|The first Africans were brought to British North
America, or more specifically Virginia, in August of 1619 as
slaves. Africans were chosen because of their dark skin color,
which made them easily spotted. Most slaves were brought from the
3,000 mile coast of West Africa by the English, French, Dutch,
Arabs, and Portuguese. The voyage was made on tightly packed and
unsanitary ships that sailed for three weeks to three months,
depending upon the conditions. On average, only two out of every
five slaves made the journey. Diseases, unsanitary conditions,
suicide, and lack of nourishment all contributed to the small
survival rate. Once the Africans were brought to the New World,
they were sold into slavery at auctions.
Prior to the use of slavery, American colonies used indentured
servants. These servants, who were usually young, white males,
would exchange a number of years of servitude for their passage
into the New World. During the 1800's, the northern states in the
United States became industrialized, and the southern states
further developed their economies with farms and large plantations.
Staple crops included cotton, sugar, tobacco, indigo, and rice.
These crops required large amounts of labor, and indentured
servants were suddenly not enough. This needed labor ultimately
came from African slaves. Even the most basic human rights of these
workers were neglected, and the slaves were considered pieces of
property. They were forced to work long hours (usually from sunrise
to sundown) and had to endure physical and emotional abuse.
Whippings, flogging, and the separation of families were not rare.
Conflict continued to arise as northern and southern states began
to debate the issue of slavery.
Abolitionists such as former-slave Harriet Tubman helped other
slaves to escape to freedom. Their goal was to "abolish" slavery.
Other famous abolitionists included Frederick Douglass, Harriet
Beecher Stowe, and Levi Coffin. Usually, slaves escaped to Canada,
Mexico, or the northern parts of the U.S. through the Underground
Railroad, a secret escape route that was created in 1804.
The issue of slavery would eventually become one of the
underlying causes of the Civil War.