Slavery and the British Empire by Kenneth Morgan

By Kenneth Morgan

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Jan. ), The Records of the Virginia Company of London, 4 vols. (Washington DC, 1933), iii. 243. ³ The large-scale adoption of slave labour owed much to the growth of the English slave trade after 1660. But it was not simply a more regular supply of enslaved Africans that began the racial transformation of the North American and West Indian population. Social and cultural reasons for enslaving Africans also assumed significance. English attitudes towards Africans in the seventeenth century partly reflected a widespread ethnocentrism and xenophobia towards ‘others’.

These speculations remind us that recourse to black slave labour en masse in the seventeenth-century Chesapeake was not the first solution to a labour shortage that settlers looked for or thought feasible. E N S L AV I N G A F R I C A N S The first shipment of blacks to British America arrived in Virginia in 1619. ² This statement has for long been accepted as indicating the first arrival of blacks in North America, but it is now known that thirty-two Africans were recorded in a census in Virginia five months before the arrival of this cargo, and that these ‘founders’ of black life in North America were taken from a Portuguese vessel bound from Angola to Vera Cruz.

English settlers and Indians attempted to mediate the cultural gap between themselves by reciprocity over economic matters. But white settlers also tried to co-opt Indian labour for agricultural production. This failed miserably for three main reasons: cultural differences, disease, and conflict. Native American ways of settlement and land cultivation proved inimical for the sort of agricultural production needed by whites in the Chesapeake. The Indians undertook subsistence agriculture and had their own rules about the use of land and natural resources, but these were different from English conceptions of property in land.

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