All through the 17th and 18th centuries, citizens from Africa were abducted, enslaved in American colonies and abused to serve as indentured slaves and work in the cultivation of crops such as cotton and tobacco. In the mid-19th century, western development in America and the emancipation revolution sparked a massive debate over enslavement that would rip the country apart in the brutal civil war. Although the triumph of the Union liberated the nation's four million slaves, the history of slavery continued to shape American history, from the period of Reconstruction to the campaign for civil rights that erupted a century after the freedom from slavery.
Christopher Columbus first stepped into the New World with Africans in 1492. Not long after that arrival, the world witnessed the first enslavement in what would later be called the United States of America. Ponce de Leon set up the first community in present-day San Juan in 1508 and started to enslave the Tainos indigenes. In 1513, the first enslaved Africans got into Puerto Rico in addition to the declining Tainos population. The first Africans enslaved in the continental United States arrived from Santo Domingo to the San Miguel de Gualdape colony (probably situated in the Winyah Bay area of present-day South Carolina), founded by Spanish adventurer Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón in the year 1526. An almost inevitable dispute for power threatened the ill-fated settlement, in which the slaves revolted and left the colony in search of refuge among local indigenous Americans. Shortly after an epidemic, De Ayllón and many of the colonists died, and the settlement became empty. The settlers headed to Santo Domingo with the slaves who didn't flee.
The Spanish conqueror Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded St. Augustine, Florida on 28th August 1565, taking with him three African slaves. St. Augustine was the center of trade of enslaved people in Spanish colonial Florida during the 16th and 17th centuries, and the first permanent settlement to include African slaves in the continental United States.
Sixty years later, in the early years of the Chesapeake Bay colonies, colonial authorities found it very hard to recruit and retain employees in severe frontier circumstances, and a high mortality rate existed. Many workers came from the United Kingdom as indentured laborers, signing contracts to provide for their transportation, care, and training, typically on a farm. There were agricultural resources in the colonies. Often these indentured employees were young people who intend becoming permanent residents. In some instances, instead of being incarcerated, convicted criminals were sent to the colonies as indentured servants. The indentured workers weren't slaves, but they had to labor in Virginia for four to seven years to cover the cost of their transportation and upkeep. In the 18th century, many Germans and Irish migrated to the colony, living in Pennsylvania's backcountry and far south.
In 1619, the first Africans to enter the English colonies, about 19 or thereabouts, landed in Jamestown, Virginia, brought from a Portuguese slave ship, captured by English privateers that had seized them. Before embarking on the slavery journey, baptism of slaves occurred in Africa. As English practice then deemed circumcised Christians slavery-free, colonists regarded such Africans as indentured servants, and they already joined around 1,000 English indentured servants in the colony. The Africans got their freedom after a specified time, and their former masters provide them with property and resources.
The South experienced a financial crisis in the late 18th century, with the land used to manufacture tobacco nearly drained, and the rapid growth of slavery in America seemed in doubt.
At about the same period, England's textile industry mechanization contributed to the tremendous demand for American cotton, a southern commodity whose development was sadly constrained by the impossibility of extracting the seed from raw cotton fibers with the hand.
However, in 1793 the cotton gin was developed by a young college professor called Eli Whitney, an essential mechanized tool that effectively removes seeds. His system was quickly adopted and the South would move from large-scale tobacco cultivation to cotton production within a few years, a change that increased the region's reliance on slave labor.
Slavery was never prevalent in the North; however, many merchants in the area have grown wealthy in the slave trade and southern plantation investments. All northern states abolished slavery between 1774 and 1804, but slavery remained vital to the South. With the obliteration of the African slave trade by the American Congress in 1808, domestic commerce expanded, and the U.S. slave population almost tripled within the next 50 years. It had nearly reached 4 million by 1860, with more than half residing in the southern cotton-producing cities.
Slavery was indeed a controversial issue in the U.S. Constitution's drafting and approval. The terms “slave” and “slavery” do not exist in it, although it is referred to by other clauses. The Constitution did not outlaw slavery. Section 9 of Article I prohibited the importation of slaves by the Federal Government until 1st January 1808.
The representatives approved Section 2 of Article IV, which forbade states from releasing slaves who had fled from another country to them and required returning of the chattel property to owners.
The U.S. Constitution imposed a 20-year prohibition on the importation of slavery by the federal government. During this time, various states imposed various restrictions on the international slave trade; by 1808, South Carolina was the only state still legalizing the importation of African slaves. Legal importation of slavery stopped after 1808, while smuggling was taking place by lawless Spanish Florida and the troubled Gulf Coast. After Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821, this path was closed.
The 13th Amendment, implemented on 18th December 1865, formally ended slavery; however; in the post-war South, the liberated position of blacks remained unstable and significant problems persisted during the time of reconstruction.
In the 14th amendment, former slaves got the citizenship rights and “equal protection” of the Republic and voting rights guarantee in the 15th amendment. Still, these statutory guarantees were often overlooked or abused, and freed slaves couldn't gain ground in the post-war economy due to oppressive black codes and backward legal agreements.
Nearly a century later, opposition to America's enduring racism and discrimination that started during the period of apartheid would contribute to the 1960s civil rights struggle that would bring the most significant social and political changes for blacks after Reconstruction.
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