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Slavery in the American Colonies

The institution of slavery has a longstanding history that can trace back to the ancient kingdoms. The Greeks and the Romans practiced slavery not only to offer cheap labor but also as a sign of respect and power (Mathieson, 2019). Individuals who enslaved people in the ancient kingdoms wielded power. The quest for power and influence and a source of cheap labor influenced the development of slavery in the new world order. In the American colonies, the rising demand for cash crops created a need for work. Slavery offered an avenue through which landowners with massive tracks of land got a cheap source of labor. As owning more enslaved people meant one could produce more crops, slavery also became an avenue of generating power and respect. Given the differences in agricultural practices in different colonies, however, the practice of slavery differed with colonies. In the middle colonies, for instance, many enslaved people could change their status to indentured servants. The colonies that depended solely on agriculture and the production of cash crops had a high demand for enslaved people and instilled strict discipline to prevent mutiny or uprising.

The development of slavery in American colonies was primarily influenced by the increased demand for cash crops from American colonies. As the colonies interacted with the outside world and traders from vast areas, more demand for products such as tobacco, cotton, and sugar cane increased. One of the advantages of American colonies at the time was the huge tracks of fertile land. With the rising demand for cash crops and the availability of land, the only hindrance to wealth was labor as a factor of production. Enslaved people captured from regions such as Africa solved the labor shortage (McLaughlin, 2019). Landowners also realized that enslaving people would result in cheaper means of production. As one amerced more enslaved people, the wealthier they became.

The practice of agriculture in the different colonies influenced the number of slaves kept and how these enslaved people were treated. Middle colonies, for instance, grew tobacco as the main cash crop. This product was seasonal and was only harvested once yearly. This meant that landowners did not need to keep many slaves. In addition, it also meant that in the middle colonies, enslaved people were not maintained throughout the year. During tobacco harvesting, some farmers chose to lease enslaved people from enslavers in the south. Keeping a few slaves meant landowners treated them with dignity as they grew close (Mathieson, 2019). In contrast, in the southern colonies, slaves were kept all year round. The southern colonies were lucky that the weather supported agriculture throughout the year. In addition, in these colonies, multiple crops, such as cotton and sugarcane, were planted and harvested throughout the year (McLaughlin, 2019). This meant that the southern colonies had a demand for more enslaved people. Landowners kept many slaves throughout. In addition, landowners in the south were ruthless in preventing any uprising from enslaved people.

Indentured servitude existed together with slavery. While enslaved people were properties of the landowners and rich during the period, indentured servants were free. Indentured servants played skilled roles such as cooking, hunting, and trading and were paid for the services that they provided to their employers. In contrast, enslaved people were not paid for the services that they offered. They were also tasked with unskilled labor, such as planting and harvesting crops. Enslaved people were also treated harshly and were beaten for little to no reason (Sandy, 2017). Indentured servants were treated with respect.

The rise of slavery in the American colonies can be attributed to the increased demand for cheap labor. The colonies practiced agriculture as the main economic activity. With improved trade routes, traders demanded more cash crop products from the colonies. As a result, landowners sourced cheaper labor. Enslaved people provided the most affordable form of labor. Slaves from regions such as Africa were captured owing to their strength and could persevere in the harsh conditions on the farms. However, the number of enslaved people and the number of enslaved people kept depended on specific colonies. In colonies where agriculture was seasonal, farmers owned less enslaved people and treated enslaved people with a bit of respect. In contrast, southern colonies, where Agriculture was throughout the year, kept more slaves and treated them harshly.


Mathieson, W. L. (2019). British slavery and its abolition, 1823-1838. Pickle Partners Publishing.

McLaughlin, R. M. (2019). The Birth of a Nation: A Study of Slavery in Seventeenth-Century Virginia. Hastings Race & Poverty LJ16, 1.

Sandy, L. (2017). Slave owning overseers in eighteenth-century Virginia and South Carolina. Slavery & Abolition38(3), 459-474.


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