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Africans in the 17th Century

A quick overview of the impacts that African American’s had on America in the 17th century.

In the middle of the 17th century the black population had an enormous impact on colonial life and went through a series of changes that would change the general makeup of the colonies. The black population was extremely small at the beginning of the slave trade, but due to a number of reasons the population soared during the end and into the middle of the 18th century. Slavery would eventually become an issue that would segregate colonial inhabitants by more than just slave and free.

The first recorded Africans in the colonies were dated 1619, and were not brought here by the English, but instead by the Dutch slave trade. However, some blacks came her as indentured servants, and a very few came as free men. The population of Africans in Virginia was so small that by 1675 they only made up five percent of the general population. At first, planters did not invest heavily in slaves, which kept the black slave population low. They would rather invest their money in indentured servants, which were much cheaper since they only worked for a number of years instead of a lifetime like the black slaves.

There were many similarities in the lives of the black population and the white servants, which grew as they endured the harsh slavery environment. They began to cultivate friendships, and sexual relationships with each other. They would plot to steal from their owners and run away with each other.

Changes in colonial life caused planters to invest heavily in slaves rather than indentured servants. Slaves became the more profitable choice as the number of white indentured servants coming to the colonies declined. A planter would pay more for a black slave than a white indentured servant, but the planter was also entitled to all the children the slaves would have. Over the years the number of black slaves sold yearly to the colonies rose to 20,000. By 1740 nearly 40 percent of the Virginian population was black, but unlike the original 5 percent they had little knowledge of the English language.

With the swell in population, and the demand for more profits, laws were passed to make it harder for slaves to be freed. There were also laws in place that free blacks could not own white slaves, and making inter-racial marriage, and sexual relationships illegal thus spurring on the first acts of racism in the colonies. At the beginning black and white slaves would receive the same punishment if caught stealing or trying to run away, but now there were laws that protected the white servants, and no laws that protected the black slaves. It was also a law that if any black person struck a white person they were to be punished with 30 lashes, but whites could hit blacks with no punishment. The laws encouraged so much racism in all levels of class in society that there was never any chance that even the poorest tenant farmer would ever help black slaves rebel.

The black population greatly boosted white morale during the late 17th through the middle of the 18th centuries. The morale boost was spurred on by racism, and laws that made slaves so inferior that even white men that could only pride themselves on their skin color now, looked down on the black slaves. Black slaves had no laws to protect them; they only had laws to persecute them. The more money that could be made from the slave trade the more the African population in Virginia boomed. Africans were now living longer, which made it a wise decision to purchase black slaves than to sponsor indentured savants. The purchase of one slave now meant that there would be more to follow. With the longer life expectancy, black slaves were able to have children which would then belong to the planter as well.

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