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Around 1600, Africans began to be shipped to North America as slaves. Slaves did most of the work where they lived. Most of them worked in mines or on plantations, while some became servants. Some people thought that slavery was wrong, while the majority of people thought that slavery was acceptable. Few slaves could marry, have a family, testify in court, or own property legally. Some slaves were able to make money to free themselves.
Slavery Grows in the South
Blacks became slaves in the American Colonies during the 1600's. People were getting more slaves in the South where large plantations grew cotton and other crops. These plantations needed many workers to take care of the farms. People in the North didn't need slaves because they didn't have as many large farms as the South did.
Plantation slaves in the 1800's were called field hands. Their jobs were to plant and pick cotton. Out of all the different kinds of slaves, field hands worked the longest. From sunrise to sunset they worked. In their master's home, house slaves worked as servants and did jobs like doing the laundry or making dinner. Some other slaves who worked on plantations became trained craft workers like bricklayers, blacksmiths, carpenters, or cabinetmakers. Besides working on plantations, some slaves worked in factories while others became construction workers on canals and railroads. Others became dockworkers, office workers, riverboat pilots, and lumberjacks. Some even worked hard in mines. Whites didn't want black slaves to read and write because they might be encouraged to run away.
There were different kinds of slaveholders. Some treated their slaves well by giving them gifts and money for doing a good job. Others treated their slaves poorly by punishing or threatening them. When slaves worked in large groups such as in mines or on farms, they were often over-worked and punished. Some who worked as servants were treated as a member of the owner's family. In some cases slaves were released from their owners when the owner died leaving a will saying they were free because of their good work and loyalty.
Slaves created their own language and music. Religion helped slaves get through rough times. Their religion was a combination of African and Christian beliefs. Some slaves tried to escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad.
The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad wasn't a real railroad and it wasn't necessarily underground. It really was a system that helped slaves escape to freedom in areas such as the northern states and Canada in the 1800's. This system was called the Underground Railroad because of the secret way slaves escaped. It was in 14 northern states but was mainly in Indiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the New England states. The slaves would hide during the day and moved almost always at night. To make sure no one found out about it, the people who aided the slaves and the fugitives would use many railroad words as code words. Although some slaves settled in the North, others didn't because they could be captured and would be returned to being a slave. Instead these slaves would go to Canada. The line between freedom and slavery was called the Mason Dixon Line. It is located on the border of Pennsylvania and Maryland.
The Antislavery and Proslavery Movements
The slave states had approximately four million slaves by 1860 and made up one-third of the South's population. In the 1700's, religious leaders and philosophers in North America and Europe began saying that slavery was wrong. They felt that slavery went against human rights and God's teachings. A few slave owners thought Africans were less than human and that it was all right to treat them badly. During the Revolutionary War in America (1775-1783) many Americans began to feel that slavery was wrong. The Americans who were against slavery came to believe that slavery in the United States wasn't right because the United States had been formed to protect human rights, and slaves didn't have rights. Slavery was opposed more rapidly in the North, because few people in the North owned slaves. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson even spoke out against slavery.
The masters of slaves made high profits from owning slaves and this had a greater influence on them than the people who argued against slavery. Throughout the South, most southern people remained supportive of slavery. Approximately one-fourth of the region's Whites owned slaves or were in a family that had slaves working for them. Owning over half of the slaves, about 45,000 planters controlled the government and economy of the southern states. Even southerners who didn't own slaves felt the South's economy would fail if people could not own slaves.
Abolitionists started a movement in the 1800's to try to end slavery. Then, southerners began to stick up for slavery in what became known as the proslavery movement. Some southerners involved in the movement quarreled that slavery was like "the law of nature" which allowed the strong to rule the weak. They believed it was right for Whites to own Blacks as slaves because the strong were ruling the weak. Other people believed that the Bible favored slavery, while others thought that southern slavery was better than living in Africa, because in the South they would have a lifelong home with better living conditions. By 1860, almost all southerners thought slavery should continue.
The Fight over Slavery in the West
During the 1800's slavery began to increase in the West. The North worried that the states that allowed slavery would take over Congress if these new territories joined the Union as slave states. If the West joined the Union as "free soil" states, slave states would be outnumbered in Congress by free states, so Southerners began demanding that slavery should continue in the western states. Arguments over slavery in the new states helped bring on the Civil War which was fought from 1861 to 1865. Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865.
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