7 Jun 2022


British Colonial America and African Slavery

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Contextualization of slavery in the American history is understood from the perspective of political, economic and social revolution before, during and after European colonization. The existence of slavery was well established by the Portuguese and the Spanish in their quest of imperialist ideals. Nonetheless, their application of slavery as part of their model of expansion was in existence for centuries before. In context, European civilization and culture recognized social classes based on individual freedoms of individuals and their contribution in the society. Based on economic power, higher social classes subjected other classes to servitude and exploitation regardless of their race. However, the subjugation of African people was based on racial subjugation. In context therefore, this paper will categorically explore the evolution of African slavery in colonial America as implicated by the British. 

The discovery of America by the European came in context with the imperial expansion out of Europe. The continent known to the English as the new land represented economic freedom for the masses and increase in wealth for the British Empire. Therein, their settlement in the early seventeenth century was denoted by the quest for raw economic power over other European powers. Characterized by significant number of resources and human resources, Britain took the America by storm within the imperial system. For the British, America was not only a colony, but also an alternative settlement for the unsustainable and expanding population in their country. Therein, the settlement of the new land took place within the social organization platform of the British Empire (Bruno, 1992) . Convinced that the exploitation of the new land was key to the generation of wealth for the empire, colonial policies were within the British norm and exploitation did not include utility of slave labour. Nonetheless the continued influence of economic ties with social organization dictated racial subjugation 

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The presence of the new immigrants in the new land included the evolution of social structure in the exchange of ideas as well as economic practices. By the seventeenth century, the economic drivers of the American economy were dictated by agriculture especially in the arable lands in the south. Increased population in the southern states contributed to the increased social conflict in the colonies. For instance, the British nature in the colonies was aimed at increase in capital and economic development. This was only possible with increase in the number of white settlers and expansion of their territory (McCusker, and Menard, 2014) . Expansion of the territory therefore involved the creation of social friction between the whites and the minority groups including Native Americans as well as blacks in the colonies. While the Native Americans were losing their land to the whites, Africans lost their liberty and freedom. 

Understanding the involvement of the British in African slavery includes the understanding of economic progress in the southern states. By the early eighteenth century, the American colonies formed among the most important and profitable regions of the British conquest. This was facilitated by the presence of expansive arable land for the British agrarian economy and international trade. However, the increased demand for land led to increased conquest in the American frontier that created the marginalization of the Native Americans in the region. By this time African slavery had been in existence in America to an extent of the Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Labour in the arable land was in the context of labour policies of the British Empire. Nonetheless, the thirst for profits and economic power led to increased use of slave labour. African slaves had been used for centuries across the globe as they were traded by the Portuguese in to the new land. 

Establishment and perpetuation of American slavery in the colonial states was not only in the context of the economy, but rather in context with the social and political organization. As economic development brought changes to the social order, political beliefs were shaped and became constitutionalized in the process. For instance, the struggle to maintain economic profits in the farms led to the increased use of slaves. Therefore, the need to own slaves became an economic requirement. On the other hand the decision of African subjugation and denial of their freedom came from a social perspective. The power generated in economic profits created social changes through which racial implications led to racial supremacy battles among people. The whites owning the means of economic progress and means of production therefore controlled social order and therefore vehemently stamped their supremacy against other races. These social influences resulted in brutal subjugation of the Africans in the region. By the mid seventeenth century, slave trade was well established that it became a valuable commodity among the white Americans in equity to the value of the land. 

In context therefore, the value of slaves dictated possible conflict with the spirit of the American Revolution and political beliefs of freedom and liberty. The negation of political conflict generated steady and continuous revision of states acts and laws to aid in the victimization of Africans. Racial inequality and discrimination therefore paved exploitative policies as forms of social change in the American society. With increased land for cultivation in the American frontier demanded more labour and therefore more profits were needed in the finance of the colonies. The increased migration of populations from Europe expedited the social expenditure. With increased African slaves in the arable lands, the importance of agriculture was more important and therefore needed protection within the confines of the law. Controlling slaves therefore became part of the insurance policy of the British for their economy was dependent on the availability free and cheap labour. 

The genesis of the British and African slaves dynamic was in the legal acknowledgement of racial discrimination against black people. In context for example, the law defined slavery and their status within the society. The possibility of these legal changes in the law were based on the importance of agriculture and the saturated representation of white settlers in the colonial assemblies. Implicated by their power and value of payment of taxes, settlers supported the American economy in wake of destruction of the northern territories by the war of 1812. The situation therefore loosened the social activists who proclaimed equality and liberty of the black slaves in the region. Therefore, to protect their interest, they made legal distinction between the slaves and servants in the region (Phillips, 2013). This distinction was made in reference to the races that existed in the region. Further, the legal atmosphere also determined how slaves were acquired. For instance, slaves’ acquisition was through the well-established trade among the slave traders and the masters as settlers and farmers in the states. In the policies established, the extent of that discrimination was extended to children born of slaves. Therein, the policies dictated that all children status of freedom and liberty were attached to that of their mother. In this context therefore, settlers had supply of free labour as they owned all children born by slaves under their servitude. 

Legal establishment of open racial and social discrimination stripped the rights and freedom of African slaves as they were captured and placed their lives to the mercy of their masters. In this determination therefore, the law also provided the open mistreatment through punishment of slaves offences termed within the policies of the states. Therefore, the acknowledgement of Africans as objects of ownership stripped them off their humanity and therefore any punishment taken against them was in the mercy of their masters. The legal parameters therefore created absolution to actions of the whites as they as slavery was done under the law (Brown, 2012) . The implication therefore was the moral and legal justification of slavery in the colonial states. For instance, the discrimination against the black people led to enactment of laws specific to the African slaves as they determined punishment of black people in regard to their crimes or perceived crimes against white people. Virginia State in September seventeenth 1630 was among the first legal and discriminative laws of the state against black people. Policies in these states however were a representation of the view of the social view of the people in the region. Increased urbanization and population growth denoted a plea for social change as the poor were exploited at the hands of the powerful. In this context, African slaves were negligible as the state as well as the white people had little acknowledgement of their humanity. 


Brown, K. M. (2012).  Good wives, nasty wenches, and anxious patriarchs: Gender, race, and power in colonial Virginia . The University of North Carolina Press. 

Bruno, R. A. (1992). Who Built America? 

McCusker, J. J., & Menard, R. R. (2014).  The Economy of British America, 1607-1789 . UNC Press Books. 

Phillips, U. B. (2013).  American Negro Slavery-A Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor as Determined by the Plantation Regime . Read Books Ltd. 

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