Slavery and the American Revolution
In the years from 1600 to 1783 the thirteen colonies in North America were introduced to slavery and underwent the American Revolutionary War. Colonization of the New World by Europeans during the seventeenth century resulted in a great expansion of slavery, which later became the most common form of labor in the colonies. According to Peter Kolchin, modern Western slavery was a product of European expansion and was predominantly a system of labor. Even with the introduction of slavery to the New World, life still wasn’t as smooth as we may presume.
Although the early American colonists found it perfectly fine to enslave an entire race of people, they found themselves being controlled in every facet of life by the British Empire. After the French and Indian War in 1765, the American Colonists began to notice that ironically enough they were, in some form, enslaved by Great Britain. From being unrightfully taxed, i. e. The Stamp Act, to being denied entry into the military ranks of Britain, the American colonists soon figured out that they were not as free as they once thought.
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Boycotts, protests, and riots, including events such as The Boston Tea Party and The Boston Massacre painted the landscape of rebellion in the early colonies which led to the era in American History known as The American Revolution. The institution of slavery and the ideology of the American Revolution intersect in that the thirteen colonies struggled with Great Britain for their independence even though the colonists were neglecting the independence and equalities of the African slaves.
The ideals I interpret throughout this essay were drawn from reading the following primary documents: “The Boston Massacre”, “Parliament Debates the Stamp Act, 1765”, “Colonists Respond to the Stamp Act, 1765-66”, “An Enslaved African-American in the Revolutionary Army, 1777-1783”, “African-American Fights for the Loyalist in Return for Freedom during the Revolutionary War. ” As Kolchin stated, “Colonial America was overwhelmingly agricultural and depended on the crops—mainly tobacco and rice—to provide the basis for much of their wealth. He later goes on to say, “Cultivating these crops, however, required labor; in an environment where land was plentiful and people few, the amount of tobacco or rice one could grow depended on the number of laborers one could command” (Kolchin). In short, the more laborers one could command, the more crop one could grow, and the more profit one would make. The Colonist’s desire to develop commercial agriculture under conditions of population scarcity gave rise in North America to institutional slavery, in fact, initially the demand for labor was color-blind.
Africans were unwillingly brought by ship to the British New World. The first Africans that arrived in Jamestown in 1619 on a Dutch trading ship, were not slaves but they were also not free. Instead, they served time as indentured servants until their obligations were complete. Despite the lack of a slave tradition in England, eventually slavery replaced the common cultural idea of indentured servitude. Before the 1680’s Colonists preferred non-Indian indentured servants because they did not have to go through prolonged adjustment to alien conditions.
In time, slavery became the most common form of labor throughout the colonies. Beginning in the 1680s the mainland colonies underwent a massive shift from indentured servitude to slave labor. Colonists learned that African slaves were a better investment than indentured slaves and preferred slave as to servants because slaves were held permanently and female slaves passed their statues on to their children. At this point in American history slavery was not frowned as immoral but a necessary evil in order to progress as a growing nation (Kolchin).
The mother land, Great Britain, began to tighten the reigns that wrapped around the the New World’s neck. Together the thirteen colonies in North America formed an alliance to fight for their independence from the British Empire, in an effort to take a stand against the injustices that they felt were being placed on them, the soon to be Americans revolted against the parliament of Great Britain. This rebellion was dubbed as, The American Revolution. The catalyst of the American Revolution cannot be credited to one single event.
The French and Indian War was the start of open conflicts between the colonies and Great Britain (Butler). After this war, the British were in a massive amount of debt (“Parliament Debates”). In early 1765, The British Parliament was struggling to meet the cost of defending its empire in North America. The only logical way that the British thought to relieve this problem was through the colonies, thus the passing of The Stamp Act was born (“Parliament Debates”). The British saw the thirteen colonies as a direct investment and extension of Great Britain, meanwhile the colonists were striving towards independence. (The) once harmonious relations between Britain and the colonies became increasingly conflict- riven” (“Colonists Responds”). At this point, the In 1764, the British Ministry stated that they were initiating a tax requiring the colonist to pay for the stationing of British troops. This act, which got its name from how it was carried out, placed a stamp on items such as Newspapers, Legal Documents, diplomas, etc. George Grenville stated that, “If they are not subject to this burden of tax, they are not entitled to the privilege of Englishmen” (“Parliament Debates”).
This statement alone shows the thought process of the British and it seems as if they felt that if the colonist wouldn’t oblige, then their “unalienable rights” were irrelevant. Colonists were fed up, from dealing with unreasonable taxes, to not being allowed to protect their families, enough was enough. The colonist responded to The Stamp Act in ways such as riots and boycotts of British Goods. By this point, the American Revolution was understood and accepted by the colonist of early America.
In support of the rebellion, rag tag groups of settlers calling themselves the Sons of Liberty and the Daughters of Liberty promoted the self-sufficiency movement (Butler). With the settlers revolting left and right, the delegates of the colonies had no choice but to unite, thus The Stamp Act Congress was formed out of pure necessity. The Stamp Act Congress was the first stride that the colonist made under a united front against the Parliament. The Stamp Act Congress agreed that Britain had a right to regulate trade throughout the colony, however, they denied the fact that Great Britain had a right to tax the colonies.
The colonist suggested that it would be uncivilized for the Parliament to tax the colonies, if they had no representation within the government: taxation without representation (Hinschelwood). The British Parliament was forced to abolish the Stamp Act in 1766 but in retaliation passed the Declaratory Act, which stated that “The King and Parliament had full legislative authority over the colonies in all matters” (Hinschelwood). A few months later, John Adams, future President of the US suggested that the Stamp Act, “raised a spirit of resistance throughout mainland British North America” (Hinschelwood). The cene was set, all throughout the colonies groups were rising up and recognizing the injustices that were occurring, and soon, everything would change. About five years later, British occupation in America was at an all-time high. With that same “Spirit of Rebellion”, tension between soldier and settler grew increasingly volatile. On the Evening of March 5th, 1770, a small group of colonist boys got together and began to taunt and incite the British soldiers to action. After a brief session of being struck by rocks, snowballs, and anything else they could find, the British soldiers were given the order to fire.
When the smoke cleared 5 colonists were dead. This event was later named as, The Boston Massacre (Hewes). Although the colonist reacted in a zealous and disorderly manner, John Adams proposed that, “America should not lose the moral advantage of showing that the soldiers could receive a fair trial” (Hewes). According to a personal account from John Adams on his death bed, he revealed a testimony from one of the 5 deceased victims. He stated in this testimony that “the man suggested that the Crowd was to blame for the Massacre and not the soldiers” (Hewes).
At this point in the Revolution, the specifics of what was right and wrong began to become as faint as they had ever been. After years of suppression and neglect under the biased and slighted rule of Great Britain, It was time to fight. The thirteen colonies seeking their independence from Britain versus African slavery being the primary institution fueling the economy of the new world, is an argument and contradiction within itself. The British offered these said, enslaved Africans, their freedom, in exchange for their allegiance in battle.
It serves to note that the very principles that America was founded upon, were the exact same as the very thing they fought against with the overbearing rule of Great Britain. But things such as this are often overlooked when prejudice is involved. For some odd reason, because of their melanin, nationally, or even their horrible luck, this entire ethic group was kidnapped from their homeland. Our country’s forefathers imagined a world free of pompous rule yet they embodied everything that they claimed to be against, and while struggling to free themselves from Britain’s grip, they tightened theirs around the necks of their slaves.
“Boyrereau Brinch.” National Humanities Center. (1777-1783): n. page. Print. Butler, Jon. Becoming America. Cambridge. Harvard University Press, 2000. Print “Colonists Respond to the Stamp Act, 1765-1766” National Humanities Center. (1765-1766): n. page. Print. Hewes, George. “Boston Tea Party.” Digital History. (1773): n. page. Web. 15 Mar. 2013. <http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=1192>. Hinschelwood, Archibald. “The Stamp Act Crisis.” Digital History. (1765): n. Web. 15 Mar. 2013. <http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=115>. King, Boston. “Memoirs of the Life of Boston King, A Black Preacher,” The Methodist Magazine 21. (1798): 106–10, 21. Web Kolchin, Peter. American Slavery 1619-1877. New York: Hill and Wang, 2003. Print. “Parliament Debates the Stamp Act, February 1765.” New York Public Library. (1765): n. page. Print. Tudor, Deacon. “The Boston Massacre.” Digital History. (1770): n. page. Web. 15 Mar. 2013. <http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=114>. “Virginia Slave Laws.” Digital History. (1662): n. page. Print. <http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook_print.cfm?smtid=3&psid=71>.