Why Didn’t New England Develop a Slave Based Plantation Economy?

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Slavery is defined as the state of one bound in servitude as the property of a slaveholder or household. (Berlin 2010) This was a legal institution until the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Prior to that time slaves were bought and sold as property and their owners were allowed to treat them as such {Vignette: How Slavery Affected My Generation}. The slave trade began sometime in the 15th century with the capture and enslavement of Africans. While the practice of slavery became instrumental in the economy of the colonies, over 90% of slaves were brought to Brazil or the Caribbean islands. Most slaves were bought on the coast of West Africa. West African societies had long enslaved captives of war and criminals for sale to Arab traders; this occurred during the early 15th century and was done on an extremely small scale. The numbers of slaves traded and sold during this time was roughly a thousand a year.(Berlin 2010) This number rose exponentially with the arrival of European mariners along the West African coast. It is believed that roughly 12 million Africans were brought to the North America for this purpose between the 16th and 19th centuries. As a result African slave migrants outnumbered European migrants 5 to 1 and 40% and 40% of the population of Virginia was black and of direct African descent.(Davidson, Delay, Heyrman, Lylte and Stoff 2009)
It is believed that the first slaves arrived in Virginia sometime around 1619, however prior to that point a system of indentured servitude was in place. (Davidson et al. 2009) When James Rolfe inadvertently created the tobacco industry the crop grew abundantly. The price for tobacco in England was worth ten times what it was worth in the United States. As a result, many Europeans entered into an indentured servitude to pay for their journey to the United States. (Taylor 2001) It was believed that once the servitude ended, a person could get his own land and grow his own tobacco to obtain wealth,. Ultimately this proved not to be the case as by the 1660’s, overproduction has severely diminished tobaccos value. As a result, servants whose servitude had expired were unable to obtain land and produce tobacco to create and obtain wealth. Farmers attempted to ebb the flow of newly freed servants into society by extending the contracts of servitude.(Davidson et al. 2009) In spite of this, New England farmers still preferred the use of indentured servants to that of African slaves. Initially the preference was based on the fact that African slaves rarely lived long enough to be worth the hefty financial investment. (Davidson et al. 2009) The cost of a slave was roughly double that of an indentured servant. (Taylor 2001) Considering that neither was prone to longevity, purchasing an indentured servant proved to make more financial sense. Disease ran rampart throughout New England during that era and took an especially brutal toll on African migrants.(Berlin 2010) Furthermore, The Navigation Acts which restricted trade between England and the colonies rendered many farmers destitute and in extreme debt. In essence, the New England farmers could not afford slave labor. (Davidson et al. 2009)

The Differences Between the Southern and New England Colonies

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One of the most commonly mistaken historically based inaccuracies is rooted in the belief that the Northern Colonies were wholly and uniformly against the institution of slavery. This simply isn't the case. The labor and agricultural needs of the colonies varied greatly between the Northern and Southern colonies. In essence, New England and the Southern colonies were had vastly differing social, and economic need. Furthermore, the geographical differences in the two regions severely diminished the efficacy of slave labor in New England. The Southern colonies had more access to fertile grounds that the New England terrain lacked. The New England environment also lacked the means to sustain year round cash crops, o the large quantity of slave labor wasn’t necessary nor affordable. In essence, the utilization of slave labor was financially prohibitive to New Englanders. Slave labor throughout all of the colonies was utilized to carry out a myriad of duties, however the slave labor of the Southern colonies was primarily plantation work, whereas the slave labor {Anecdote: Plantation Work} in the New England states was predominately domestic related.

Slavery proved to be a vital part of the 18th and 19th century colonial economies. As such, slaves were a valuable component of Southern plantations as the crops on these plantations grew year round and required constant labor. In contrast, the Northern plantations or farms were much smaller. This was due in part to the belief of New English leaders that believed smaller, more compact and dense settlements would allow their residents a better defense against attack. (Davidson et al. 2009) As a result, land was dispersed in smaller allotments. New England farms had a much shorter growing season and as a result yielded significantly fewer profits than the plantations in the Southern colonies.(Taylor 2001) The culmination of smaller farms, lower profits, a shorter growing season and long cold winters made slave labor an impractical option for New England farmers. As a result the New England failed to develop a slave based plantation economy similar to that of the South. Unable to afford slave labor New Englanders relied upon the labor of their families, namely their children. (Davidson et al. 2009) Generally speaking, the climate of the northern region was not conducive to large- scale cash crops. The growing season was not long enough for tobacco or cotton farming, nor was the soil or land acceptable for rice farming. As a result, except in southern Rhode Island and some areas of New York, large-scale cash crops did not become an economic factor in New England. However, small-scale farming did take place in most northern colonies.The cities in the New England region were strategically located ports for shipping and trade. As a result, a different type of economy developed in New England as opposed to the southern region--one in which small farms, industry and shipping became the center of the economy. The southern region, with its long growing season and rich, fertile soil, in essence required arduous year long labor.

Revolution and the Effect on Slaves
external image bunkerhill-small.jpgThe 18th century brought about the American Revolution, which brought into question the liberties of British North Americans. The hypocritical demand for freedom by Americans from Britain while they simultaneously ignored the plight of the enslaved Africans proved to be a pivotal point in the history of New England slavery. It was after the Revolutionary War that some constitutional mandates in the North required slavery to be extinguished. (berlin 2010) It was also the During the 18th century that an increase in British shipping transported people, information, ideas and goods more regularly between the colonies and Britain. (Taylor 2001) As a result the ocean became less of a barrier and much more intricate trading patterns emerged, increased financial stability as well as the desire for more British manufactured goods resulted. (Taylor 2001) This vastly changed the financial landscape of the colonies and the labor required to sustain it. The labor composition of New England was composed of skilled craftsmen, fisherman, and artisans and there was little need for African Slave labor.

Berlin, I (2010) The Making of African America. New York: Penguin Group

Davidson, J.W., B. Delay, C. L. Heyrman, M. Lytle and M. Stoff. (2009) US: A Narrative History, Volume
1: To 1877. New York: McGraw Hill

Melish, J. P. (1998) Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and 'Race' in New England 1780-1860, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press

Taylor, A (2001) American Colonies New York: Penguin Group