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Table of contents

They also developed new remedies based on American plants and herbs. According to Andrew Fede, a master could be held criminally liable for killing a slave only if the slave he killed was "completely submissive and under the master's absolute control". Because of the power relationships at work, slave women in the United States were at high risk for rape and sexual abuse. Others carried psychological and physical scars from the attacks. Both Mary Chesnut and Fanny Kemble , wives of planters, wrote about this issue in the antebellum South in the decades before the Civil War.

Sometimes planters used mixed-race slaves as house servants or favored artisans because they were their children or other relatives. While slaves' living conditions were poor by modern standards, Robert Fogel argued that all workers, free or slave, during the first half of the 19th century were subject to hardship. To help regulate the relationship between slave and owner, including legal support for keeping the slave as property, states established slave codes , most based on laws existing since the colonial era.

The code for the District of Columbia defined a slave as "a human being, who is by law deprived of his or her liberty for life, and is the property of another". While each state had its own slave code, many concepts were shared throughout the slave states. This prohibition was unique to American slavery, believed to reduce slaves forming aspirations that could lead to escape or rebellion. In Alabama, slaves were not allowed to leave their master's premises without written consent or passes. This was a common requirement in other states as well, and locally run patrols known to slaves as pater rollers often checked the passes of slaves who appeared to be away from their plantations.

In Alabama slaves were prohibited from trading goods among themselves. In Virginia, a slave was not permitted to drink in public within one mile of his master or during public gatherings.

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Slaves were not permitted to carry firearms in any of the slave states. Slaves were generally prohibited by law from associating in groups, with the exception of worship services a reason why the Black church is such a notable institution in black communities today.


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Following Nat Turner 's rebellion in , which raised white fears throughout the South, some states also prohibited or restricted religious gatherings of slaves, or required that they be officiated by white men. Planters feared that group meetings would facilitate communication among slaves that could lead to rebellion. In Ohio, an emancipated slave was prohibited from returning to the state in which he or she had been enslaved. Other northern states discouraged the settling of free blacks within their boundaries. Fearing the influence of free blacks, Virginia and other southern states passed laws to require blacks who had been freed to leave the state within a year or sometimes less time unless granted a stay by an act of the legislature.

The United States Constitution , adopted in , prevented Congress from completely banning the importation of slaves until , although Congress regulated it in the Slave Trade Act of , and in subsequent Acts in and By contrast, the states of Georgia and South Carolina reopened their trade due to demand by their upland planters, who were developing new cotton plantations: Georgia from until December 31, , and South Carolina from In that period, Charleston traders imported about 75, slaves, more than were brought to South Carolina in the 75 years before the Revolution. By January 1, , when Congress banned further imports , South Carolina was the only state that still allowed importation of slaves.

Congress allowed continued trade only in slaves who were descendants of those currently in the United States. In addition, US citizens could participate financially in the international slave trade and the outfitting of ships for that trade. The domestic slave trade became extremely profitable as demand rose with the expansion of cultivation in the Deep South for cotton and sugar cane crops.

Slavery in the United States became, more or less, self-sustaining by natural increase among the current slaves and their descendants.

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Despite the ban, slave imports continued through smugglers bringing in slaves past the U. After that, "it is unlikely that more than 10, [slaves] were successfully landed in the United States. During the War of , British Royal Navy commanders of the blockading fleet, based at the Bermuda dockyard , were instructed to offer freedom to defecting American slaves, as the Crown had during the Revolutionary War.

Thousands of escaped slaves went over to the Crown with their families. The freedmen fought for Britain throughout the Atlantic campaign, including the attack on Washington D. Seven hundred of these ex-marines were granted land they reportedly organised themselves in villages along the lines of their military companies. Descendants have established the Black Loyalist Heritage Museum and website. Slaveholders, primarily in the South, had considerable "loss of property" as thousands of slaves escaped to British lines or ships for freedom, despite the difficulties.

The Americans protested that Britain's failure to return all slaves violated the Treaty of Ghent. Prior to the American Revolution, masters and revivalists spread Christianity to slave communities, supported by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. In the First Great Awakening of the midth century, Baptists and Methodists from New England preached a message against slavery, encouraged masters to free their slaves, converted both slaves and free blacks, and gave them active roles in new congregations.

Over the decades and with the growth of slavery throughout the South, Baptist and Methodist ministers gradually changed their messages to accommodate the institution.

Primary Source Documents

After , white Southerners argued for the compatibility of Christianity and slavery, with a multitude of both Old and New Testament citations. In the s and s, the issue of accepting slavery split the nation's largest religious denominations the Methodist , Baptist and Presbyterian churches into separate Northern and Southern organizations see Methodist Episcopal Church, South , Southern Baptist Convention , and Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America. Southern slaves generally attended their masters' white churches, where they often outnumbered the white congregants.

They were usually permitted to sit only in the back or in the balcony. They listened to white preachers, who emphasized the obligation of slaves to keep in their place, and acknowledged the slave's identity as both person and property. This included masters having self-control, not disciplining under anger, not threatening, and ultimately fostering Christianity among their slaves by example. Slaves also created their own religious observances, meeting alone without the supervision of their white masters or ministers.

The larger plantations with groups of slaves numbering twenty, or more, tended to be centers of nighttime meetings of one or several plantation slave populations. African Americans developed a theology related to Biblical stories having the most meaning for them, including the hope for deliverance from slavery by their own Exodus. One lasting influence of these secret congregations is the African-American spiritual.


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According to Herbert Aptheker, "there were few phases of ante-bellum Southern life and history that were not in some way influenced by the fear of, or the actual outbreak of, militant concerted slave action. Historians in the 20th century identified to slave uprisings in U. In , Nat Turner , a literate slave who claimed to have spiritual visions , organized a slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia ; it was sometimes called the Southampton Insurrection. Turner and his followers killed nearly 60 white inhabitants, mostly women and children.

Many of the men in the area were attending a religious event in North Carolina. In a frenzy of fear and retaliation, the militia killed more than slaves who had not been involved in the rebellion. Planters whipped hundreds of innocent slaves to ensure resistance was quelled. This rebellion prompted Virginia and other slave states to pass more restrictions on slaves and free people of color, controlling their movement and requiring more white supervision of gatherings.

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In North Carolina withdrew the franchise for free people of color, and they lost their vote. See also : Anti-literacy law. Across the South, white legislatures enacted harsh new laws to curtail the already limited rights of African Americans. Virginia prohibited blacks, free or slave, from practicing preaching, prohibited blacks from owning firearms, and forbade anyone to teach slaves or free blacks how to read.

Any justice may issue his warrant to any office or other person, requiring him to enter any place where such assemblage may be, and seize any negro therein; and he, or any other justice, may order such negro to be punished with stripes. Unlike in the South, slave owners in Utah were required to send their slaves to school. Eli Whitney 's invention of the cotton gin in , made processing of short-staple cotton profitable, and it was cultivated throughout the South to satisfy US and international demand.

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New York introduced gradual emancipation in completed in Pennsylvania abolished slavery during the War for Independence. Some economists and historians [ who? They do not fully account for the government costs necessary to maintain the institution, nor for human suffering. The transition from indentured servants to slaves is cited to show that slaves offered greater profits to their owners. Indentured servants became more costly with the increase in the demand of skilled labor in England. In the decades preceding the civil war, the United States experienced a rapid natural increase of black population.

Baptist and Sven Beckert , have posited that slavery was integral in the development of American capitalism. Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman , in their book Time on the Cross , argued that the rate of return of slavery at the market price was close to 10 percent, a number close to investment in other assets. Fogel's work, Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery , elaborated on the moral indictment of slavery which ultimately led to its abolition.

Scholars disagree on how to quantify efficiency of slavery. In Time on the Cross , Fogel and Engerman equate efficiency to total factor productivity TFP —the output per average unit of input on a farm. Under the Gang System, groups of slaves perform synchronized tasks under the constant vigilance of an overseer. Each group was like a part of a machine. If perceived to be working below his capacity, a slave could be punished.