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American Slavery text image

Breaking the chain of Slavery
Breaking The Chain
Of Slavery


The African American:
A Journey from Slavery to Freedom

USA History: Slavery in the United States

Remember slave tradeís end, but never forget modern racism



Fugitive Slave
Fugitive Slave, Suriname 1835
Pierre Jacques Benoit, Voyage
a Surinam

Slaves waiting for sale
Slaves waiting for sale, Richmond, Virginia,1861
Painted by Eyre Crowe

Top Deck of French Slave Ship, 19th cent.
Top Deck of French Slave Ship, 19th cent.
Color lithograph by Pretexat Oursel, 19th cent.

Slave Dealer, Alexandria, Virginia, 1863 or 1865
Slave Dealer, Alexandria, Virginia, 1863 or 1865
Photograph by Andrew Joseph Russell

Sale of a Slave Woman and Her Children, Surinam, 1839
Sale of a Slave Woman and Her Children, Surinam, 1839
Pierre Jacques Benoit

Slave Market, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1819-1820
Slave Market, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1819-1820
Henry Chamberlain

Slave Quarters, Kingsley Plantation, Duval County, Florida, ca. 1870
Slave Quarters, Kingsley Plantation, Duval County, Florida, ca. 1870
Source: Published in E.D.C. Campbell and K.S. Rice, eds.

American Slavery Exhibit text image

Statue of two slave couples


The African-American: A Journey from Slavery to Freedom is an exhibit which shows America in crisis
and how that point in time was resolved. Slavery as an issue in America was in constant conflict with the
founding Democratic principles of this nation. Slavery therefore became the ultimate test of disunity within the union of states which were already at odds in a democracy espousing freedom for its people. At the center of this conflict were the Africans who were bought, sold, and used as workers on American soil. The use of slave labor was a well known practice for years in the world community.

Documented accounts of slavery as a world-wide practice are covered in hundreds of books and articles on the subject reaching as far back to the ancient region of Mesopotamia around 3500 BC.

For the Africans on American soil, that horrible journey started with the developing territorial colonies at a time when workers were needed to keep the economy of this new country solvent.

Therefore, by 1619, the use of indentured servants brought the first Africans to America at Jamestown, Virginia. Poor whites also worked during this period as indentured servants. A "contract" said that this service would last from four to seven years - thereby the said would then become free. During this early period, some of the first enslaved Africans worked their way out of this system and became free tradesmen and property owners on American soil. The quest for more land and an economy based upon profit were two of the major points that escalated the demand for more slaves in America. Therefore, Black slave workers became highly prized commodities in a system dependent upon lots of manual labor. The entire southern American economy and the states in that warm region needed laborers to work on the plantations dealing with rice, indigo, tobacco, sugar cane, and cotton. Other slaves labored as dock workers, craft workers, and servants. Slaves in the northern American region labored on small farms and as skilled and unskilled workers in factories and along the coast as shipbuilders, fishermen, craftsmen, and helpers of tradesmen.

Slavery on American soil grew at such a fast rate that, by 1750, over 200,000 African slaves were here.
Fifty years later, that number grew to 700,000. In South Carolina alone, African slaves outnumbered the
white population, and they made up more than one half of the populations in the states of Maryland and
Virginia. The free Black American population did expand to about 40,000 throughout the colonies by

The Slave System
The system of slavery was so entrenched in the daily routines on American soil that it had to be dealt with as a National issue. Lengthy debates, political compromises, moral dilemmas, slave rebellions, and a Nation divided against itself suddenly had to face the issue of enslaved Africans existing on American soil. America condoned the "peculiar institution" of slavery from 1619 up until the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which abolished "slavery and involuntary servitude" on December 18, 1865. This period in American history left behind some of the most unbearable scars on the African-Americans as a people, but the free thinking decent people and countless allies envisioned a broader, more humane society - for they showed some of us the best of what America should be. This exhibit: The African-American: a Journey from Slavery to Freedom is about that struggle and the historical events which lead up to the Jubilee.

Most plantations were owner-operated and the planters themselves often worked in the fields. Of the total southern white population of 8,099,760 in 1860, only 384,000 owned slaves. Of these, 10,780 owned fifty or more. It was calculated that about 88 per cent of America's slave-owners owned twenty slaves or less. The death-rate amongst slaves was high. To replace their losses, plantation owners encouraged the slaves to have children. Child-bearing started around the age of thirteen, and by twenty the women slaves would be expected to have four or five children. To encourage child-bearing (slave-breeding) some population owners promised women slaves their freedom after they had produced fifteen children. Young women were often advertised for sale as "good breeding stock".

Slave Market in America
Slave Market in America

The first Africans in America arrived as Indentured Servants via Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. From 1619 to
about 1640, Africans could earn their freedom working as laborers and artisans for the European settlers.
Africans could become free people and enjoy some of the liberties like other new settlers. By 1640,
Maryland became the first colony to institutionalize slavery. In 1641, Massachusetts, in its written
legislative Body of Liberties, stated that "bondage was legal" servitude, at that moment changing the
conditions of the African workers - they became chattel slaves who could be bought and solely owned by
their masters.

The Portuguese were the first to embark upon the slave trade starting around 1562. The practice of slavery
grew to exponential proportions from 1646 up until 1790. A prime area for slaves was on the west coast of
Africa called the Sudan. This area was ruled by three major Moorish empires Ghana (790-1240), Mali
(1240-1600), and Songhai (670-1591). Other smaller nations were also canvassed by slavers along the west
coast; they included among them: Benin, Dahomey, and Ashanti. The peoples inhabiting those African nations
were known for their skills in agriculture, farming, and mining. The Africans of Ghana were well known for
smelting iron ore, and the Benins were famous for their cast bronze art works. African tribal wars produced
captives which became a bartering resource in the European slave market. Other slaves were kidnapped
by white and black hunters. The main sources of barter used by the Europeans to secure African slaves were
glass beads, whiskey, ivory, and guns.

The rising demand for sugar, coffee, cotton, and tobacco created a greater demand for slaves by other
slave trading countries. Spain, France, the Dutch, and English were in competition for the cheap labor needed
to work their colonial plantation system producing those lucrative goods. The slave trade was so profitable
that, by 1672, the Royal African Company chartered by Charles II of England superseded the other traders
and became the richest shipper of human slaves to the mainland of the Americas. The slaves were so valuable
to the open market - they were eventually called "Black Gold."
Slavery Inspection
Slavery Inspection
Slave Ship
Slave Ship
Slave Branding
Branding Of Slaves
Branded Slave
Branded Slave

By the 17th century slaves could be purchased in Africa for about $25 and sold in the Americas for about $150. After the slave-trade was declared illegal, prices went much higher. Even with a death-rate of 50 per cent, merchants could expect to make tremendous profits from the trade. An estimated 15 million Africans were transported to the Americas between 1540 and 1850. To maximize their profits slave merchants carried as many slaves as was physically possible on their ships.

Chained together by their hands and feet, the slaves had little room to move. It has been estimated that only about half of the slaves taken from Africa became effective workers in the Americas. A large number of slaves died on the journey from diseases such as smallpox and dysentery. Others committed suicide by refusing to eat. Many of the slaves were crippled for life as a consequence of the way they were chained up on the ship.

Captured Africans were subjected to the worst forms of cruelty and inhumanity. Millions were crammed in the hulls of slave ships where disease ran rampant, where traders used any means of violence to subdue insurrection and as many as half died in transit. The world will never know the exact number of enslaved Africans transported to America, but it is estimated that between 10 to 15 million were brought here, making it the largest forced migration in history. But despite its immense significance, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade is a subject only briefly discussed in our nationís classrooms. We must change that. It is important for us to remember this dark period in our history and celebrate the efforts to bring it to an end, both to prevent such atrocities in the future and to confront the legacy of slavery that persists in this country to this day.

read more

  African Slave Trade
Cotton Plantation
Slave Music
  Underground Railroad
Slave Family Life
Education of Slaves
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