Indentured servitude was the initial acute solution for obtaining labor supply to the new found regions of colonial America. Indentured servants played in integral role in the early history of the first colonies in the production of new world crops. As more and more crops were exported to England there was a high demand for skilled workers to build houses and farm buildings, to make the hogsheads and barrels to pack and ship the sugar and tobacco. Over time though this activity became more and more demanding and labor force became scarce. “According to European colonial officials, the abundant land they had “discovered” in the Americas was useless without sufficient labor to exploit it. Slavery systems of labor exploitation were preferred, but neither European nor Native American sources proved adequate to the task” (Dodson, 2003). The early American settlers were enthused with the new found land wealth but in order to get the most out of the lands they resorted to American Indian slaves and African slaves. Indians to be used as a labor force proved to be catastrophic because they were very unreliable slaves. They rejected the field work and since they knew the landscape and surroundings very well they ran away at the first opportunity. On the other hand, poor European indentured servants were good for only seven years max because after their period concluded they were released from servitude.
During the 1600s, indentured servitude provided the bulk of the labor force in the Southern and Middle colonies but by the 1700s, however, the population of indentured servants dropped due in part to the improving economic conditions back home in England. This said, the only option left for the settlers was to enslave Africans as the main source of unskilled labor. The numbers of African slaves grew from merely 20 captive Africans that settled in Jamestown, Virginia who by the way were treated as indentured servants to a massive import that grew to 500,000 from 1700 to 1776. The first Africans in North America were contraband, according to John Rolfe, chief operating officer of the Virginia Company of London. In 1607 as a profit –making venture, this joint stock trading company had established Jamestown in Virginia for commercial development. In a financial report prepared for the company, Rolfe indicated that the Africans had been seized as plunder by a Dutch privateer from a Spanish slaver and ignominiously dumped at Jamestown’s makeshift harbor. The commercialization of Africans as commodities of labor in America began, then, with the entry and settlement of these first blacks at Jamestown in 1619. The first Africans were not regarded as indentured servants like the rest of the colony members even though they secured their freedom after five to seven years of servitude (Walker, 2009, pg. 27). Gradually, with racist rhetoric based on color differences growing in the colonies more and more Africans become lifelong servants and eventually the limited term of servitude was removed and by 1660 the colonial assemblies legalized lifelong slavery in all colonies.
The need for labor, particularly African slave labor, was especially critical in the early development of all of the English colonies. “Colonial America gradually became a land of white opportunity and black slavery. Africans were the largest ethnic group to come to British America during the colonial era” (Tindall, 2013,pg.75) In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the brother in law of the esteemed Government John Winthrop expressed those views in a 1645 letter that emphasized the necessity of acquiring Africans as slave labor: “ I doe not see how wee can thrive untill wee get into a stock of slaves sufficient to doe all our businesss……And, I suppose you know verie well how we shall mayntayne 20 Moores cheaper than one Englishe servant” ( Walker, 2009, pg.27). In colonial America, the agricultural competence of Africans, their expertise in livestock raising and the extractive industries, and their proficiency in various crafts can be attributed to African survivalisms that proved singularly invaluable not only in contributing to the development of American colonies but also in providing the basis for the emergence of African business practices.
For the years to come Black slavery became the norm and America’s new found wealth. The free labor from black slaves provided the colonists with agri-products like cotton and tobacco which in turn enabled them to acquire economical power, populate and fund their independence from England. Slavery on the other spectrum has affected the lives of many African Americans both psychologically and economically. Today, the side effects of slavery are still ingrained in the lives of many African Americans. Blacks today get criticized for why they haven’t magically lifted themselves up out of poverty and for why they are still at the bottom of the economical todem poll when immigrants from other countries created wealth more wealth in this country than them but nobody seems to speak about reparations for African Americans, no 40 acres and a mule, bad infrastructure, Jim Crow, redlining, racism and education. What is astonishing though is that every institution in America whether Wall Street, America’s universities, the government all benefited from black slavery but African Americans.
Dodson, H. (2003, February 03). How Slavery Helped Build a World Economy. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/01/0131_030203_jubilee2.html
Tindall, G. B., & Shi, D. E. (2013). America: A narrative history. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Walker, J. E. K., (2009). The History of Black Business in America: Capitalism, Race, Entrepreneurship. (2nd edition). The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill.