantly in the societies today (Baker, 2017).


Baker, J. L. (2017). Slavery. Dinslaken: Anboco.

Blake, W. O. (2011). The history of slavery and the slave trade, ancient and modern. Charleston, S.C.: Nabu Press.

Bradley, K., Cartledge, P., Eltis, D., & Engerman, S. L. (2011). The Cambridge world history of slavery, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Carter, C. J., & National Slavery Museum (U.S.). (2008). Freedom in my heart: Voices from the United States National Slavery Museum. Washington, DC: United States National Slavery Museum.

Channing, W. E. (2014). Slavery. New York: Project Gutenberg.

De, M. J. (2014). Slavery. New York: AV2 by Weigl.

Dipietro, W. (2016). Potential Sources of Modern Day Slavery. Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal, 3(1). doi:10.14738/assrj.31.1793

Engerman, S. (2009). Slavery. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Green, T. (2012). The rise of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in western Africa, 1300-1589. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Heuman, G. J., & Burnard, T. G. (2012). The Routledge history of slavery. London: Routledge.

Lovejoy, P. E. (2012). Transformations in slavery: A history of slavery in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Paz-Fuchs, A. (2016). Badges of Modern Slavery. The Modern Law Review, 79(5), 757-785. doi:10.1111/1468-2230.12214

Skelton, T. (2014). Introduction to the Pan-Caribbean. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Smedley, A., & Smedley, B. D. (2012). Race in North America: Origin and evolution of a worldview. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Stoler, M. A., & Teaching Company. (2012). The skeptic's guide to American history. Chantilly, VA: Teaching Co.

Wood, M. (2018). Slavery in small things: slavery and modern cultural habits. Slavery & Abolition, 39(1), 227-228. doi:10.1080/0144039x.2018.1432532

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