5b. Indentured Servants
William Hogarth, 1747This picture, Industry and Idleness, shows 2 apprentices starting in identical circumstances, one is the industrious Francis Goodchild and the other is the unsuccessful Thomas Idlefrom.
The growth of tobacco, rice, and indigo and the plantation economy created a tremendous need for labor in Southern English America. Without the aid of modern machinery, human sweat and blood was necessary for the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of these cash crops. While slaves existed in the English colonies throughout the 1600s, indentured servitude was the method of choice employed by many planters before the 1680s. This system provided incentives for both the master and servant to increase the working population of the Chesapeake colonies.
Virginia and Maryland operated under what was known as the "headright system." The leaders of each colony knew that labor was essential for economic survival, so they provided incentives for planters to import workers. For each laborer brought across the Atlantic, the master was rewarded with 50 acres of land. This system was used by wealthy plantation aristocrats to increase their land holdings dramatically. In addition, of course, they received the services of the workers for the duration of the indenture.
This system seemed to benefit the servant as well. Each indentured servant would have their fare across the Atlantic paid in full by their master. A contract was written that stipulated the length of service — typically five years. The servant would be supplied room and board while working in the master's fields. Upon completion of the contract, the servant would receive "freedom dues," a pre-arranged termination bonus. This might include land, money, a gun, clothes or food. On the surface it seemed like a terrific way for the luckless English poor to make their way to prosperity in a new land. Beneath the surface, this was not often the case.
Only about 40 percent of indentured servants lived to complete the terms of their contracts. Female servants were often the subject of harassment from their masters. A woman who became pregnant while a servant often had years tacked on to the end of her service time. Early in the century, some servants were able to gain their own land as free men. But by 1660, much of the best land was claimed by the large land owners. The former servants were pushed westward, where the mountainous land was less arable and the threat from Indians constant. A class of angry, impoverished pioneer farmers began to emerge as the 1600s grew old. After Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, planters began to prefer permanent African slavery to the headright system that had previously enabled them to prosper.
A page as serious as its title. Written by a student at Lafayette College, the site explores what happened when crimes were committed by either owners of servants or the servants themselves. For you AP types that come here, you'll get some real insight into the lives of indentured servants, and more particularly the "different punishments of servants and their masters in colonial courts by examining various court cases from 18th-century Pennsylvania and Maryland courts." No pictures but plenty of statistical data. This is what awaits any of you folks thinking of majoring in history.
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Life was dreadful for Indentured Servants even before they started working. Gottlieb Mittelberger of the Netherlands describes the situation of indentured servants coming from his country, the Netherlands, to America. A sickening slice of what you'll find: "But during the voyage there is on board these ships terrible misery, stench, fumes, horror, vomiting, many kinds of sea-sickness, fever, dysentery, headache, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth-rot, and the like, all of which come from old and sharply salted food and meat, also from very bad and foul water, so that many die miserably." Next time you're tempted to say your folks treat you like a slave, think of this page.
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Links to 17th-century legal documents which address such topics as "First recorded case of master-servant dispute" and "Laws clearly defining the differences between servant and slave." Primary source documents can't be beat.
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Slavery in America is going to be covered in the upcoming AP US History exam, plain and simple. It is one of the most important topics in American history and the creators of the APUSH course know this. But this is a topic that covers over 300 years of history, how do you know where to start? Don’t worry, this APUSH review is for you. Follow these 35 Facts about Slavery You Need to Know for the AP US History Test, and we guarantee that you’ll feel more confident about your APUSH knowledge of slavery in America.
But why stop with just a list? We’ve also added a quick summary of important big idea topics and themes to consider when studying slavery in America for you AP US History exam. Combine that with a couple of notes on how the topic pops up on the APUSH exam itself, and we’ve created the perfect APUSH review to help you score that 5 on the exam.
35 Facts About Slavery…
1. Slavery actually began as a form of indentured servitude. During much of the 17th century, black slaves often toiled for several years under the authority of the master, but oftentimes were granted their freedom. They went on to own their own property, interracially marry, and even purchase slaves of their own. The slave system would slowly evolve over the years.
2. The first Africans arrived in the colonies in 1619. They were seized from a Spanish slave ship. But because Africans were baptized as Christians before departing on the seas, and that British law forbade the enslavement of Christians, these Africans were put into a system of indentured servitude and not slavery.
3. Before the arrival of Africans into North America, European colonists relied heavily on the enslavement of Native Americans. As the African slave trade became more profitable, Native American slavery declined. The US government would officially end the enslavement of the native peoples in 1776 and began hiring them to capture and return African slaves who had escaped their masters.
4. Not all Native Americans aided slavers. In fact. Many native peoples assisted African slaves to escape their masters by allowing them to live in their isolated or helping them establish their own independent settlements. These communities of escape are called “maroons.”
5. The first thirty years of slavery (1620-1650) witnessed well over 800 enslaved people being shipped to what would become the United States. No slaves were brought in between the years 1651 and 1675. At its peak, between 1801 and 1825, close to 110,000 enslaved men and women were shipped into the United States. At the end of slavery in America, 1851 to 1866, around 500 people were shipped into the country as slaves
6. Although estimates vary, somewhere around 400,000 to 500,000 slaves made it to the United States from Africa. These numbers pale in comparison to the near 13 million Africans that were shipped to the New World for slavery.
7. Massachusetts became the first colony to legally allow slavery. In 1641, Massachusetts passed what was called the Body of Liberties, calling people who were bought and sold as slaves as “strangers.”
8. Many of the ‘Founding Fathers’ were slaveholders. Thomas Jefferson owned around 200 slaves at any given time during his political career. When George Washington died, he was the master of 277 enslaved men, women, and children.
9. Depending on the region, slavery in the US differed drastically. Slave life in the North often revolved around, and was eventually replaced by, a commercial economy of urban business and mixed rural farming where families did most of the cheap labor. Slavery in the South, however, flourished without any competition.
10. The lower Mississippi Valley (which included Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and parts of Florida was often called the “Cotton Kingdom” due to its heavy staple crop production of cotton. Once the cotton trade began to prosper in this region, slavery as an institution of violence and profit increased, witnessing the worst that slavery in America had to offer.
11. Slavery in and around the Chesapeake region experienced more intermixing between white society and enslaved Africans than many of the other regions in the South. Tobacco was the primary product being grown in the plantations of this area, which was less labor intensive than cotton production.
12. The coastal lowcountry of South Carolina (and parts of Georgia and Florida) revolved primarily around the production of rice and indigo. Slavery arrived here early on and was never challenged by any other labor market. Slavery was so central to South Carolina’s economy that in 1720, 65 percent of the population was enslaved.
13. The cotton gin was invented in 1793 by Eli Whitney and changed the face of slavery forever. It quickly separated cotton from its seeds, but people were still needed to pick the cotton. The need for labor increased and so did the desire for slaves in the South.
14. The North depended on slavery as well, even after the end of slavery in the region. As cotton production increased with the invention of the cotton gin, northern traders took the raw cotton from the South and made serious profit by selling it to factories in the North. Increasingly, the American economy, from the North to the South began to depend on the system of slavery in America.
15. Each state had their own set of rules and regulations for slave ownership; these have been collectively called the Slave Codes. Although each state was different, there were agreements across the board. For example, slaves were not allowed to be taught how to read and write, they were prohibited from gathering in groups without a white person present, and they could not leave their plantations without written permission.
16. Slavery in America is commonly referred to as “chattel” slavery. This means that slaves from Africa were seen as commodities and not people. Slaves were bought and sold in the marketplace, just like a common object or good. And their masters had complete legal ownership over them, meaning that they could do almost anything they wanted to them.
17. In 1822, slaves that had been freed from their bondage in the United States moved to Western Africa and founded a colony of their own, which they called Liberia. The capital city, Monrovia, was named after President James Monroe as a sort of “thank you” for his efforts to end the slave trade.
18. The North and the South agreed on the Three-Fifths Compromise in 1778. The compromise allowed the South to count every slave as 3/5 of a person when trying to figure out how many seats each state would get in the House of Representatives. This ultimately gave the South a huge advantage in the federal government basically right up until the Civil War.
19. “Compromises” would come to define the system of slavery in America. For example, the Missouri Compromise was reached in 1820 when Missouri was becoming a new state, drawing a line that made slavery illegal north of the parallel 36°30′ north. Congress also came to the Compromise of 1850, which fought over slavery in California and New Mexico, but solved little. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was also a compromise of sorts which negated the Missouri Compromise. Complicated, right?
20. Slaveholders in the South began calling slavery in American the “peculiar institution.” This was meant to be a criticism of labor practices in the North. Many slaveholders in the South believed that slavery was less cruel than working in the North and benefited the enslaved. Some went so far as to say that by treating slaves fairly and with respect that the system of slavery was in fact a “positive good.”
21. Others called slavery in America a “necessary evil.” Many prominent Americans, including Thomas Jefferson and Alexis de Tocqueville believed that the enslavement of others was immoral, but argued that the United States should not abolish it. The country was better off with this stain on their record, they believed.
22. Slavery in America never went unchallenged by slaves themselves. One of the biggest push-backs occurred in the fall of 1831, when about 70 armed slaves rebelled against their masters. Lead by a slave named Nat Turner, these men and women were quickly captured after killing several white slaveholders. Most of them were either executed, including Turner himself, or sold off to other plantations. Nat Turner’s Rebellion is the most likely slave rebellion to pop up on the APUSH exam, but make sure you study other examples of slave upheaval as well.
23. Slaves often fought back in small ways as well. They would fake a sense of ignorance to their masters, intentionally leave tools out to rust and break (because the masters owned them), disappear at critical moments, etc. Keep this idea in mind for the APUSH exam because it highlights and important struggle for slavery in America. Read more about this in the “What You Need to Know for the AP US History Exam” section of this AP US History review.
24. Some slaves tried to use the law to get their freedom. In 1857, Dred Scott took his case for freedom all the way to the Supreme Court. Scott’s master died in a slave-free territory and Scott argued that this meant he was to be released from bondage. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled against Scott and tensions increased between the North and the South.
25. After 1840, cotton made up for half the value of all American exports.In fact, over half of the world’s supply of cotton was made and in the South. This made the South a powerful region not only in American politics, but in global affairs as well.
26. By 1808 the slave trade was illegal but slavery itself still remained in America. One of the ways that this remained the case was that in 1836, Congress passed the “Gag Resolution,” which basically meant that the government was not allowed to talk about slavery, let alone consider making it fully illegal.
27. Despite efforts to disallow slavery from entering political debate, abolitionists and anti-slavery thinkers formed the Liberty Party in 1839. They ran primarily on the platform of ending slavery in America. The Liberty Party would eventually merge with the Free Soil Party in 1848 and adopted that name.
28. William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) was probably the most prominent and popular abolitionists of the 19th He was a journalist, the editor of the anti-slavery newspaper “The Liberator,” and was one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society (which called for immediate emancipation and racial equality for all black Americans. Because he was such a central figure in the abolitionist movement, you should be studying him quite a bit for your APUSH exam.
29. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe and published in 1852. Historians have argued that this book helped to start the Civil War. Stowe was unashamedly abolitionist in writing this book, which depicted the horrific conditions of slavery in the United States, made the case for emancipation, and decried the South for their support of the system of slavery.
30. Other key figures of the abolitionist movement included ex-slaves themselves. Frederick Douglas wrote several autobiographies that described his years as a slave in the Chesapeake Bay region. His writing decried slavery in America and called for universal emancipation.
31. Sojourner Truth was also a slave. She escaped to the North in 1826. She was famous for calling for both the end of slavery in America and equal rights for women, for which she gave the speech “Ain’t I a woman?”
32. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863. In this strong statement against the South, Lincoln switched the status of slaves in the South from “slave” to “free.” Not only did this event alter the nature of slavery in America, it also helped to change the course of the Civil War.
33. Even before the Proclamation was signed, ex-slaves fought in the Civil War on the side of the North throughout its duration. In fact, over 200,000 black men joined the war effort to fight the Confederates in the South.
34. Slavery in America officially ended in 1865, when the 13th Amendment was adopted as part of the constitution. Somewhere around 3 million slaves were released from their bondage and seen as free and legal citizens of the United States.
35. Although slavery officially ended in the United States in 1865, slavery itself has not entirely disappeared from American history. Even today, there is evidence from that in a number of US cities, people are forced to work in sweat shops, clean homes without being able to leave, and are trafficked as prostitutes. Some estimates show that slaves in American number around 10,000 people.
What You Need to Know for the AP US History Exam
OK, so we’ve covered the 35 Facts about Slavery You Need to Know for the AP US History Test. Now what? There are two approaches to reading and studying this AP review. First, you need to know the brass tacks details contained in this list. Study the info and study them well. Flash cards are always a good idea. For example, you should probably remember that Sojourner Truth is the one who gave the “Ain’t I a woman?” speech. These things often pop up in the multiple-choice section of the APUSH exam.
For example, the AP United States History Course and Exam Descriptionhas this as a model question (page 117):
“Still, though a slaveholder, I freely acknowledge my obligations as a man; and I am bound to treat humanely the fellow creatures whom God has entrusted to my charge. … It is certainly in the interest of all, and I am convinced it is the desire of every one of us, to treat our slaves with proper kindness.”=
— Letter from former South Carolina governor James Henry Hammond, 1845
The excerpt from James Henry Hammond is most clearly an example of which of the following developments in the mid-19th century?
(A) The decline of slavery in Southern states as a result of gradual emancipation laws
(B) The increasingly restrictive nature of slavery in the South enforced by stronger slave codes
(C) The expanding use of moral arguments by Northern antislavery activists
(D) The growing tendency among Southern slaveholders to justify slavery as a positive good
As we know from reading this APUSH review, many supporters of slavery like Hammond, often used the argument of the “positive good” to justify slavery in America. So, the correct answer is D. Remember these types of details and you’ll get that much closer to that 5 on your APUSH exam.
The second way of thinking about this 35 Facts about Slavery You Need to Know for the AP US History Test list is to consider the big picture as well. Look at the facts contained in this list alongside the big picture ideas that are being covered in your textbook. By doing this, you’ll be setting yourself up perfectly for the DBQ or Short Essay sections of the Free-Response Questions on the APUSH exam.
Consider the DBQ that was given for the 2013, for example. That year’s APUSH exam asked students to
Analyze the causes of growing opposition to slavery in the United States from 1776 to 1852. In your response, consider both underlying forces and specific events that contributed to the growing opposition.
There are documents from sources like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas in this DBQ. As you know from this list of 35 Facts about Slavery You Need to Know for the AP US History Test, both of these historical figures were central to the abolitionist movement in American history. You also know that Garrison and Douglas both published their writings, but Douglas did so from the perspective of being an ex-slave. They also joined others like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Sojourner Truth.
Keep studying this list of 35 Facts about Slavery You Need to Know for the AP US History Test in preparation for your upcoming APUSH exam and go get that 5!. Remember to think about these facts both as possible multiple-choice questions, but also study this AP US history review alongside your class notes, textbooks, and other bigger questions that you are pondering for this year’s APUSH exam.
Let’s put everything into practice. Try this AP US History practice question:
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