The colonists of the early seventeenth century recognized various degrees of freedom and servitude. All men were bound by some obligations and enjoyed some privileges, but it was assumed that those duties and rights, far from equal, would vary from person to person corresponding to rank and position. This point of view of society took differences of status for granted. To all Europeans then, it was an accepted fact. It was God's will as John Winthrop said, that "in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity, other mean and in subjection."
Thus the nobles, gentlemen, and great merchants occupied places near the top, with yeomen, traders and artisans below. Still further down were various dependent persons- children, apprentices, servants- all subject to the master in whose household they lived. For the servants that came to America in early times, the same situation was held. Any chance of getting ahead depended upon the conditions of , therefore many servants took up contracts to work a limited term, that, when expired, would set them free of all bondage and on their own to advance in status. For men whose migration was not voluntary, but a result of force, the circumstances were much different. They had absolutely no choice, and therefore no control over their future. For some Europeans, such as criminals, paupers and orphans, servants without masters, and vagrants in debt, this became an effective means in using the slag of society. It was much cheaper to ship these people to America for productive work than to house them in jails. However, for thousands of Africans, this slavery would soon become a nightmare that would fill their hearts with terror and disbelief.
During the early seventeenth century, the large majority of plantation owners in the New World preferred workers of similar culture and race. Without any law enforcement to prevent trouble, most found it easier to hire workers similar to one's self, that would listen and work obediently. And thus, for the half of the seventeenth century, Europeans rejected the importation of black slaves. Slavery had already existed in Africa, but took place chiefly between tribes or in overland Arab markets. After 1619, the first ships of Africans appeared for sale in Virginia and other neighboring colonies. But the majority of the black slaves were still shipped to the Caribbean and South American markets. Following 1660, however, the fate of the Negroes began to diverge radically from that of other servants. The process was gradual, but the trend unmistakable. The result: an emergence of the institution of black slavery.
By the end of the seventeenth century, the white servant who worked for a term and then became free and equal was replaced by the black slave who was a chattel, bound for the whole of his life, and whose servitude passed to his children. The trade in Negroes boomed, and the appearnace of the plantation system in South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland toward the end of the seventeenth century, and later in Georgia, created an insatiable demand for servile labor and dissolved the earlier hostility to the importation of Negroes. Meanwhile, white servants began avoiding plantations, changing their destinations to Pennsylvania or New York where they could look forward to becoming free landowners. This resulted in planters becoming even more dependant on Negro labor
During the eighteenth century, the slave trade across the Atlantic soared. And the shipment of black African slaves became even more cruel and merciless, as they were crammed by the masses into ships destined for lifelong labor, cruel treatment, and prejudice ridicule. Many a captive sickened and died, and by the time of the American Revolution, there were about five hundred thousand Negroes in the colonies- the overwhelming majority being slaves. By then, the unique but unmistakably tragic migration of these people had "planted the seeds of a difficulty that would permanently mark the nation." (Handlin, 1972)