What is slavery? What's the difference between indentured servants and slaves?
To be a slave is to be owned by another person - just as a computer or a tool might be owned by someone today. A slave had no personal freedom and had no rights. The slave-owner could, at any moment, sell a mother from her child, a husband from his wife.
Everything a slave produces belongs to his master. And as a slave works for nothing, he or she is a source of very cheap labour. Many were forced to work on plantations, producing crops such as cotton and sugar, while others were used as servants. Some were craftspeople who made items for sale such as leather goods.
Slaves were prisoners of war taken by the ancient Roman conquerors. They worked on fields and in mines of the Roman Empire. They got money for their work, it was called a "salary". After the end of the Roman Empire (around 500 A.D.), slavery was abolished and there has been no slavery ever since.
Ein „indentured servant“ war ein unter Vertrag stehender Arbeiter, der für eine bestimmte Zeit (meist mehrere Jahre) für eine andere Person oder ein anderes Unternehmen arbeitete, ohne dafür Lohn zu erhalten. Im Gegenzug erhielt insbesondere die Kosten für den Transport in die englischen Kolonien nach Nordamerika im Voraus bezahlt, darüber hinaus auch Unterkunft und Lebensmittel. Im Gegensatz zu den Sklaven konnten "indentured servants" nach einigen Jahren oder Jahrzehnten die Freiheit erlangen.
How and why did the slave trade develop in the early Modern Period?
Around 1500, the Portuguese and other Europeans built forts at the west coast of Africa, in what is now Ghana. At the same time, some European powers like Spain began to develop colonies in the Americas. The Europeans needed labour to farm the land and to work in mines.
Native Indians were forced to work for the Europeans - but many caught diseases brought from Europe. In Central and South America, 18 million Indians died within a few decades after 1492. With British and Dutch traders taking slaves from West Africa to sell them to America, the next terrible stage in the history of slavery began.
There was no slave trade in the early Modern Period as the declaration of human rights in 1492 made it illegal to enlave people.
What was the "Triangular Trade" and how did it develop in the early Modern Period?
The Europeans needed labour to farm the land and to work in mines in America. Native Indians were forced to work for the Europeans - but many caught diseases brought from Europe. In Central and South America, 18 million Indians died within a few decades. In the 16th century, British and Dutch traders started taking slaves from West Africa to sell them to America, so that the work force of the native Americans could be replaced. This was to become the "Middle Passage" of the triangular trade.
At first, slaves were used in the Caribbean as well as Central and South America. They worked on plantations producing sugar, coffee, rice, cotton and tobacco. The British also decided to use slaves in their North American colonies. As the number of plantations grew, farming became the main source of economic wealth for White farmers. More and more slaves were needed and a 'triangular trade' developed. Many European merchants made a financial fortune controlling the triangular trade making the most profit out of it.
In the "triangular trade" (Dreieckshandel), European merchants would sail with merchant ships to the West coast of Africa, taking slaves from there to sell them in America. Then the merchants would travel back to Europe with goods produced in the Americas like cotton, sugar and tobacco that were to be sold on European markets.
The Triangular trade was the trade between China, India and Europe. Chinese merchants would take porcelain - also known as "China" - and silk to India. From India, they would take spices to Europe to sell them together with silk and porcelain on European markets. They would finally take European goods like books and wheat in order to sell them in China.
How were slaves sold and how were they treated in America?
Those slaves who survived the "Middle Passage" from West Africa to America were brought to auctions by slave traders, chained in what were called slave coffles. On the day of the auction, people who were interested in buying slaves would be given an opportunity to examine them.
Slaves were sold to the highest bidder, some traders made a fortune. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who later became a general in the American Civil War, once made a profit of $ 96,000 at one auction. When the auction began, slave families were sometimes split up. Husbands and wives were separated as were brothers and sisters. Children were taken from their parents.
Slaves were sold to the highest bidder, but the profits made at the auctions were invested in health care facilities and schools for the slaves. It was forbidden to split up slave families, it was forbidden to separate husbands and wives or children and their parents at the auctions. Only people with a record of treating slaves well were allowed to buy slaves.
Why was cotton so important and what were the working conditions like for slaves on cotton plantations?
On larger plantations, overseers were hired to ensure the slaves did their work. On cotton plantations the main work of the slaves was planting the crop, looking after the crop and harvesting the crop. In August the cotton was picked. This was an incredibly busy time and slaves worked very long hours. Slaves were given a production quota and in some places each one had to pick 200 lbs (91 kg) of cotton every day. The amount that had been picked was weighed and anyone who failed to meet their quota was punished by overseers.
In the South of the U.S. cotton became more important than ever during the 19th century. The demand for cotton had greatly increased in Britain, as the 'Industrial Revolution' was taking place and steam power was being used in textile mills. By 1861 cotton made up two thirds of all the United States' exports. For the plantation-owners, the production and export of cotton was a source of huge profits.
Picking cotton in August was hard work, but the slaves were allowed to take breaks. Slaves did have the right to negotiate the production quota, that is the amount of cotton that had to be picked every day. When the amount that had been picked was weighed, anyone who had picked more than was asked received extra pay.
What do you know about the slaves' resistance against slavery?
In 1839, slaves took over the ship "Amistad". After their arrival in the US, they demanded to be taken back to Africa, and eventually the slaves were allowed to return to Africa in 1842.
At some occasions, slaves revolted or ran away and joined Indian tribes. But rebellions would most often be brutally crushed as the very idea of a slave revolt terrified the White slave-owners.
Some runaway slaves were helped by a secret organisation run by White and Black people in the northern states. This was called the 'Underground Railroad'. There was no actual railroad but railway terms were used as code words. So a 'station' was a house where runaway slaves could be hidden. One famous member of the 'Underground Railroad' was named Harriet Tubman. She acted as a guide and was called the “Moses of her people”. This was because, like Moses in the Bible, she led her people out of slavery. She led some 300 slaves to freedom. Slave-owners offered $40,000 for her capture - dead, or alive.
There was no resistance of slaves against slavery.
What was the slaves' culture like?
Weddings were a cause for celebration. Some slaves were allowed to marry in the 'Big House' but many became man and wife by simply jumping over a broomstick. But slaves were only married for as long as their master or mistress permitted it. He or she could sell them and split up families at any time.
Music was very important to slaves. Slave songs often showed how they felt about their lives and they made music with whatever was available.
"The big bee flies high. The little bee makes the honey. Black folks make the cotton and White folks get the money." The lyrics of this song express that the slaves were very happy with the fact that their work allowed them to have a reasonable standard of living and that they had the freedom to negotiate the working conditions.