Slaves vs. Indentured Servants
Did Africans brought to Virginia in 1619 have the same status as “slaves” from Ireland? “Yes!” cry the white supremacists. “No!” retort the anti-racists. While reputable historians differ, today’s furor is more about politics than evidence.
Legal documents of the 1620s and 1630s call the Africans “servants.” Blacks in bondage toiled alongside indentured whites, intermarried with them, escaped with them, rebelled with them. Wealthy white landholders preserved their power through steps to divide and conquer.
Thanks for the interesting details of how laws changed. It is sad too, to know that conditions got worse for the Africans who were brought to the US. I am curious to know why Africans went from servants to slaves. Was it greed on the part of the landowners, to get free labor?
8/4/2020 07:26:03 am
"Servants" meant indentured servants, who were unpaid labor (regardless of race) for a fixed number of years, typically seven, and then free with a bit of land or the like to start up their own life. They couldn't quit. Rather than buying and selling people, their masters bought and sold their contracts, which was sort of the same thing. There were a couple of rebellions in which indentured servants and poor free people, both black and white, rose up together. The landowners felt threatened. By turning the Africans into slaves and telling the poor whites they should ally themselves with white landowners instead of poor blacks, the landowners eliminated the threat of being overthrown.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.