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According to the film Slavery and the Making of America, slavery had a profound effect on the historical development of American colonies into one country. One of the first colonies established in the newly discovered land was New Amsterdam, founded by the Dutch West Indian Company on a hilly island now called Manhattan. To make larger profits, the Dutch needed to reduce production expenses by using free labor. Hence, in 1624, the first enslaved Africans came to New Amsterdam; they are known as the first eleven slaves.
As explained in the film, “their lives were controlled by the Dutch West India Company” (Slavery and the Making of America). The first eleven slaves regularly tried to negotiate their status but without any significant result. Their bonds represent two hundred years of history of what would become America’s the Northern States.
In the Southern States, in the Chesapeake colonies of Maryland and Virginia, at least some of the black people who arrived were able to acquire property. However, Bacon’s Rebellion accelerated the shift towards slavery, and between 1640 and 1670, black slaves started to be treated differently as opposed to the whites, who were indentured servants. By 1665, Maryland and New York have legalized slavery, thus depriving black slaves of their rights and freedoms.
In Virginia and Maryland, the economy was organized around large and isolated plantations of tobacco, where planters used black slaves to expand their tobacco business and earn more profits. In North and South Carolina, “economic life was organized around larger but less isolated plantations growing rice, indigo, coffee, cotton, and sugar” (“Overview of the Colonial Era”). Of the thirteen original colonies, the Carolinas were the first ones where slavery was the center of economic production. It is here where racial slavery had been sanctioned by the Constitution in 1669 (Slavery and the Making of America).
The primary resources assigned for this week paint a full picture of the colonial period. The textbook provides readers with the sequence of the facts, while the film and documents illustrate life in the colonial period vividly. For instance, the textbook tells of the religious persecution in the 17th century that resulted in the mass immigration of Europeans (“Overview of the Colonial Period”). The letter of an unfortunate English servant, in turn, provides an account of her experience: “What we unfortunate English People suffer here is beyond the probability of you in England to conceive” (Sprigs 151).
While the film focuses mostly on black slavery, the documents also reveal the distressing stories of white convicts who faced a similar fate. For instance, Eddis writes, “these unhappy beings are, generally, consigned to an agent, who classes them suitably to their real or supposed qualifications; advertises them for sale, and disposes of them, for seven years, to planters” (66). Thus, there are slight differences between the resources in terms of content, but together, they create a comprehensive account of the colonial period.
Undoubtedly, the Revolution would have happened regardless of whether slavery had been eradicated or not. While slavery was a significant contributory factor, the Revolution has also been influenced by the tensions between the British and other American colonists. In particular, the British government used “numerous measures designed to ensure the colonial legislatures did not achieve autonomy” (Kelly). Hence, it is unlikely that the war could have been avoided through the abolition of slavery. In fact, since many colonies depended on slaves for economic profits, the early abolition of slavery could have increased economic tensions and contribute to the conflict.
The economic dependence on free labor is also the primary reason why the Founding Fathers did not address slavery. At the time, it was important to establish the new nation and ensure its autonomy, and thus economic development was crucial. By abolishing slavery, the Founding Fathers would have threatened the stability and future of America, and it is possible that the newly found nation would have been divided into colonies once again or destroyed altogether due to economic constraints.
Eddis, William. Letters from America. Applewood Books, 2009.
Kelly, Martin. “The Root Causes of the American Revolution.” ThoughtCo. 2019. Web.
“Overview of the Colonial Period.” Digital History, 2016. Web.
Slavery and the Making of America. The Downward Spiral. Directed by Dante James, PBS, 2005.
Sprigs, Elisabeth. “Letter to Mr. John Sprigs in White Cross Street near Cripple Gate, London, September 22, 1756.” Colonial Captivities, Marches, and Journeys, edited by Isabel Calder, Macmillan Company, 1935, pp. 151–52.