Slavery in Pennsylvania

History of Slavery in Pennsylvania

In the early 1600s, the Delaware Valley was an outlying region of the New Netherland Colony on the Hudson River. It was governed by the Dutch West India Company and populated by Dutch and Swedes more interested in fur trapping than farming. It faced the same labor shortage that plagued New Netherland, and it found the same solution. African slaves were working there as early as 1639.

In 1664, the Delaware settlers contracted the West India Company “to transport hither a lot of Negroes for agricultural purposes.” The demand for slaves continued when the English assumed rule that same year. The town magistrates of New Castle, then the major settlement in the region, petitioned “that liberty of trade may be granted us with the neighboring colony of Maryland for the supplying us with Negroes…without which we cannot subsist.”

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Slavery in Maryland

History of Slavery in Maryland

Maryland’s history as a slaveholding state was unique. Few land holdings in the state would have rated the name of plantation in the eyes of slaveholders from the Southern States, because the average number of enslaved persons owned by each slaveholder in Maryland was only three.

Founding of Maryland
Maryland developed from a tract of country belonging to the original grant of Virginia. George Calvert, the First Lord Baltimore, was looking for land with a similar climate to that of England on which to establish his new colony. He put his sights on obtaining land in Virginia, parts of which had already been colonized.

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Slavery in Delaware

Colonial Delaware

Delaware began as New Sweden, an abortive attempt by the Swedes to found a colony on the shores of Delaware Bay in the New World. There were few immigrants, and the colony suffered from a chronic shortage of manpower. It had only 183 residents by 1647. The Swedes also tried to join the rush by European powers to get footholds in West Africa to gain access to gold and slaves, but they were soon driven out by more aggressive European powers.

 The Swedes turned to Indian slaves when they could get them, but disease and westward migration had already emptied the region of native tribes. Still, a few Indian slaves persisted in Delaware until the 1720s, and the presence of a clause in the 1776 state constitution barring transportation of Indian slaves indicates that it was at least considered a possibility at that late date. Perhaps they were brought from the Carolinas.

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Slavery in Virginia

History of Slavery in Virginia

Image: In the Richmond Slave Market

Beginning with the arrival of the first Africans in Jamestown in 1619, a system of hereditary bondage for blacks gradually developed. Over the course of 150 years, slavery became entrenched in Virginia society, increasingly supported by a series of restrictive laws. Slavery was the foundation of Virginia’s agricultural system and essential to its economic viability.

To attract settlers, English citizens were offered land if they came to the new colony as indentured servants, and planters relied on these servants to harvest their tobacco. But once the servants had served their terms of indenture – usually seven years – they became free men and women, and were given fifty acres of land. And the supply of indentured servants decreased greatly by the end of the seventeenth century, and planters gradually began to shift to slave labor.

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Slavery in New Netherland

The Rise of Slavery

Image: First Slave Auction
New Netherland in 1655

Slavery under Dutch Rule
Slavery began in New Netherland as it did in other colonies, because there was an acute labor shortage. Even imported white indentured servants, who contracted to serve for a certain period of time were hard to obtain. The alternative for the farmer or the large householder was to purchase slaves.

In 1626, a ship carrying 11 male slaves sailed into the harbor at New Amsterdam. Only four of the names of the first slaves in New York are known for certain: Paul d’Angola, Simon Congo, Anthony Portuguese, and John Francisco. Their names indicate that they were probably taken from Spanish or Portuguese slave ships captured at sea. They were immediately put to work by the Dutch West India Company – building roads, cutting timber, clearing land and helping construct a major fort at the southern tip of Manhattan.

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Slavery in New Jersey

Chattel Slavery

Slavery was introduced into the colony of New Jersey in the 17th century, shortly after the Dutch first settled in the colony. The colonial system of slavery was a labor system known as chattel slavery, in which the slave was the personal property of his or her owner for life.

Men and women brought from Africa, either directly or by way of the Caribbean Islands, were enslaved under this system. Children born to slave women were the property of their mother’s owner, and became slaves for life.

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Slavery in New York

1664 through the American Revolution

Image: British New York
Manhattan Island

Slavery in English New York
When the British took control of New York in 1664, the Duke of York proclaimed that no Christian could be held in slavery. This rule, and the principle behind it, became an issue later, when enslaved blacks wanted to convert to Christianity.

The British were far harsher toward slaves than the Dutch had been. They eliminated most of the pathways to freedom and passed laws that greatly limited what enslaved people could do, whom they could gather with, and when they could be out on the streets. Many of these laws were rewritten often, suggesting that they did not work very well.

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Slavery in New Amsterdam

The Years: 1625 through 1664

Image: New Amsterdam Map

Dutch New Amsterdam

In 1624, the Dutch West India Company (DWIC) began settling the colony of New Netherland, the territory granted to the Dutch West India Company in 1621 by the government of Holland. It stretched from Manhattan to Albany along both sides of the Hudson River, and eventually included the areas now known as New York and New Jersey, and parts of Delaware and Connecticut. This colony was set up as a business, and its main goal was to make money for the DWIC by trading beaver pelts and other goods with Europe.

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Dorothy Creole

Slave in New Amsterdam

Dorothy Creole was one of the first black women in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam on the island of Manhattan. She was African, but she came from a world where West Africans and Europeans had been trading for two centuries and their cultures had mixed. She may have spoken Spanish or Portuguese, in addition to her African language. The name Creole may have begun as a descriptive term used by Europeans, and later developed into a surname.

Dorothy might have arrived in 1627, when records indicate that three enslaved women were brought into New Amsterdam, which was little more than a muddy village with thirty wooden houses and a population of less than two hundred people. All slaves brought into the colony during its early years were the property of the Dutch West India Company, the founder and owner of the Colony.

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Elizabeth Key

First African Woman to Win Her Freedom in Court

Elizabeth Key was the first woman of African ancestry in the American colonies to sue for her freedom from slavery and win. Elizabeth Key won her freedom and that of her infant son on July 21, 1656 in the colony of Virginia, in one of the earliest freedom suits in the colonies. She sued based on the fact that her father was an Englishman and that she was a baptized Christian.

Born in Warwick County, Virginia in 1630, Elizabeth Key was the illegitimate daughter of an enslaved black mother and a white English planter father, Thomas Key, who was also a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. She spent the first several years of her life with her mother.

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