difficulty, wealthy white American settlers created and dominated a stable plantation society in which slaves, Indians, and poorer whites accepted the justice of their subordination.
There is sound evidence that slavery had spread through America long before 1776. Like a vile cancer, slavery spread throughout with the early settlers. As they arrived from Europe, white settlers began to push inward. As they moved into vast uncharted territories, they brought along their concept and belief in slavery.
When the American Revolution initiated with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, slavery was well rooted. Many leaders of the Revolution regarded the elimination of slavery as impossible. The American slaveholders had effectively protected their beloved institution.
Laws were enacted that reinforced slavery as an institution. Legal language included, "That all servants imported and brought in this country, by sea or land, who where not Christians in their native county...shall be accounted and be slaves, and as such be here bought and sold notwithstanding a conversion to Christianity afterwards..."
The laws of the day, passed by the representatives of the slave owners, provided for the care of slaves. One law stated, "That all masters and owners of servants, shall find and provide for their servants, wholesome and competent diet, clothing, and lodging." Laws protected the servants from whippings while they were naked
For nearly 90 years following the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the practice of lifetime bondage continued. It was nothing more than an evolutionary process that had begun almost 160 years before 1776.
North American slaves were Africans or of African descent. There were some exceptions, as there was a minority of Native Americans forced into slavery. The popular practice of slave trade created massive involuntary migration.
The question of how slavery originated remains unanswered. The Old Testament of the Bible contains references to slavery, offering one possible answer. The English enslaved black Africans by the early seventeenth century. Most European-Americans from the beginning of the country's gestation thought slavery uniformly based on the simple principle of white supremacy.
Slaves in America did not automatically accept the system created by their masters. The evidence that many did not has been increasing in recent years. There were numerous slave revolts. The uprisings were never so widespread and dangerous to slave owners as the rebellions in Latin America or the West Indies. American slaves often revolted their lifelong imprisonment by escaping. They ran away to territories where laws abolished slavery.
This was not always the case. On September 9, 1739, a Sunday, things were not as usual in a small place called Stono, located near Augustine, Georgia. Sunday was the day slave owners allowed their slaves to plant and work for themselves. For the other six days, the slaves worked for their owners, doing the manual labor. The seventh day was their day off from their owner's work. Slaves used the day to do their own chores. If they did not work on this day, they would not have food.
A slave named Jemmy was the leader of a group of twenty other "Angola Negroes" that assembled. They captured a warehouse and killed Mr. Gibbs and Mr. Robert Bathurst. They plundered the house, and stole small arms and powder. "...They plundered and burnt Mr. Godfrey's house, and killed him, his daughter, and son. They then turned back and marched Southward along Pons, which is the Road through Georgia to Augustine. They passed Mr. Wallace's Tavern towards day break, and said they would not hurt him for he was a good man and kind to his slaves, but they broke open and plundered Mr. Lenny's house, and killed him, his wife and child. They marched on towards Mr. Rose's, resolving to kill him; but he was saved by a Negro, who having hid him went out and pacified the others. Several Negroes joined them, they calling out 'Liberty,' marched on with colours displayed, and two drums beating, pursuing all the white people they met with, and killing man, woman, and child when they could come up to them. Collonel Bull, Lietenant Governour of South Carolina, who was then riding along the road, discovered them, was pursued, and with much difficulty, escaped and raised the country. They burnt Colonel Hext's house and killed his overseer and his wife. They then burnt Mr. Sprye's house, then Mr. Sacheverell's, and then Mr. Nash's house, all lying upon the Pons Road, and killed all the white people they found in them."
The mob continued to swell, and the slaves became intoxicated on the rum they found when they ransacked the houses. Nearly 100 stopped in a field, and danced. They sang songs and beat drums, attracting even more to their numbers. They celebrated their ten-mile march, burning the buildings and killing the slave owners and their families, all without much opposition.
The Southern planters quickly raised a militia, and on horseback, charged the slaves. The militia killed several of the slaves on the spot, while others ran back to their plantations, thinking their owners had not missed them. They were then taken and shot, as were others that were fleeing in the field. The shootings of the slaves were to honor the murdered slaveholders and their families.
This is one graphic example of how early American slaves rebelled against the institution, and how their insurrection was stopped. Over 60 people were killed - 40 slaves and 20 whites.
Thomas Jefferson pondered the plight of slavery and Negroes. In his writings, he stated that slavery was wrong and the system should end. He concluded that mixing races was immoral. While in France, Thomas Jefferson took Sally Hemings as concubine. Sally was the half-sister of Thomas Jefferson's deceased wife Martha, a slave she had inherited when her father died. In France, slavery was illegal, and therefore Sally was free there. Madison Hemings states that in order to persuade Sally to return with him to the United States, Thomas Jefferson agreed to free her children by the age of twenty-one. However, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves all his life, and only the Hemings slaves received their freedom during his lifetime or in his will. The other slaves owned by Jefferson, numbering over 200, were sold at auction after his death.
Jefferson said, "The circumstance of superior beauty is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man?" Jefferson questioned their ability to think when he wrote, "But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never see even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture." Yet he was amazed at their musical ability. "In music, they are more generally gifted than the whites with accurate ears for tune and time."
Jefferson also realized the deep-rooted problem of slavery in the south. He wrote, "For in a warm client, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labour. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?"
The issue of slavery was handled differently in the young country. For example, Pennsylvanians became well-known for their resistance in returning runaway slaves. Even George Washington realized that. Washington doubted there was much hope of getting a slave returned from Pennsylvania when a Virginian's slave had escaped to Philadelphia and was among the "Society of Quakers" who has attempted to liberate [him]." Later Washington wrote that one of his own slaves was now in southeastern Pennsylvania, "where it is not easy to apprehend them because there are a great number [of people there] who would rather facilitate the escape...than apprehend the runaway."
Life as a slave was difficult, and those that lived as a slave found their plight miserable and terrible. As an excerpt from James Revel's The Poor Unhappy Transported Felon's Sorrowful Account of His fourteen Years Transportation at Virginia in America, described his life: