A People’s History of the United States

A People’s History of the United States

Since the arrival of the Virginians to the New World, they were desperate for labor. The Virginians were unable to grow enough food to stay alive. During the winter, they were reduced to roaming the woods for nuts and berries and digging up graves to eat the corpses until five hundred colonists were reduced to sixty. They couldn’t force the Indians to work for them because they were outnumbered and despite their superior firearms, they knew the Indians could massacre them.

The Indians also had amazing spirit and resistance. They would prefer to die than be controlled by others. Indentured servants wouldn’t suffice because they had not been brought over in sufficient quantity. Also, indentured servants only had to work for a few years to repay their debt. Indentured servants eventually assimilated into society, increasing the need for laborers. Black slaves were the answer, as a million blacks had already been brought from Africa to the Portuguese and Spanish colonies.

The first Africans that arrived in Virginia were considered as servants, but were treated and viewed differently from white servants. Even before the slave trade begun, the color black was distasteful. The Africans were viewed as inferior and that was the beginning of racism. It was easy for the English enslave the Africans. They were helpless; the English tore them from their land and culture and they were no match for the English’s guns and ships.

Africans were captured and sent to the coast where they were kept in cages until they were picked and sold. Then they were packed aboard the slave ships in spaces that were no bigger than coffins. The combination of desperation from the Jamestown settlers, difficulty of using whites and Indians as servants, the availability of Africans and their helplessness made them the ideal candidates for enslavement. They were the solution to the settler’s problems.

Tabaco, cotton, and sugar plantations made the colonies extremely wealthy; however, there simply were not enough whites to meet the need of the plantations. So as the plantation system grew, slavery grew. The slaves were taught to be insubordinate. They endured hard labor, separation from their families, and the power of law, allowing them to be punished physically. And thus the beginning of slavery and the drawing of the racial line.