Last Updated 09 Apr 2020

White Servitude and the Growth of Black Slavery in Colonial America

Category Colonialism, Slavery
Words 953 (4 pages)
Views 410
From “The Journal of Economical History”, Vol. 41, No. 1, author David W. Galenson provides a nine-page article published in March 1981 entitled “White Servitude and the Growth of Black Slavery” which I thoroughly read and will present my own analysis. In a unique approach author David Galenson examines the transition of servants to slaves during the 17th and 18th century of British America. He successfully covers the importance of slavery and the reason for its high demand.

Galenson takes into consideration the demographic conditions and its differences throughout the West Indies, the Chesapeake colonies, Virginia and Maryland, and South Carolina. He also provides his own analysis, which is the belief that the growth of slavery may have been due to the decisions of planters. Despite our past and its complete disregard to the social consequences of its actions David Galenson attempts to piece together the puzzle and make sense of it all. Slavery served many purposes aside from being a foundation in constructing America’s agricultural staple.

For many it meant a fresh start and others freedom however, they accepted the fact their debt would be paid in servitude sometimes slavery. Upon reading Galenson’s article it is evident that indenture servants and slaves were essential in developing the economy. Early on indentured servants were of high demand due to their credibility and skill. With the introduction of profitable staple crops the need for labor rose along with immigration. Supporting his evidence with primary sources Galenson provides charts of statistics.

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The first chart illustrates the need for servants and how over time they became obsolete from slaves fulfilling their duties. The second chart showed the numbers of skilled servants registered and place of destination. Quotes were pulled from letters sent oversea by planters so that Galenson could effectively defend his topic. One in particular he used read “want of servants is my greatest bane and will hinder my designe…. In January next god willing I shall begin to make sugar.

So pray if you come neare to any port where shipping comes hither indenture produce and send me [servants]…. ett them be of any sort men women or boys… what I shall not make use off and are not serviceable for mee I can exchange with others especially any sort of tradesmen…” The article emphasized the need for servants and slaves in order to make substantial growth however failed to mention where slavery derived from. As wrongful as slavery is it has been installed in our history for centuries. A reference to Ancient Egypt could have easily been made and just like then it was used to build a foundation of civilization. Slavery, indenture servants, immigration and planters all functioned in a cycle, which seemed to work but after long term failed.

Planters needed labor to be done and immigrants wanted a way out from British rule so they sold themselves either into slavery or as an indenture servant. As an indenture servant they were contracted anywhere from 3 to 7 years and freed. Slavery on the other hand continued and was instilled into the culture. Galenson explains how servants at one point were worth more than slaves. Overtime the two flopped and slaves were of demand and the reason for that was due to cost. Planters realized they could train the slaves to pick up a trade and replace the indenture servants.

This way they would be spending less money towards food and clothing for indenture servants. Slaves were merely property to the planters so less money was spent towards them. It makes perfect sense to why planters would choose slaves over servants however this led America into more problems down the road. Having got rid of most servants all that were left were slaves, which happen to be primarily of African descent. Slaves were acknowledged as property and thought less of. It was not until 1808 that congress banned importation of slaves from Africa.

Slaves were not always deemed as property it was the result of numerous feuds over slaves and owners engaging in sexual activities. One must wonder why the slaves allow themselves to be treated this way and the reason behind that would be lack of education. Some slave owners even prohibited the slaves from ever reading. Uproar did occur with those who were fortunately educated and stir up rebellions and or fled. David Galenson did touch upon some key elements of slavery and its evolution but I feel he should have expressed more of its history to give his audience a well-rounded understanding.

Having read “White Servitude and the Growth of Black Slavery” I have made connections to our course texts book “Visions of America” since it ties together with our current readings. Galenson effectively provides facts with supported evidence allowing his readers to have a well understanding of our history in slavery. What I found most convincing from his articles were the documents he provided. One of the records was literally an inventory of the servants and the duties the servants held along with the slaves.

It is exponentially hard to trace documents of a specific time frame in which you want to argue for. If Galenson had left out those two main documents his article would be less accredited and hard to believe. Lastly what I really found convincing was his quotes from the planters. The quote made me feel as if I was apart of history reading it. It was definitely an eye open to how real and harsh the times were for the slaves at the time. In the end Galenson provides a great piece of work and constructively educated me through his writing. His article was well written in the sense it was brief and to the point.

White Servitude and the Growth of Black Slavery in Colonial America essay

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