Year of return: An African homecoming 400 years after the transatlantic slave trade
In late August 1619, the White Lion, an English pirate ship, docked at Cape Comfort in the Chesapeake Bay. On board the ship, according to the surviving documents, were “more than 20” Africans, captured by pirates from Portuguese slave traders. The Portuguese transported slaves from Africa to one of the ports in today’s Mexico..
The captives of the “White Lion”, the first Africans in history to arrive on the shores of colonial Virginia, were Angolans. The pirates traded the captives for food and manufactured goods. 400 years ago, an important event took place in the history of English-speaking America, which will more than once affect the fate of the entire country – slavery arose here. The institution of slavery existed in the country for over two centuries.
From 1525 to 1866, according to researchers from Emory University, 12.5 million people were taken to America from Africa. Not all of them endured the hardships of a long journey in appalling conditions – about 10.7 million men, women and children made it to the American shores alive. The vast majority of Africans ended up in Brazil and the Caribbean. A total of about 400 thousand slaves were imported into the United States.
At first, Africans did not have a clear legal status in the North American colonies – formally they were neither hired servants nor slaves. However, already in 1641, the Massachusetts authorities were the first to legalize slavery. In Virginia, in 1662, a law was passed, according to which the children of slaves inherited this status from their parents, becoming slaves automatically. Eventually, by the middle of the 19th century, the number of slaves in the United States reached 4 million..
Slavery arose in America through the so-called “triangular trade” – the so-called transatlantic trade exchange that took place between Africa, Europe and the New World. Europeans brought textiles, weapons and metals to Africa, selling or exchanging them for captives, which were then shipped as “human goods” from West African ports to North and South America. Many slaves worked on American plantations growing sugarcane, rice, cotton and tobacco – valuable commodities that have always been in demand in Europe..
The vast majority of African Americans today are descendants of people from Angola, Ghana and Senegal. Angolans were the largest: 5 million people, almost half of the total number of all slaves brought into the New World. About a quarter of the slaves brought to North America were from Angola..
The Kwanza River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean near the Angolan capital Luanda, was an important trade route at that time. People who lived on its shores most often fell into captivity and became slaves, and most often their own countrymen acted as the invaders, who then sold the captives to European slave traders..
The captured people were taken to the port and held in custody until the moment of their sale. Then future slaves were sent on ships to America.
Benefit – and nothing else
Cheap (in fact – free) labor from Africa became a guarantee of survival for the American colonies, which in 1783 declared independence from the British Empire.
“Slavery was a very significant and important factor in the American economy: it was valued more than all other economic sectors combined,” says Cassandra Newby Alexander, a historian at Norfolk University. It is for this reason that the upper strata of society have so long and stubbornly resisted the abolition of slavery..
By 1860, shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, nearly 4 million American slaves were valued at about $ 3.5 billion – slaves were the largest financial “asset” of the American economy: they were worth more than all other branches of American manufacturing and railroad transportation. wrote the historian James McPherson. The Virginia Slave Code equated slaves with real estate. The owner had the right to kill the slave if he refused to obey the owner.
The federal government left the issue of slavery to the discretion of the state authorities – they could both legalize and abolish this institution.
In the southern states, most of the slaves were employed in agriculture, while in the northern United States, slaves served as domestic servants and skilled workers. And although slavery in the North was gradually abolished even before the Civil War, the inhabitants of the industrial states enjoyed taking advantage of the economic benefits of slavery. For example, in the tiny state of Rhode Island in New England alone, from 1705 to 1805, more than 100 thousand African slaves were imported on 900 ships..
Redemption from slavery
Virginia became the first English colony to receive slaves in the early 17th century. However, the “beginning of the end” of slavery was also laid in Virginia. In May 1861, a month after the outbreak of the Civil War, in which 11 states of the slave South opposed the industrial North, three Virginia slaves belonging to the Confederate Army fled to Fort Monroe, a military fortress in the port of Hampton, which was controlled by the federal government..
The slaves asked the Federation army to provide them with shelter. General Benjamin Franklin Butler, Commander-in-Chief, declared the fugitive slaves “spoils of war” for the Federation forces – a seemingly inhuman term that allowed them to keep the fugitives and help them.
Thus, thousands of African-Americans, who managed to escape from the South to Fort Monroe during the war, gained freedom. It was this event that laid the ground for the subsequent abolition of slavery..
In early 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a decree abolishing slavery throughout the country. All “persons held as slaves” in the states of the Confederation were declared free people. The final abolition of slavery occurred with the adoption of the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution. The 14th Amendment, passed in 1866, granted all former slaves US citizenship.
In September 2011, the Hampton fort ceased to exist as a defense facility – the Pentagon removed the fortress from the balance sheet in order to save money. Two months later, President Barack Obama – the son of a Kenyan native and European-American – listed Fort Monroe as a National Historic Landmark..
Black Mark of American History: Timeline