This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: First Slaves in the USA.
Slavery was the United States of America’s original sin. It’s after-effects remain into the 21st. century. Slavery was never a uniquely American wrong. It was not till one hundred twenty years after the beginning of African slavery in Spanish America that it was introduced in any part of the present United States. From its first introduction in Virginia (1619) the system grew and spread until it became the most prominent feature of American society.
The comprehensive view of its growth and decline presented by Mr. Ludlow, a well-known English writer, has therefore a special value here. From him and from the Virginia historian Mr. Campbell we get two widely diverging views upon the subject.
The selections are from:
- by Charles Campbell
- John M. Ludlow
For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. There’s 2.5 installments by Charles Campbell and 1.5 installments by John M. Ludlow.
We begin with Charles Campbell.
In the month of August, 1619, a Dutch man-of-war visited Jamestown and sold the settlers twenty negroes, the first introduced into Virginia. Sometime before this, Captain Argall, the deputy governor of Virginia, sent out on a “filibustering” cruise to the West Indies a ship called the Treasurer, manned “with the ablest men in the colony.” She returned to Virginia, after some ten months, with her booty, which consisted of captured negroes, who were not left in Virginia, because Captain Argall had gone back to England, but were put on the Earl of Warwick’s plantation in the Somer Islands.
It is probable that the planters who first purchased negroes reasoned but little on the morality of the act, or, if any scruples of conscience presented themselves, they could be readily silenced by reflecting that the negroes were heathens, descendants of Ham, and consigned by divine appointment to perpetual bondage. The planters may, if they reasoned at all on the subject, have supposed that they were even performing a humane act in releasing these Africans from the noisome hold of the ship. They might well believe that the condition of the negro slave would be less degraded and wretched in Virginia than it had been in his native country. This first purchase was not probably looked upon as a matter of much consequence, and for several years the increase of the blacks in Virginia was so inconsiderable as not to attract any special attention. The condition of the white servants of the colony, many of them convicts, was so abject that men accustomed to see their own race in bondage could look with more indifference at the worse condition of the slaves.
The negroes purchased by the slavers on the coast of Africa were brought from the interior, convicts sold into slavery, children sold by heathen parents destitute of natural affection, kidnapped villagers, and captives taken in war, the greater part of them born in hereditary bondage. The circumstances under which they were consigned to the slave-ship evince the wretchedness of their condition in their native country, where they were the victims of idolatry, barbarism, and war. The negroes imported were usually between the ages of fourteen and thirty, two-thirds of them being males. The new negro, just transferred from the wilds of a distant continent, was indolent, ignorant of the modes and implements of labor, and of the language of his master and, perhaps, of his fellow-laborers. To tame and domesticate, to instruct in the modes of industry, and to reduce to subordination and usefulness a barbarian, gross, obtuse, perverse, must have demanded persevering efforts and severe discipline.
[As offensive at this paragraph and related passages in this Campbell’s selection is and are, I am including it here to give insight to the excuses that Whites used to take advantage of the Blacks. – JL]
While the cruel slave trade was prompted by a remorseless cupidity, an inscrutable Providence turned the wickedness of men into the means of bringing about beneficent results. The system of slavery doubtless entailed many evils on slave and slaveholder, and, perhaps, the greater on the latter. These evils are the tax paid for the elevation of the negro from his aboriginal condition.
Among the vessels that came over to Virginia from England about this time is mentioned a bark of five tons. A fleet sent out by the Virginia Company brought over, in 1619, more than twelve hundred settlers. The planters at length enjoyed the blessings of property in the soil and the society of women. The wives were sold to the colonists for one hundred twenty pounds of tobacco, and it was ordered that this debt should have precedence of all others. The price of a wife afterward became higher. The bishops in England, by the King’s orders, collected nearly fifteen hundred pounds to build a college or university at Henrico, intended in part for the education of Indian children.
In July, 1620, the population of the colony was estimated at four thousand. One hundred “disorderly persons” or convicts sent over during the previous year by the King’s order were employed as servants. For a brief interval the Virginia Company had enjoyed freedom of trade with the Low Countries, where they sold their tobacco; but in October, 1621, this was prohibited by an order in council; and from this time England claimed a monopoly of the trade of her plantations, and this principle was gradually adopted by all the European powers as they acquired transatlantic settlements.
Many new settlements were now made on the James and York rivers; and the planters, being supplied with wives and servants, began to be more content, and to take more pleasure in cultivating their lands. The brief interval of free trade with Holland had enlarged the demand for tobacco, and it was cultivated more extensively.
Sir George Yeardley’s term of office having expired, the Company’s council, upon the recommendation of the Earl of Southampton, appointed Sir Francis Wyat governor, a young gentleman of Ireland, whose education, family, fortune, and integrity well qualified him for the place. He arrived in October, 1621, with a fleet of nine sail, and brought over a new frame of government constituted by the company, and dated July 24, 1621, establishing a council of state and a general assembly.
Wyat brought with him also a body of instructions intended for the permanent guidance of the governor and council. Among other things he was to cultivate corn, wine, and silk; to search for minerals, dyes, gums, and medical drugs, and to draw off the people from the excessive planting of tobacco; to take a census of the colony; to put apprentices to trades and not let them forsake them for planting tobacco or any such useless commodity; to build water-mills, to make salt, pitch, tar, soap and ashes; to make oil of walnuts, and employ apothecaries in distilling lees of beer; to make small quantity of tobacco, and that very good.
John M. Ludlow begins here.
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