A poet described early America as, “Earth’s only Paradise.” If America was Paradise, then the institution of slavery was the fall.
Tobacco brought prosperity, but it also brought slavery. Many laborers were required to cultivate the crop, and cheap labor was what the colonists wanted. So the settlers, instead of working with their own hands, began to buy slaves.
It was on this day, August 20, 1619, slavery began in America. John Rolfe recorded in his diary,
“There came in a Dutch man-of-warre that sold us 20 negars.”
This was the beginning of African slavery in America. The irony is that just weeks earlier, the very first Representative Assembly in America met on July 30, in Jamestown, an event which marked the birthday of America’s free institutions. But slavery and free institutions can’t coexist. But over time, thankfully, Americans began to apply the principles of the Declaration of Independence to everyone.
There were four types of slaves in America.
First, English criminals were sent over to serve as slaves for a term of ten years. It was a hard-labor sentence.
The second group consisted of gypsies, homeless people, and orphaned children! Groups of evil men called “press gangs” kidnapped these unfortunates and shipped them to Virginia’s tobacco planters.
The third group of slaves was called indentured servants. These sold themselves into slavery for a certain number of years to pay for their passage to America or to pay off old debts. Some of these white servants, or slaves, later made a good life for themselves while others headed to the backwoods and lived among the natives hunting and fishing.
The fourth group was African slaves. These had no hope whatsoever of freedom. In those days the whites saw nothing wrong with enslaving the so-called “heathen” Africans. The trade, God help us, was done in the name of religion. Just as sad, Africans were engaged in the “trade.” African slave catchers captured their fellow Africans, their brethren, and sold them into slavery.
After 1700, the African slave trade became well established in America. We know the rest of the story.
SLAVERY AND FREE INSTITUTIONS CAN’T COEXIST. Thankfully “We the People” amended our ways over the years by freeing the slaves and enfranchising both men and women of every race, color, and creed.
The Thirteenth Amendment
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
“Allow me to say, in conclusion,” said Frederick Douglass, “notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. ‘The arm of the Lord is not shortened,’ and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from ‘the Declaration of Independence,’ the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.”
Daniel Sheridan is an article and post contributor for Madison Liberty. More than that, he is a husband, father, pastor, historian, writer, teacher of the U.S. Constitution, storyteller, and public speaker.