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African American Women in Colonial America

Early Slave in America

  • 1619 Dutch traders brought the first enslaved African people to Jamestown
  • Slavery was not always solely based on race
    • White men created laws to solidify slavery based on race
    • once it became profitable
  • In the early stages, some African American men could:
    • Earn their freedom
    • Own property
    • Own their own slaves


Indentured Servitude

  • Unlike other nations, the British became involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade much later.
  • Before this, they used indentured servants
    • Many were white Europeans
    • Young men and women
    • Average 7 years of servitude in exchange for passage to America
  • But British colonists turned slavery into something it had not been before.



  • British colonists established laws that made slavery:
    • inheritable condition
    • Based on race (the condition of the mother)
    • Permanent (life-term)
  • The shift in labor from indentured servants to enslaved African people came when slavery became more profitable due to cash crops. (increased demand for cheap agricultural labor)
    • Due to improvement in cash crops
    • 1620 – 1660 tobacco boom in Chesapeake


Virginia Slave Laws

  • December 1662
    • Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a Negro woman should be slave or free, be it therefore enacted and declared by this present Grand Assembly, that all children born in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother…
  • September 1667
    • Whereas some doubts have risen whether children that are slaves by birth, and by the charity and piety of their owners made partakers of the blessed sacrament of baptism, should by virtue of their baptism be made free, it is enacted and declared by this Grand Assembly, and the authority thereof, that the conferring of baptism does not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or freedom…


Impact of the Laws

  • Established the idea that Black people were inferior to whites
    • This is long lasting, and we are still dealing with the incorrect ideas created by these laws
  • Also established the idea that African origins were synonymous with the slave condition


Enslaved Women and Work

  • Black women were made to work in the same conditions, and just as hard as men
    • This is during the same periods when it was thought that women were too ‘weak’, ‘incompetent’, and ‘sensitive’ to work as men did
  • Enslaved people worked six days a week
  • Common crops:
    • Indigo, Rice and Tobacco
  • Cotton became a staple crop after the 1790’s
  • 63% of women worked in the fields


Domestic Work

  • Girls as young as 7 were put to work in a master’s home
    • Cooking
    • Cleaning
    • Childcare
  • Reproductive work:
    • Bearing and nurturing children
    • Domestic work in ‘slave quarters’
    • Fed husbands, fathers and children
    • Black and white girls grew up as ‘slave’ and ‘master’
    •  Hollywood has romanticized these relationships, but children were taught to know their place in these relationships


Rape and Sexual Violence

  • Interracial rape (white men towards Black women) was common.
    • White men did not get punished for these crimes
    • At the same time, whites claimed that Black men were threats to white women. Interracial rape (Black men towards white women was NOT common)
  • Laws did not protect enslaved women and their children from rape and sexual violence
  • The legal system offered advantages to men of the master class
  • Children of enslaved women followed the “condition of the mother” – this made legal paternity of the child irrelevant
  • There was little that an enslaved woman could do to rectify the circumstances of her life
  • Her labor benefited her master, his family and the Southern economy






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History 111