Through the progression of slavery, we see a gradual but dramatic change the way people viewed slaves. Many factors helped progress the treatment of slaves from people to property. Whether it was the beginning of the African Slave Trade or the profitable of cash crops in the Americas, each factor deteriorated the human aspect of a slave. We must first look at the beginnings of slavery to understand the steps that were taken to dehumanize a race. Slaves in the early east Africa were generally war captives of conquering dynasties. Islamic religion helped to maintain the humanity of these war captives.
They were accepted as a member of the family (nation) but the lowest ranking one. Islamic members who owned slaves had obligations to educate and convert them to Islam. They also made it illegal to sell children from their parent which in turn was a cultural device to bring outside people into the society. After two generations of slavery these families were accepted into the society. Slaves during this time would also live to the same standards as their owners. This means a slave owned by a wealthy person would have a better lifestyle (clothes, food, etc. ) than a poorer one.
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Slavery was still not a positive experience but when we compare to the lifestyle of Caribbean/America slaves one can see a huge difference. The first major step towards chattel slavery was the discovery of the New World and development of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Before this time slavery was not a major factor in the labor force because Europe had an overabundance of it. The supply was well over the demand for any type of labor. This all changed when the profit of cash crops (sugar) and the unreliability of the Native Americans as a slave labor became apparent.
The European countries turned to African slave labor because of the sheer number of potential slaves that were created from war in Africa. African slaves were also a more reliable labor force compared to the local natives that were being used at the time. Factories, a slave storage warehouse, were created to house those awaiting sale. This treatment at the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade shows the “property” path slaves will assume in slavery. The Portuguese and Spanish (Asiento) were the main facilitators transporting 6. 5 million of the 11 million slaves that ending up coming to he Americas/Caribbean. The transportation of slaves from the factories to the Caribbean can be compared to how a mass amount of “property” is transported, tightly packed for less trips or more profit. These disease ridden conditions lead to a mortality rate of 14-34%. They were being transported to supply the labor demand of the Sugar Colonies. The creation of Sugar Colonies in the Caribbean and South America brought forward a more chattel type slavery. These colonies were producing over eighty percent of the sugar that was consumed in Western Europe.
The demand meant mass amounts of labor (slaves) with terrible conditions. Later these colonies would affect how British North America would perceive slaves. Initially British North America did not affect the progression of chattel slavery because of the lack of an extremely profitable cash crop. After many failed attempts, Jamestown became the first step towards chattel slavery. Tobacco was the new cash crop of North America. However slaves were treated more along the lines of indenture servants. This would change dramatically when the demand for tobacco increased.
Britain gains control of the Atlantic slave trade while tobacco demands increase. During this time they also acquire some Caribbean sugar colonies. The Caribbean sugar colonies influenced their views on slavery. They also do not have any experience on treating foreigners like the other European countries. Both of these factors are why slaves began to be treated closer to domestic farm animals. They are purchased, become your property and forced to serve or work on the land. Laws that are passed in the 1600s put an even stronger hold on the owner’s “property”.
In 1640 Maryland rules that slaves can legally be held for a lifetime of servitude. Later in 1660 children of slaves also have a lifetime of servitude. Slave codes are released that try to control African as a people. They strip all the rights of slaves including voting and/or leaving the property. Also in 1669 Virginia’s House of Burgesses rules that a slave owner is exempted from felony charges if they kill a slave in the course of corporal punishment. This is a major movement to define slaves as property.
Even laws closer to the American Revolution still show the feeling white Americans had toward African American Slaves. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 allowed southern slave owners to go and recapture slaves that had escaped in northern Free states. This showed the property aspect of current slaves. The south or Low Country was the worst at chattel slavery. The development of the Low Country is the first example of slaves starting out as property in British North America. Rice was the cash crop of South Carolina and Georgia but it was a lot more labor intensive than tobacco.
With the influence from the acquired sugar colonies and the labor intensive rice, slaves once again became property and were treated like so. The 3/5 Compromise helped to reinforce that slaves were property of their owners. Any slaves counted as 3/5 a person for their master to use in voting. This shows the ownership that was slave owners had over their “property”. When it comes to the topic of Atlantic Chattel Slavery, most of us will readily agree that it was a main type of labor force during the building of the Americas.
Where this agreement usually ends, however is on the question of the origin of this property type of slavery. Whereas some are convinced that it is an instant product of the economy at the time, others maintain that the beginning of the movement started in early African history. I agree with both sides of the argument. While the slavery movement started early in African History, the Atlantic Chattel Slavery was in response to the economy of the time. We have seen the progression from slaves treated as humans to slaves hoarded together as property.