The Slave Trade and Its Effects on Early America
Slavery played an important role in the development of the American
colonies. It was introduced to the colonies in 1619, and spanned until the
Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The trading of slaves in America in the
in Africa, shipped to America under extremely poor conditions, and then sold to
There was no mercy for the slaves and their families as they were
captured from their homes and forced onto slave ships. Most of the Africans who
were captured lived in small villages in West Africa. A typical village
takeover would occur early in the morning. An enemy tribe would raid the
now on their way to the slave ships. ?Bound together two by two with heavy
wooden yokes fastened around their necks, a long line of black men and women
plodded down a well-worn path through the dense forest. Most of the men were
burdened with huge elephants’ tusks. Others, and many of the women too, bore
parents, eyes wide in fear and wonder? (McCague, 14).
the new world. But before they were shipped off, they had to pass through a
was now controlled by other European nations. In the late 1600’s, Spain,
Selection of the slaves by the traders was a painstaking process. Ships
off towards the coast on small ships. ?If the slave trader was a black chief,
there always had to be a certain amount of palaver, or talk, before getting down
to business. As a rule, the chief would expect some presents, or dash? (Stampp,
the ship usually had a doctor who would check the condition of the slaves. They
would carefully examine the slaves, looking in their mouths, poking at their
how physically fit the slaves were. If the slaves were not of the doctors
standards, they were either killed or kept to see if another ship would take
was a horrible one. It was extremely disease-ridden, and many slaves did not
and had to survive the best they could. Often, many slaves had to wait in the
bottom of the ship while they were still docked at the harbor, so that the
slaves in each ship. Then they had to stay down there for the long trip across
at large, but the men were attached by leg irons to chains that ran along the
ventilation, the air in the crowded hold area quickly grew foul and stinking.
Fierce tropical heat also added to the misery of the slaves. Seasickness was
also a problem.
Conditions on the ships improved as the slave trade continued, but
When slaves would try to rebel on the ship, they were immediately killed and
chance while on deck, they often jumped overboard to drown themselves (Davis,
Africans were brought to America to work. ?They worked the cotton
rich black belt, in Louisiana’s sugar parishes, and in the disease-ridden rice
worked extremely hard, because they had the job of cultivating the crops on the
plantations. It began before daybreak and lasted until dark, five and sometimes
of a horn or the ringing of a bell? (Goodman, 18). By daybreak, the slaves
They plowed, hoed, picked, and performed the labors appropriate to the season of
whatever they were harvesting. For example, during the harvest season on a
sugar plantation, slaves were worked sixteen to eighteen hours a day, seven days
a week. That is longer hours than convicts were permitted to work in several of
Even children were put to work on the plantations. ?By the age of six
or seven, children were ready to do odd jobs around the plantation-picking up
trash in the yard, raking leaves, tending a garden patch, minding babies,
carrying water to the fields. By the age of ten, they were likely to be in the
fields themselves, classed as ?quarter hands? (McCague, 35).
Often there were health problems among the slaves in early America. ?
The combination of hard, sometimes exhausting toil and inferior diet, scanty
clothing and unsanitary housing led, predictably, to health problems? (Goodman,
31). This caused a problem for slave owners, because they wanted the most
efficiency out of their slaves as possible. In some places doctors were called
in to treat blacks as well as whites.
The slave trade played an important role in the growth of the American
colonies. Without the trading of slaves in the seventeenth century, American
plantations would not have prospered into the export empire that they were.
Straus & Giroux, 1969.
Howard, Richard. Black Cargo. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1972.
McCague, James. The Long Bondage 1441-1815. Illinois: Garrard Publishing
Stampp, Kenneth M. The Peculiar Institution. New York: Borzoi Books, 1982.