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Aida Uzeirbegovic

Hist. 1700

Prof. Aarti Nakra

April 23, 2017

The American Slaves

This essay will delve into what is known as the Atlantic Slave trade. I chose this

topic because its a very grim stain on American history and I believe that we should all

educate ourselves on such crimes against humanity. The slave trade has a long and bloody

history that begins long before America even becomes a country, but most of the slavery

we hear about is referencing American slavery. America needed slaves; they were a major

part of the economy. The protests and rebellions caused by slaves and abolitionists were

also one of the things that shaped the America we know today.

To understand just how much the slave trade affected America, we have to start

with how the slave trade itself began. When the Portuguese started exploring the coast of

West Africa in the 15th century, they began to take small numbers of enslaved Africans

with them. Many of these slaves were brought on to the sugar plantations in the Cape

Verde and Madeira islands in the eastern Atlantic. Spanish conquistadors brought African

slaves to the Caribbean after 1502. The Portuguese merchants, however, continued to

dominate the transatlantic slave trade for nearly another century and a half. It was than

the Dutch who became the foremost slave traders during parts of the 1600s, and in the

century that followed, English and French merchants controlled about half of the

transatlantic slave trade, much of their human cargo coming from the region of West

Africa.
Not many slaves were needed during Americas creation. Its only in the late 17th

early 18th century, when sugar and tobacco became prized commodities that more slaves

started being brought in. So much more in fact, that it is estimated that about three-fifths

of the entire volume of the Transatlantic Slave trade took place in America following the

creation of plantations. That is a very large number of people.

Slaves faced many hardships when they arrived to America, but their hardships

didnt begin there. The transportation of slaves through the middle passage was often a

six month journey. During those six months slaves were crammed together below deck in

the ships hold, with little fresh food or water. Male slaves were chained together to

prevent attack. With such poor conditions many of those who were enslaved didnt reach

the end. The death rate for slaves could reach as high as one in four on some Atlantic

voyages. In the end, a total of 1.8 million slaves died of disease or starvation while

voyaging to the Americas on the Middle Passage. The sailors would then just throw

bodies overboard.

Those that did end up surviving then had to face terrible working conditions on

the plantations they were placed on. Often time families would end up being separated

and sold off. Slaves were also oftentimes branded or shackled, and they were treated like

property not people. The overseers, the ones who would organize the work on the

plantations, were cruel and they used fear as a mean to keep the slaves obedient. Slaves

were made to work long hours, they were forced to live in crude huts, and food given was

inadequate when looking at the heavy workloads slaves had. Many female slaves were

under constant threat of sexual exploitation. Abuse ran rampant and the rape or murder of

a slave wasnt acknowledged as a crime. Disease was also a threat. Due to the heat of the
south, the severe lack of nutrition, and the workload, many slaves would get sick.

Illnesses though, were generally untreated or were not treated adequately, and slaves were

often forced to work even when sick. Because of this the child mortality rate among slave

went up to about 66%.

Slaves did fight back in ways though. They would slow down their work speed,

they would sabotage machinery on the plantations, and there were many who would steal

from their masters as well. There were slaves who would learn to read and write out of

rebellion. Slaves would also argue and fight with their masters and in some cases they

would just kill their masters. This leads me to Nat Turner. Turner was a slave who led one

of the biggest and most successful slave rebellions in history. He and a group of other

slaves killed around 70 white people, including women and children. Turner and his

conspirators were captured and executed but the damage had already been done. Turners

actions would end up setting off a new wave of oppressive legislation prohibiting the

education, movement, and assembly of slaves.

Not all rebellions ended with such violence. Fredrick Douglass was born into

slavery but he escaped at the age of 20. After his escape, Douglass became on of the most

important abolitionists in history. He became a prominent voice in the antislavery

movement and he used his persuasive speaking and writing skills to establish an

abolitionist newspaper named the North Star. The North Star soon developed into one of

the most influential African American antislavery publications of the pre-Civil War era.

During the Civil War, Douglass became a consultant to for Abraham Lincoln, where he

advocated that former slaves be armed for the North and that the war be made a direct

battle against slavery.


Now we get into the Civil War and its safe to say that slavery was one of the

major factors that helped spark the war. The constant back and forth between those for

slavery and those against led to tension that eventually snapped. Abraham Lincoln

freed the slaves when he came out with his Emancipation Proclamation, but I believe

he also did this as a means to cripple the Souths economy, which it did. The many slaves

that managed to get away from their masters did end up going to fight for the Union

Army. Freed slaves also worked as nurses, cooks, and blacksmiths. They were also

involved in espionage. People, like Harriet Tubman, were spies, scouts, and agents for the

Union Army. There were slaves that fought for the Confederate side as well, but most of

them were not there by choice.

The Union won the Civil war in 1865 the reconstruction began and around 4

million slaves gained their freedom because of it but unfortunately African Americans

still had far to go before they were seen as equals. After the war, the southern legislature

passed restrictive black codes in order to control the labor and behavior of former slaves

and other African Americans. Because of these black codes many southern states required

African Americans to sign yearly labor contracts and if they refused, they risked being

arrested as vagrants and fined or forced into unpaid labor. It was essentially slavery

without calling it slavery and because of this it subverted the 13th amendment. The 14th

Amendment also came into play here and it broadened the definition of citizenship,

granting equal protection of the Constitution to former slaves, before they could rejoin

the Union. In February 1869, Congress also approved the 15th Amendment, which

guaranteed that a citizens right to vote would not be denied on account of race, color, or

previous condition of servitude.


Progress for African Americans was being made but it was slow and racism was

still rampant. It was also during this time that you had white supremacist groups, like the

KKK, forming. Because of these groups that progress stalled. The KKK would burn

down black schools and churches, and African Americans were beaten or killed. Despite

the increasing violence the African American people persevered. The KKK, despite their

acts of terror, would inevitably fail to destroy the cultural and social independence

African Americans had gained.

It was in the 1960s, a full century later, that the legacy of the Reconstruction

would be revived during the civil rights movement, as African Americans yet again

fought for the political, economic and social equality that had long been denied them.

In conclusion, slavery and its effects were one of the major forces that shaped the

America we know today. We see that in our laws, we see that in the cultures and

traditions brought here from Africa. We see it in the people still struggling and fighting

for their civil rights. Lets hope that the constant fight for a fair and just world never stops

because I dont think we would be where we are today without it.


Bibliography

Bryan, K., & Dinwiddies, R. (2013). The Slave Trade. In Knowledge encyclopedia (pp.
300-301). New York, NY: DK Publishing.

Conditions of antebellum slavery . (n.d.). Retrieved April 23, 2017, from


http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2956.html

The Editors of Encyclopdia Britannica. (2017, March 28). Frederick Douglass.


Retrieved April 28, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Frederick-
Douglass

History.com Staff. (2009). Nat Turner. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from
http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/nat-turner

History.com Staff. (2009). Reconstruction. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from


http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/reconstruction

Lewis, T. (2016, July 20). Transatlantic slave trade. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from
https://www.britannica.com/topic/transatlantic-slave-trade

Muhammad, P. M., Esq. (2013). The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: A Forgotten Crime
Against Humanity as Defined by International Law. American University International
Law Review,19(4), 887-907.