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America's History in the Making

Colonial Designs

Theme 2

Between 1660 and 1720 the English colonies in North America implemented the system of race-based slavery, altering the status of blacks living in the colonies and prompting the increased importation of enslaved Africans.

The number of slaves rose in many of England’s North American colonies because of an increase in plantation agriculture, and because other forms of labor were waning. Although slavery itself was not new, the form that emerged on the sugar, coffee, and tobacco plantations of the Americas was unprecedented.

Slavery was widely practiced and accepted across the world when Europeans began to colonize North America; slaves had long served as personal servants, for example. In most parts of the world, the condition of slavery was not inherited and slaves had some rights, including the right to own property. But European expansion in the Americas was followed by a shift in the institution of slavery.

The roots of slavery in the Americas extend to Portuguese and Spanish slavery in places such as the Canary Islands. They soon transplanted and expanded the system in Brazil and the Caribbean, where millions of slaves—who had been captured and sold in Africa—would toil to produce sugar, coffee, and other profitable crops.

As slavery spread to the mainland British colonies, it began to replace indentured servitude in the Chesapeake during the second half of the 1600s, and it entered the new Carolina colonies in the same era. By the early 1700s, slave labor was at the economic heart of the southern colonies.

Primary Sources