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How Did Slavery Start?

written by: TaiDollWave • edited by: Noreen Gunnell • updated: 1/4/2012

A brief overview of the start of slavery in America, and some reasons why it began.

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    Slavery and How it Began

    Slavery has been around for many years. Documentation exists in the Bible, in historical archives, and many other places. Slavery existed before America even came into existence, in many different cultures, in many different countries. A practice that means a human being belonged to another and was stripped of their personal freedoms.

    It is complicated to think how, exactly, slavery began. Being that it was such an old practice, many people just did not really consider it wrong. There were always people who disliked it, however. There were some people who refused to participate in it and tried to pass laws against it, and help slaves escape and find their freedom.

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    The Beginnings

    Slavery in America began in 1619, meaning that was when slaves began to show up in the original colonies. However, this practice had happened even in the Spanish colonies as early as the 1560s.

    What has to be remembered is that slaves weren't always the way we think of them. Sometimes slaves were indentured servants, meaning they were people who sold themselves into servitude for a predetermined period of years (for example seven or fourteen). This was done in exchange for passage to America, and a place to live while working for their master. When the period was up, that person had earned their freedom, even though there was the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, stating you had to return any fugitive slave to their owner.

    There were, of course, what we traditionally think of as slaves. There were slaves that had been brought over from Africa, after having been bought or kidnapped. There were tribes that would kidnap members of other tribes to be sold to white people to be brought over to America and sold into slavery.

    There was eventually a ban placed on moving new slaves into America. This meant that you could no longer go and purchase one off of a boat. Any slaves that were sold had to be born from slaves that were already in America. The laws that governed this were complicated as well.

    By 1860, there were more than four million slaves in America.

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    Why Were There Slaves?

    It is also complicated to consider why there were slaves. America was built on freedom, and yet here were four million people that were not free. How could this be possible? How could Americans let families be torn apart and let people be beaten, worked to death, starved, and treated like a piece of property rather than a human?

    The main reason given in favor of slavery was simply WORK. Plantation owners had so much land to work that they could not do it themselves. They needed the free labor to give growing the things they grew, so the growing nation could be kept in the supplies it needed.

    But was this true? Was it an issue of work, or was it an issue of greed, laziness, and cruelty? There were many, many people who thought it was the latter. Thankfully, slavery was abolished with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation (the first draft in 1862, the second in 1863). With the end of the Civil War came the end of the slavery.

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    The Aftermath

    Unfortunately, not everything was over for the former slaves and their descendants. America is still working on equality. But we have come a long way.