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Freedom and Slavery in Colonial America, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 961

Essay

Freedom was an important ideal in the British Colonial Era.  The migration of people to America was founded on the desire to escape persecution and to improve the quality of life.  British colonists believed that freedom was their inherent right of all subjects. However, this concept of freedom did not extend to the non-English or slaves.  Many colonists did not own slaves, though slavery was perceived to be necessary for a functioning economy.  Slavery and other forms of free labor were considered to be important on plantations and large farms.  Urban areas and smaller farms either did not require slaves or could not afford them, so it was easier to establish thoughts of equality.  The ethical question of slavery depended more on the type of economy rather than actual morality.  The purpose of this paper is to examine the effect of the economy had on the perception of slavery.

The majority of slaves in the eighteenth century were obtained from Africa, though forced labor did exist with Native Americans and indentured servants.  Because colonists had an idealized concept of freedom, the fact that slavery was relied upon was ironic.  Colonists were able rationalize this irony by the belief that owning slaves was a reaffirmation of their freedom. While some colonists believed that the concept of freedom extended to all, the majority of “freedom” was based on economy.

There were three different economies in colonial times. The Chesapeake region in Maryland and Virginia was based on tobacco.  The colonies in South Carolina and Georgia relied on rice and indigo, and the colonies in the northern and middle regions consisted of either small farms or were more urban.  Depending on the region which they lived, treatment of both free and enslaved Africans was different.

The Chesapeake economy in Virginia and Maryland relied on the production of tobacco  for its success.  The plantations were relatively small and there was more interaction between slaves and their masters.  A structural hierarchy existed in the Chesapeake colonies.  Plantation owners were at the top of this chain.  These men owned a large amount of land and required a high volume of workers to operate this. Second in the social and political structure were the Yeoman farmers, or small farmers, who were free men who owned land, but not slaves. Though they did not enjoy the same wealth and privilege as the plantation owners, Yeoman farmers had their freedom.  Tenant farmers rented the land they lived on and paid in the form of money or produce.  They were in a lower class than the Yeoman farmers, they still were considered free men, even though they were prohibited from voting because they were not landowners.  Indentured servants, while not exactly slaves, still had to work without compensation.  Usually, they were the poor who migrated to the colonies, but required assistance to get there.  Indentured servants were not considered slaves even though they were for without compensation because they eventually would be free once they paid their debt.  Slaves were at the bottom of the social structure, having no freedom or basic rights.  Unlike indentured servants, were most likely to be slaves for life.  Free Africans had very few political rights because the hierarchy and slavery were so entrenched in the region’s economic success.

In the Chesapeake society, many Africans were assimilated into British culture.  They learned English and were part of the Great Awakening.  The originator was the English minister George Whitefield.  The Great Awakening preached a more emotional connection with God and taught colonists that they did not need to rely on the Church of England and other forms of authority to have a close relationship with God.  The emphasis on spiritual equality inspired many people, including both free and enslaved  African Americans, that they matter as much as the wealthy in the eyes of God.

The economies in South Carolina and Georgia were based on the production of rice and indigo.  The plantations were larger and free labor was beneficial in order to ensure that the plantations would thrive.  The social and political hierarchy was very similar to that of the Chesapeake region. The African American culture in South Carolina and Georgia produced two distinct populations.  The slaves on the rice plantations retained more of their African culture.  In more urban areas, such as port towns, African “servants” were exposed to European culture.

The New England and Middle colonies economies were not as reliant on slavery.  As a result, Africans and Africans Americans were granted more freedoms and civil liberties.  Though slavery still existed, free African Americans enjoyed greater social liberties than those living in other colonial regions.

In today’s society, many would consider slavery to be a moral issue.  In the British Colonial Era, slavery was more of an economic concern.  Whether or not individuals supported the notion, the overall consensus was that free labor was necessary for certain economies to thrive.   It was much easier for a colonist from New England to recognize the immorality of slavery as opposed to a colonist from South Carolina.  Slavery also flourished because the plantation owners had most of the wealth and political pull.  Their financial success depended on free labor, and Africans were perceived to be better free labor than Native Americans, indentured servants, or convicts.  By examining the economic conditions and the ideals and morals of colonial times, it is evident that the opinion of slavery and equality is more dependent on the financial resources of the region.

Work Cited

Care, Henry. “English Liberties or, the Free-born Subject’s Inheritance.” (1680): 1-5. Print.

Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History Volume I: to 1877. 3rd ed. New York: W W Norton & Company Incorporated, 2012. 46-127. Print.

Lincoln, Charles Z. The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution. 1. Albany: 1894. 111-16. Print.

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