When we look back on the history of the world we see even through hell and back, we’ve grown and learned. Slavery itself is one of the most scaring things America has yet to acknowledge in History. “ I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.” Harriet Tubman, King Charles II, Native Americans has fought for the right of their own journey.
Throughout the 17th and 18th century, people from Africa, forced into slavery to the American colonies, worked as indentured servants and labor in fields. In 1619, “20 and odd” Angolans immigrants, kidnapped by Portuguese, arrived in the British colony of Virginia and were brought by English colonists. The arrival of the enslaved in the New World marked the beginning of slavery and immigration for America. On August 20, 1619, the first enslaved Africans to arrive in Jamestown disembarked at Point Comfort, known as the Hampton Roads today. Originally, the slaves were kidnapped from the Portuguese colonies forces. They were then ordered on the slave ship San Juan Bautista. Around 150 to 350 people on the ship died during the crossing.
As it approached its destination, the ship was attacked by the White Lion and the Treasure. The White Lion ship docked at Virginia Colony’s Point Comfort and Caption John Jope traded the slaves for food. Scholars note the arrivals were technically sold as indentured servants, agreed, mostly forced, to work with no pay for a set amount of time to pay off debt and could legally, eventually, become free at the end of the contract. Despite classification, Africans arriving at Point Comfort in 1619 were forced into servitude and fit the Universal Declaration of Human Rights definition of enslaved people. The arrival roughly brought 400,000 slaves. Early colonists were trying to survive but couldn’t. The colonists resorted to cannibalism. When the slaves came they were crucial to their economy because they knew how to grow rice, sugar, and cotton.
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In the late 1600s slaves from the British colonies began to arrive in Spanish Florida. Spanish officials began a policy of baptizing slaves, paying their owners, allowing slaves to work to pay off their debt. King Charles II of Spain issued the Edict of 1693 stating that any male slave on an English plantation who escaped to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom if he join the militia and became Catholic. The Edict became one of the earliest emancipation proclamations. In 1738, the Spanish created the first black community in North America with 100 blacks, mostly runaways from the Carolinas. Many had different working skills creating a colony of free people that attracted more fugitives slaves. In 1740 war began between England and Spain, English sent soldiers and ships to destroy St. Augustine. Blacks, Indians, and Whites joined together to fight back.
Florida remained to the Spanish for the next 80 years. The Quakers are considered the first organized group actively to help escaped slaves. Both black and whites formed a secret network to help escape to freedom. The exact dates of the Underground Railroads first existence is not exactly known but it operated from the 18th century to the Civil War. Quaker Abolitionist Issac T. Hopper set a network in Philadelphia as well as North Carolina established abolitionist groups who mapped out the routes and shelters for escapees. Most slaves that were helped by the Underground Railroad escaped from Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland. Underground Railroad operators were ordinary people, farmers, business owners, ministers, as well as wealthy people. Levi Coffin, as early as 15 years old began to help escaped slaves. Levi Coffin learned their hiding places to help them move along in their journey.
The terms of The Underground Railroad for those who went south to find enslaved people seeking freedom were called “Pilots.” Guiding enslaved people to safety and freedom were “conductors.” The enslaved people were “passengers.” People’s homes or businesses, where fugitive passengers and conductors could safely hide, were “stations.” Stations were added or removed depending as the ownership of the house changed and if the new owner supported slavery, or if the site was discovered to be a station, passengers and conductors were forced to find a new station. Routes stretched through Ohio, Indiana and Iowa. Others headed north through Pennsylvania and into New England or through Detroit on their way to Canada. Many escaped to Canada because of the Fugitive Slave Act. The Act was federal laws that allowed for the capture and return of runaway enslaved people within the territory of the United States. Northern States tried to have Personal Liberty Laws but were denied by the Supreme Court in in 1842.
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