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The Colonial Period

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Slavery was a major part of southern colonial life between 1607 and 1775, and grew exponentially due to the encouragement of the economic, geographic, and social factors in the Southern colonies during that era. Things such as large plantations, cheap labor, and misconceptions of the African race greatly affected the way slavery was viewed in the American colonies. Often, it was thought of as a necessary evil; or, even more often, just necessary. There were many factors that gave the colonists this opinion of slavery, and I will discuss just a few of the major ones.

In the Southern colonies, the main source of economic growth was agriculture, specifically the planting and harvesting of tobacco, indigo, rice, and sugar cane, which were the staple crops of the region. These crops were often grown on very large plantations owned by wealthy white men, with little assistance to work the plantations. Not wanting to pay indentured servants for work, they often bought slaves to work the fields. This ended up saving them a lot of money, as they only had to pay for the initial purchase of the slave and, aside from the necessities of life, such as food and shelter, didn’t need to invest anything more.

The African slaves were also a lot more versatile than the indentured servants. While a servant could work for a pretty good amount of time without taking a break, the average African slave could work for almost a full day without stopping. This resulted in a much smoother and quicker harvest, and fairly easy upkeep of crops. This was very important, especially since many of the staple crops of the Southern colonies, given the geographic region, were very labor-intensive, such as tobacco and sugar cane, and the speed with which the crops were harvested resulted in more money for the plantation owner. The quicker the crops got to market, the quicker they could be sold, and the quicker they were sold, the quicker the process of planting, harvesting, and selling could begin again, resulting in more money flowing into the economy, and also more money flowing into the plantation owner’s pockets. All of these factors caused the slave trade industry to boom in the Southern colonies, which caused the economy to swell even more.

Another major aspect of the slave trade in the Southern colonies was the social opinion of the matter, which wasn’t much less positive than the economic or geographical factors of the matter. The genteel southern society of the Southern colonies didn’t see the African slaves as people, but rather as property, and as such saw nothing wrong with owning slaves. Just as their was nothing wrong with owning land, or a house, or food, or any other type of property, there must not be anything wrong with owning slave, as they are just another piece of property. But while this was a common belief among the Southern colonists, not all of them believed this.

There were many who saw them as people. However, those who did see the slaves as people often believed they were better off as slaves than as free people. They had little to no education, and essentially no understanding of how American society worked, which left them almost useless in any other occupation. Without their owners, the slaves who did manage to survive as free people would likely starve to death, not being able to find an occupation requiring no experience and no education. The slaves were getting a great deal, in their opinion, working for a home and food where they wouldn’t normally be able to get either of those things on their own.

Another reason slavery was socially accepted in the Southern colonies was because the slaves often got a healthy dose of religion with their work. Living in the Southern American colonies, much of society revolved around religion, and they learned a lot about the Anglican faith, which was one of the most common religions in the Southern colonies. The colonists saw religion as a major priority, and would often impress their religion upon their slaves, believing they were doing a good deed, and that they were saving the soul of their slave by teaching them the ways of the Anglican church. This, along with their provision of shelter and food for their slaves, and the belief that the African slaves weren’t really people, were the main reasons for the wide-spread social acceptance of slavery in the Southern colonies.

As you can see, there were a multitude of reasons for the exponential growth of slavery in the Southern colonies. It had a multitude of economic factors that benefit the economy of the Southern colonies, and in ways the economies of the other American colonies as well, such as the money circulating from the slave trade itself, and also the money circulating from the crops being produced by the plantations being sold at market. The slaves were able to handle the intensive labor required for the upkeep and harvest of the Southern colonies’ staple crops, much better than an English indentured servant could, and were much more versatile in many ways. It was also commonly accepted in the society of the Southern American colonies, as the slave owners were providing for the slaves what they wouldn’t be able to provide for themselves as free people, and also that slaves weren’t thought of as people, but rather as property to the Southern colonists. These factors, and many more, resulted in a massive growth of the use of slaves in the Southern colonies.

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