While there are many misconceptions about this time period in American history, some of the most egregious surround the institution of slavery in the mainland colonies of British North America. It is common to read back into colonial times an understanding of slavery that is based on conditions that existed just prior to the Civil War. It is also important to understand slavery as an historical institution that changed over time and differed from place to place. To that end, one of the most common misconceptions is that slavery was a uniquely or distinctively Southern institution prior to the American Revolution.
Slavery in Pre-Revolution America
In the 13 mainland colonies of British North America, slavery was not the peculiar institution of the South. This development would occur after the American Revolution and during the first decades of the 19th century. Although slaves had been sold in the American colonies since at least 1619, slave labor did not come to represent a significant proportion of the labor force in any part of North America until the last quarter of the 17th century. After that time, the numbers of slaves grew exponentially. By 1776, African Americans comprised about 20% of the entire population in the 13 mainland colonies.
The North American mainland was a relatively minor destination in the global slave-trading network.
This figure, however, masks important regional differences. It is important to remember that the North American mainland was a relatively minor destination in the global slave-trading network. Less than 4% of all African slaves were sent to North America. The vast majority of enslaved people ended up in sugar-producing regions of Brazil and the West Indies. On the mainland British colonies, the demand for labor varied by region. In contrast to the middle and New England colonies, the Southern colonies chose to export labor-intensive crops: tobacco in Chesapeake (Virginia and Maryland) and rice and indigo in South Carolina, which were believed to be very profitable.
Large vs. Small Plantations
By the time of the American Revolution, slaves comprised about 60% of South Carolina's total population and 40% of Virginia's. While most enslaved people in the Chesapeake labored on small farms, many of those in South Carolina lived on large plantations with a large number of slaves. By 1750, one third of all low-country South Carolina slaves lived on units with 50 or more slaves. Ironically, those who lived on larger plantations were often allowed to complete their tasks for the day and then spend the rest of their time as they liked, free from white supervision. Those on smaller farms, however, often found themselves working side-by-side with their white masters, hired white laborers, and only a small number of slaves. As a result, they faced more scrutiny from whites, were expected to labor for the entire day, and had fewer opportunities to interact with other enslaved African Americans.
Slaves in the Urban North
Although the largest percentages of slaves were found in the South, slavery did exist in the middle and Northern colonies. The overall percentage of slaves in New England was only 2-3%, but in cities such as Boston and Newport, 20-25% percent of the population consisted of enslaved laborers. Other large cities, such as Philadelphia and New York, also supported significant enslaved populations. Although enslaved people in cities and towns were not needed as agricultural workers, they were employed in a variety of other capacities: domestic servants, artisans, craftsmen, sailors, dock workers, laundresses, and coachmen. Particularly in urban areas, owners often hired out their skilled enslaved workers and collected their wages. Others were used as household servants and demonstrated high social status. Whatever the case, slaves were considered property that could be bought and sold. Slaves thus constituted a portion of the owners' overall wealth. Although Southern slaveholders had a deeper investment in slaves than Northerners, many Northerners, too, had significant portions of their wealth tied up in their ownership of enslaved people.
Revolution Rhetoric and Redefining Slavery
Once colonists started protesting against their own enslavement, it was hard to deny the fundamental contradiction that slavery established.
The widespread ownership of slaves had significant implications. During the battles with Britain during the 1760s and 1770s, American Patriots argued that taxing the colonies without their consent reduced the colonists to the status of slaves. Since individuals in all the colonies owned slaves, this rhetoric had enormous emotional resonance throughout the colonies and helped turn the colonists against the mother county. Moreover, once colonists started protesting against their own enslavement, it was hard to deny the fundamental contradiction that slavery established: enslavement for black people and freedom for white people. Awareness of this contradiction forced white Americans to look at slavery in a new light. If Americans chose to continue to enslave black people, they would have to devise new arguments to justify slavery. It was at this time that arguments about blacks' inherent racial inferiority emerged to rationalize the institution.
This divergence in approach . . . was arguably the fork in the road that ultimately led the country to the sectional divisions that culminated in the . . . Civil War.
Nonetheless, during and immediately after the American Revolution, many individuals in both the North and the South took their revolutionary ideals seriously and concluded that slavery was unjust. They freed, or manumitted, their slaves. Yet each state decided for itself how to handle the issue. Northern states passed laws, or enacted judicial rulings, that either eliminated slavery immediately or put slavery on the road to gradual extinction. The story was different in the South. Because Southern states had a much deeper economic investment in slavery, they resisted any efforts to eliminate slavery within their boundaries. Although some (but not all) of the Southern states allowed individual owners to manumit their slaves if they chose, no Southern state passed legislation that ended slavery completely, either immediately or gradually. This divergence in approach was significant, as it began the time during which slavery would disappear from the North and become uniquely associated with the South. This moment was arguably the fork in the road that ultimately led the country to the sectional divisions that culminated in the coming of the Civil War.
North And South Colonial Differences Essay
888 Words4 Pages
The Northern and Southern Cultural Differences
During the 18th century differences in life, thought, and interests had developed between the Southern and Northern colonies. The origin of these differences grew from the differences in religion, economics, and social structures between the Southern and Northern Colonies. Slavery, manufacturing, education, and agriculture influenced the everyday way of life for the colonists. This has had everlasting effects on America till this day.
Agriculture and environment were factors in the way each culture grew. The fertile land of the south along with a warmer climate made it possible for the colonists to grow cash crops such as tobacco, rice and indigo. However, this was not the case with…show more content…
Husbands and wives often worked as teams to teach their children crafts so that it could be passed on through the family. The economy of the south was mainly based on agriculture and trade. The slave trade also played an important role in the economy of the southern colonies.
Slavery was probably the most influential factor in the developing differences between the two cultures. Southern cultures developed a farm economy that could not survive without slave labor. Slave owners often became leaders in there communities. They were members in their local governments. Laws were made that prevented slaves from marrying, own property, or earn their freedom. These laws also did not allow slaves to be educated. Because all the hard work was done by the slaves, the slave owners had time and the education to greatly influence political life in southern colonies. Slavery did not become a force in the northern colonies because of different economical reasons. The cold weather and poor soil did not support the farm economy that the south had. This resulted in the northern colonies to depend on an economy that included manufacturing and trade.
Religious beliefs had its role in making the colonies different from one another. The Anglican religion, which included the Baptists and Presbyterians faiths, didn't have an everyday effect on the way the southerners lived there