The Long Death of Slavery in the United States - History Essay Example

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Slavery in the United States goes as far back as 1619, which is the time that the first African slaves were taken to Jamestown, Virginia (Stobaugh 33). They were captured in order to aid in the production of Tobacco, which is a leading cash crop in the nation at the time (Rael 10). From this period, slavery and slave trade in America continued for over a century. Nevertheless, by 1740, the concept of the American slavery had changed significantly. This essay is an analysis of the ways through which the American slavery had changed by 1740 as well as a discussion of why the changes took place.

Indentured Servants

The first significant change that took place before 1740 was the conversion of the African-American slaves to indentured servants in the 1960s (Evolution of Slavery 91). The first set of slaves that had arrived in Jamestown in 1619 inbound a slave ship were no longer regarded as slaves, although they were also not considered as free. Instead, they were offered the opportunity to work for their masters as indentured servants until the time that all their obligations were complete. In addition, although the slaves who completed their obligations were lucky enough to live as free men, the oncoming decades proved their freedom to be a rarity.

Variation in the Lives of Slaves in Captivity

The second significant change that was recorded among slaves during this period was the change in experiences amongst the slaves in captivity during the 1660s (Evolution of Slavery 89). Initially, the captured slaves in the nation used to work on the White Americans large plantations. Nevertheless, the natives started having slaves in the urban centers. In light of this phenomenon, the life in bondage for slaves in the urban regions and those in the plantations immensely varied. The slaves in the urban regions lived a little better life compared to those in the rural plantations.

Slaves Started Owning Properties

Before the year 1740, slaves also started owning properties after their period of indenture was complete. The first slaves to be offered a title to own properties by the American colony in 1655 was Sir Anthony Johnson. On March 8, 1665, Johnson was involved in a lawsuit that sought his release from his master, having finished his indenture period (Evolution of Slavery 90). After he was legally offered his freedom, Johnson became a successful tobacco plantation owner. He was referred by the rest of the slaves at the time as the black patriarch. His ability to own property despite being a former slave opened the doors for other slaves to acquire land after their indenture period.

Slaves Started to Inherit and Bequeath Properties from Other Slaves

Before 1740, slaves had already started to inherit and make wills pertaining their properties to other slaves. Sir Francis Payne well manifested this phenomenon in 1673. At the time, Payne was a free slave as well as a licensed property owner in the nation. In 1673, Payne wrote a will on a perfect body, will, and mind and bequeathed his properties to his wife and child (Evolution of Slavery 90). This phenomenon was the first of its kinds since he was the first free slave in the United States to create and activate a will. In addition, his last testimony on his desires pertaining his properties was lawfully recognized by the laws used at that period.

Slave Codes

The slave codes in the early 1700s is another significant phenomenon that caused a substantial change in the slavery before 1740 (South Carolina Slave Codes 1). They were state laws that had been created so as to ascertain the status of slaves as well as the rights of the slaves owners. The codes create immensely harsh restrictions to the already limited rights that the slaves had at the time. The primary purpose of the slave codes was to discourage the chances of the emergence of rebellion or escape by the slaves. As a result, the slave codes offered the slave masters absolute control over all aspects of the slaves lives.

Consequently, most slaves in the nation at the time did not accept the imposition of the slave codes by the national laws. As a result, there occurred multiple slave rebellion in different parts of the nation where the slave trade was performed. One of the most notable rebellion was the 1712 slaves uprising in Manhattan. With the continued increase in the numbers of slaves in the nation, the White population developed a growing paranoia of an imminent uprising from the slaves in captive. (South Carolina Slave Codes 1). This fear of an uprising is what made the Americans develop the slave codes so as to restrict the behavior of the slaves.

There are several ways to which the slave codes were oppressive to the slaves in captivity. According to the laws, slaves were considered to be properties to be owned by the masters (South Carolina Slave Codes 1). Also, the slaves were not permitted to assemble by themselves without the presence of a white master in their company. In addition, the slaves who lived in upcountry on plantations possessed special forms of curfews. In addition, no slaves could present an accusation or evidence against a white person before a court of law. In addition, no slaves could be presented as a member of the jury.

In addition, it was considered illegal for Native Americans to teach a slave the skills of reading and writing. Also, religious customs were not strongly imposed among slaves as they were in the white population. For instance, Christians did not recognize the marriage between two persons if they were slaves. (South Carolina Slave Codes 3). This made it easy for the American slave masters to justify breaking families between slaves through selling one member of search a family to a different master (McCord 397). Ultimately, the codes provisioned that any slave could be lawfully killed in the event they struck or assaulted a white person in any way.


In conclusion, there are significant changes that took place in the American slavery period between 1619 and 1740. The first change was the creation of indentured servitude, where slaves could serve their masters for a specified period and later secure their freedom once the servitude period was complete. Other changes included the variation in the lives of slaves in captivity and slaves also started owning properties lawfully once they had secured their freedom. In addition, the slaves started to inherit as well as bequeath properties from other slaves. Ultimately, the slave codes were enacted by the American government at the time, and they were primarily focused on suppressing any uprising that could occur among the slaves who had significantly grown in number.

Works Cited

Evolution of Slavery Documents

BIBLIOGRAPHY McCord, David J. "The Statutes at Large of South Carolina." Containing the Acts Relating to Charleston, Courts, Slaves, and Rivers 7 (1840): 397. 1 December 2017.

Rael, Patrick. Eighty-eight Years: The Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865. illustrated. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015.

South Carolina Slave Codes

Stobaugh, James P. American History-Student: Observations & Assessments from Early Settlement to Today. New Leaf Publishing Group, 2012.

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