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Transition Between Indentured Servitude and Slavery The development of the New World colonies was established through the use of both indentured servants and slavery. In the beginning of colonization, indentured servants were the primary source of labor for the early settlements. The growth of the New World led to an increase in demand for cheap and efficient labor. As the number of indentured servants diminished, the slave trade began to flourish.
The trading of slaves endured for hundreds of years, becoming more important to the colonies than indentured servants. What factors led to the transition from indentured servitude to slavery? The transition can be seen by examining economic factors, the decline in numbers of indentured servants, the need for cheap labor, and the concept of mercantilism to establish profitable colonies in the New World. Indentured servitude was the process of a servant binding himself or herself by contract to a ship captain for a specified length of time, usually four to seven years (1). In return, the captain agreed to transport the servant across the Atlantic and into the colonies. Upon arrival, the servants were sold on an auction block to the highest bidder.
The servant when then work for the length of his contract, in return for food, shelter, clothes, skills, and eventually freedom (2). Unemployment, persecution, and limited resources in Europe caused many to look to the New World for a better life. After a futile search for employment and with resources depleted, these individuals often solved their most immediate problem, their economic condition, by signing on as indentured servants (3). The rising numbers of immigrant servants caused the colonists to become dependent on indentured servitude to facilitate the need for labor. Before the 1680 s, indentured servitude was the primary source of labor in the newly developed colonies.
After the 1680 s, the population of the indentured servants decreased exponentially. The servants were running away from their temporary masters, to find a job where he could become more independent. Indentured servants were also dying of many diseases, which were caused by harsh conditions. The immigration of servants thus declined, and the need for labor increased rapidly. In the 1600 s, tobacco became the main source of income for a majority of the colonists. The economic prosperity of the colonies was primarily dependent on the amount of tobacco produced.
Tobacco plantations needed a large amount of land, with a large stable work force to plant, cultivate, and check the crops (4). The increased demand for a large, stable work force combined with the availability of African slaves, led to the use of slavery in the colonies. The decreasing population combined with a need for a labor force and the desire for economic growth, led colonists to believe that African slaves were the most efficient way to acquire a labor force that would satisfy their needs. Slave trading and slavery were important in building the colonial empires of European nations and in generating the wealth that later produced the industrial revolution. In addition, the slave trade created the lines of communication for the movement of crops, agricultural techniques, diseases, and medical knowledge between Africa, Europe and America (5). It was much easier for the Europeans to pick up slaves in Africa, sail to the colonies, and then use them for inexpensive labor.
The slave trade became three continent affair that involved Europe, Africa, and the New World (6). To the planter, slavery was the ideal form of labor that would be most beneficial to productivity of his crop. Planters had an abundance of land and a shortage of labor. This relationship, made the amount of tobacco directly proportional to the number of slaves that the planter owned (7). Slavery became the backbone of the prosperity in the colonies.
The planter needed to educate his workers on certain agricultural techniques in order to know how to make the land most productive. With a permanent work force, such as slaves, the slaves would only require to be educated once, instead of the planters having to re-educate indentured servants in the future (8). African slaves also had other characteristics that enticed colonists to use them as a labor force. The slaves were immune to malaria, which resisted them from disease, and were subsistence farmers in Africa, which gave them a tradition of farming and essential agricultural skills.
Mercantilism became a driving force for the slave trade, focusing on the importance of economy. Mercantilism came to light during the 17 th century during the decline of the Spanish Empire. It was a set of policies that was centered on the economy of a nation, rather than the military or silver that paid for them (9). Power is derived from the wealth of a nation. The increase of wealth required vigorous trade, and the colonies had become essential to that growth. By creating economic incentives, a state could induce its people to engage in activities that would increase not just their own wealth and power but that of the whole country.
In order to achieve a system of a profitable economy, there needed to be a stable and cheap workforce in the colonies, thus the African slaves became important. The transition from indentured servitude to slavery was a gradual change that had a dramatic impact on the economies of the colonies. Mercantilism, economic factors, the demand for stable and cheap labor, and the declining number of immigrant servants played an important role in the transition to slavery. The harsh conditions in the New World caused the number of immigrants to decrease sharply, and created a demand for a powerful work force. Slavery provided a cheap and efficient labor force that stimulated economic growth in the colonies and was responsible for the establishment of the New World. The use of un-free men as sources of labor has left a scar on the American society that has endured for hundreds of years.
However, slavery was responsible for the development of the country that we live in today.
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