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The Origins of Slavery in the New World

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Document-Based QuestionDocument-Based Question

Colonial Society and Economy

Professor Eric Foner maintains, "By the early eighteenth century, Virginia had changed from a society with slaves, a society in which slavery was only one of many other systems of labor, to a slave society, a society where slavery was the foundation of the economic and social order." The colonies of the lower South would follow this same path. Why did slavery replace indentured servitude as the main form of plantation labor in the Southern colonies?

The question requires you to construct a coherent essay that integrates your interpretation of the documents provided and your knowledge of the colonial period. Do not forget to consider the point of view of the sources you employ.


Document Links

A. Estimated Immigration, 1607–1819
B. Average Annual Value of Colonial Exports
C. Johann Bolzius on Slave Labor
D. Virginia Slave Law: A Slave Woman's Offspring
E. Virginia Slave Law: Killing a Slave
F. Record of Bacon's Rebellion
G. Virginia Slave Law
H. Benjamin Franklin on Purchasing Slaves


A. Estimated Immigration, 1607–1819

Primary source: "Estimated Immigration into the Thirteen Colonies and the United States . . . 1607–1819," statistical table.
Background information: Until the mid-1660s, white indentured servants met the labor needs of Virginia and Maryland plantations. Then, in the mid-1660s, the supply of white servants fell, and their price rose sharply.

To the Nearest 100 Immigrants
Years Slaves Convicts and
Prisoners
Indentured
Servants
Free
1607-1699 33,200 2,300 96,600 66,300
1700-1775 278,400 52,200 103,600 151,600
1776-1809 114,600 1,000 18,300 253,900
1810-1819 7,000 0 5,300 134,300
Total Immigration
1607-1819
433,200 55,500 223,800 606,700


In Percentages
Years Slaves Convicts and
Prisoners
Indentured
Servants
Free
1607-1699 17 1 49 33
1700-1775 47 9 18 26
1776-1809 30 0 5 65
1810-1819 5 0 4 91
Total Immigration
1607-1819
33 4 17 46

Based on "Estimated Immigration into the Thirteen Colonies and the United States, by Legal Status and Condition of Servitude, 1607–1819," tables one and two, in Aaron S. Fogelman, "From Slaves, Convicts, and Servants to Free Passengers," Journal of American History 85, no. 1 (June 1998): 44.

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B. Average Annual Value of Colonial Exports

Primary source: "Average Annual Value of Colonial Exports by Region, 1768–1772," statistical table.
Background information: Tobacco, rice, and indigo were the most valuable items exported from Britain's North American colonies. New England's climate and short growing season prevented profitable cultivation of tobacco, rice, and indigo.

Average Annual Value of Commodity Exports from the Upper South to Great Britain, 1768–1772
Commodity Value in Pounds Sterling
Tobacco 756,128
Grains, grain products 10,206
Iron 28,314
Wood products 9,060
Other 23,344
Total 827,052


Average Annual Value of Commodity Exports from the Lower South to Great Britain, 1768–1772
Commodity Value in Pounds Sterling
Rice 198,590
Indigo 111,864
Deerskins 37,093
Naval stores 31,709
Wood products 2,520
Grains, grain products 302
Livestock, beef, pork 75
Other 11,877
Total 394,030


Average Annual Value of Commodity Exports from New England to Great Britain, 1768–1772
Commodity Value in Pounds Sterling
Fish 206
Livestock, beef, pork 374
Wood products 5,983
Whale products 40,443
Potash 22,390
Grains, grain products 117
Rum 471
Other 6,991
Total 76,975

Data adapted from Tables 5.2., 6.1., and 8.2. "Average Annual Value and Destinations of Commodity Exports from the Upper South, 1768–72 (Pounds Sterling)," in James F. Shephard and Gary M. Walton, Shipping, Maritime Trade, and the Economic Development of Colonial North America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 211–12, 217–20, 222–24, 227; reprinted in John J. McCusker and Russell R. Menard, The Economy of British America, 1607–1789 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 108, 130, and 174.

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C. Johann Bolzius on Slave Labor

Primary source: Johann Martin Bolzius, “Reliable Answer to Some Submitted Questions Concerning the Land Carolina,” open letter, 1750.
Background information: Rice had probably come from West Africa, and some African slaves were familiar with rice cultivation. In this letter, Johann Martin Bolzius described rice cultivation's highly skilled but backbreaking labor.



[ . . . ]


The order of planting is the following . . . After the corn the Negroes make furrows for rice planting. A Negro man or woman must account for a quarter acre daily. On the following day the Negroes sow and cover the rice in the furrows, and half an acre is the daily task of a Negro . . . When they are through with that, they plant beans together among the corn. At this time the children must weed out the grass in the potato patches. . . . Thereupon they start for the first time to cultivate . . . the rice and to clean it of grass. A Negro must complete 1/4 acre daily. . . . As soon as they are through with the corn, they cultivate . . . the rice a second time. The quality of the land determines their day's work in this. 9) Corn and rice are cultivated . . . for the third and last time. A Negro can take care of an acre and more in this work, and 1/4 an acre of rice. Now the work on rice, corn, and beans is done. . . . Afterwards the Negroes are used for all kinds of house work, until the rice is white and ripe for cutting, and the beans are gathered, which grow much more strongly when the corn has been bent down. The rice is cut at the end of August or in September, some of it also early in October. The pumpkins, which are also planted among the corn, are now ripening too. White beets are sown in good fertilized soil in July and August, and during the full moon. Towards the middle of August all Negro men of 16 to 60 years must work on the public roads, to start new ones or to improve them, namely for 4 or 5 days, or according to what the government requires, and one has to send along a white man with a rifle or go oneself. At the time when the rice is cut and harvested, the beans are collected too, which task is divided among the Negroes. They gather the rice, thresh it, grind it in wooden mills, and stamp it mornings and evenings. The corn is harvested last. During the 12 days after Christmas they plant peas, garden beans, transplant or prune trees, and plant cabbage. Afterwards the fences are repaired, and new land is prepared for cultivating.

[ . . . ]



Johann Martin Bolzius, “Reliable Answer to Some Submitted Questions Concerning the Land Carolina,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 14, no. 2 (April 1957), 257–59m at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6591/, at History Matters.

Reprinted with permission of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture from the William and Mary Quarterly.

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D. Virginia Slave Law: A Slave Woman's Offspring

Primary source: Virginia Slavery Act, December, 1662.
Background information: In 1662, Virginia made the status of slaves hereditary; a slave woman's offspring became the property of her master.

Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a Negro woman should be slave or free, be it therefore enacted and declared by this present Grand Assembly, that all children born in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother; and that if any Christian shall commit fornication with a Negro man or woman, he or she so offending shall pay double the fines imposed by the former act.

[ . . . ]

Virginia Slavery Act, (December 1662), in Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, ed. William Waller Hening, vol. 2, (Richmond, Va.: Samuel Pleasants, 1809-1823), 170.

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E. Virginia Slave Law: Killing a Slave

Primary source: Virginia Slavery Act, 1669.
Background information: During the 1660s and 1670s, Maryland and Virginia established slave codes.

Whereas the only law in force for the punishment of refractory servants resisting their master, mistress, or overseer cannot be inflicted upon Negroes, nor the obstinacy of many of them be suppressed by other than violent means, be it enacted and declared by this Grand Assembly if any slave resists his master (or other by his master's order correcting him) and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be accounted a felony, but the master (or that other person appointed by the master to punish him) be acquitted from molestation, since it cannot be presumed that premeditated malice (which alone makes murder a felony) should induce any man to destroy his own estate.

Virginia Slavery Act (1669), in The Statutes at Large: Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619, ed. William Waller Hening, vol. 2, (Richmond: 1809–23), 270.

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F. Record of Bacon's Rebellion

Primary source: "The State of Virginia" (1676), in Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 20, no. 4 (1912): 354–357.
Background information: Bacon's Rebellion (1676) highlighted the problems of indentured servitude and resulted in the shift to slave labor.

[. . . .]

Virginia is at this time under the greatest of Distractions, yet it hath felt since the yeare 1622, when the Indians in one Night Murthered soe many, that they left not 500 alive in ye whole Collony. At this time the Indians seeme to have conspired, as the other have done neare New England. And ye present danger of this place is the greater, because of their Discontents among themselves, which are grown to soe great a Height, for the defence of ye Country against the Indians, a Body of about 500 are in Armes, without the Commission of the Governor (who denyed one to them) setting forth a Declaration of their Dangers and their Grievances; and taking no Notice of the Proclamation sent from the Governor to forbid and suppress them. . . . they are at this time conducted by Mr. Nathaniel Bacon. . . . [Mr. Bacon and his supporters] complaine that the great Taxes are Imposed upon them every yeare, by the Poll, whereby ye poorer sort are in the hardest Condition, who having nothing but their labour to maintaine themselves, wives and children, pay as deeply to ye publike, as Hee that hath 20000 Acres. One principall occasion of these levyes is said to be the often meeting of ye Assemblys and ye very great allowances to them that serve in it as members of it. . . .

By inlarging their Liberty, in declareing that all such as are born there shall bee free borne Subjects of England to all intents and purposes. . . .

Although perhaps some of the richest sort will not like it, who hold greater proportions of Land then they actually plant, who may then (by an Expedient very beneficial to the Country) lay downe part of their Land to bee taken up by such as will Employ it. By which means the Country will be better inhabited, and the Kings Customes increased. And the people living nearer together, will be better enabled in their Defence against their Common Enimy the Indians. Such Considerations as these, are amongst many sober men heere, and may perhapps be worth the Considering by such as have the care of his Majesties Interests in England.

"The State of Virginia" (1676), in Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 20, no. 4 (1912): 354–357.

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G. Virginia Slave Law

Primary source: Virginia General Assembly, Virginia Slavery Act, state law, 1705.
Background information: In 1705, Virginia singled out people of African descent and Native Americans as slaves.



[ . . . ]


An act declaring the Negro, Mulatto, and Indian slaves within this dominion, to be real estate.

For the better settling and preservation of estates within this dominion, . . . . 

II. Be it enacted, by the governor, council and burgesses of this present general assembly, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That from and after the passing of this act, all negro, mulatto, and Indian slaves, in all courts of judicature, and other places, within this dominion, shall be held, taken, and adjudged, to be real estate (and not chattels;) and shall descend unto the heirs and widows of persons departing this life, according to the manner and custom of land of inheritance, held in [illegible] simple.

[ . . . ]



Virginia General Assembly, Virginia Slavery Act (19 March 1705), reprinted in Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, ed. William Waller Hening, vol. 2, (Richmond, Va.: Samuel Pleasants, 1809–1823), 270.

Courtesy of History Matters, a project of the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning (City University of New York, Graduate Center) and the Center for History and New Media (George Mason University).

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H. Benjamin Franklin on Purchasing Slaves

Primary source: Benjamin Franklin, Observations Concerning the Increasing of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, &c., 1755.
Background information: Benjamin Franklin gave one reason why plantation owners relied upon slave labor.

Why then will Americans purchase slaves? Because Slaves may be kept as long as a Man pleases, or has Occasion for their Labour; while hired Men are continually leaving their Master (often in the midst of his Business) and setting up for themselves.

Benjamin Franklin, Observations Concerning the Increasing of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, &c. (Boston: S. Kneeland, 1755).

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