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Virginia After the Boom: Slavery and “The Losers” Essay

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Updated: Sep 5th, 2021

After the boom, Virginians experienced a number of problems cased by unique social, economic and political conditions of the colony. New labor force that came to Virginia “threatened the independence of the small freeman and worsened the lot of the servant”. Lack of lands and absence of strict laws concerning a servitude made the freemen real losers. From the master’s perspective, the costs entailed in maintaining and reproducing labor were at the expense of freemen. Free workers, however, cost their masters less because the poor were generally more frugal and efficient in maintaining themselves than were slaveholders in maintaining their slaves.

Freeman became ‘losers’ because most freemen were deprived a chance to start their own business and success as free land owners. “The servants who became free after 1660 found it increasingly difficult to locate workable land that was not already claimed”. Also, freemen were obliged to work for other freemen if they could not start their own household. As the core of their appeal, land ratio in America was low and the land was so fertile that one could expect ex-slaves to work for hire. Planters argued that the combination of exuberance and plentiful land required coercion to facilitate the production of commercial crops. This argument, as many slaveholders emphasized, applied to all human behavior in the Americas. Freemen of any color entered into the production of crops for the price of labor at which slaves could be recruited from. “Impatient for immediate freedom or intimidated by an overbearing master, servants often did give up their freedom dues and thus found themselves very quickly back at work for their bread in another man’s household”.

Also, the ‘losers’ were Indians and some slaves excluded from social, economic and political life of the colony. The rate of work force loss in the period of apprenticeship, especially in the period immediately following its termination, was greater than the rate of losses due to aging and mortality in the years before the boom. The differences between thickly and thinly settled areas had played a considerable role in discussions of reproduction, productivity, and prices before the boom. With the freedom to partially withdraw labor, the differences in man land ratios became still more important. ‘Discontented freedmen and displaced Indians should have been concentrated in the same areas was scarcely accidental. Both were losers in the contest for the richer lands of the tidewater”. Indians and some freemen had similar access to land and recourse to partial, intermittent, or total withdrawals from the work force. Also, the land of the colony was accumulated in the hand of large landowners and was used for speculations. Indians were not socially situated and were not included in any social structure: “they stood outside society”.

In sum, the losers were those men who stood outside social structure deprived human rights and legal protection. At least in the short run, access to land became a much more significant issue to both freemen and Indians than fertility and mortality figures. This phenomenon brought a rapid shift of positions between social classes. Freedom did not guarantee improved conditions of life and human rights for freemen and Indians. Low social classes were exploited by the authorities and large land owners used them as cheap labor deprived rights and freedom.

Works Cited

Morgan, E.S. The Losers. In American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. Norton, 1975, pp. 215-234.

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IvyPanda. "Virginia After the Boom: Slavery and "The Losers"." September 5, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/virginia-after-the-boom-slavery-and-the-losers/.

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