Monday, July 09, 2018

Early America.

The first African slaves brought to the British thirteen colonies came about in 1619. This was when black people were sent to Point Comfort, or today’s Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. This was 30 miles downstream from Jamestown, Virginia. The English settlers mistreated them. Later, slavery was more rigid in America and became more race-based slavery. Many black people back then were indentured servants and some were free. So, black people included both free and enslaved peoples. Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery in 1641. Other colonies did the same thing that allowed slavery onto the children of slaves and making non-Christian imported black people slaves for life. There were about 10-12 million Africans were transported into the Western Hemisphere via the Maafa. Most of these human beings were from the stretch of the West African coast extending from present-day Senegal to Angola; a small percentage came from Madagascar and East Africa. Only 5% (about 500,000) went to the American colonies. The vast majority went to the West Indies and Brazil, where they died quickly. Demographic conditions were highly favorable in the American colonies, with less disease, more food, some medical care, and lighter workloads than prevailed in the sugar fields. At first, the Africans in the South were outnumbered by white indentured servants who voluntarily came from Britain. Slaves worked for a lifetime on plantations. Slaves were prevented from escaping on many cases, but some slaves did escape. Slaves had their own family systems, religion, and customs. Slavery increased in America after 1660 when demand for African slaves grew. By 1700, there were about 25,000 black slaves in the North American mainland colonies, which was about 10% of the total population.

Some slaves came from Africa, some came from the Caribbean, and some were native born in North America. Direct kidnapping of black people and sending them into America grew by the early 1700’s. From about 1700 to 1859, the majority of slaves imported to the North American mainland came directly from Africa in huge cargoes to fill the massive spike in demand for labor to work the continually expanding plantations in the Southern colonies (later to be states), with most heading to Virginia, South Carolina, and French or Spanish Louisiana. Northern colonies didn’t have as many black slaves during the early 1700’s since the North was heavily urbanized not agricultural. There weren’t as many imported slaves into the North as compared to the South. Also, big Northern cities had large black populations (both slave and free) in places like New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston. From the 1750’s onward, American born slaves of African descent began to outnumber African-born slaves. During the time of the American Revolution, some Northern state started to consider abolishing slavery. Some Southern states like Virginia had large locally born slave populations. So, they stopped taking in direct imports of slaves from Africa altogether but still had slavery. States like South Carolina and Georgia had direct imports from Africa until 1808. The continued, direct importation of slaves from Africa ensured that for most of the eighteenth century, South Carolina's black population remained very high, with black people outnumbering whites three to one, unlike in Virginia, which had a white majority, despite its large black slave population.  A free black population existed from Charleston to Boston. In the year of 1760, Jupiter Hammon had a poem printed, becoming the first published African-American poet. The Non-Importation Agreements lasted from 1765 to 1767. It involved the First Continental Congress creates a multi-colony agreement to forbid importation of anything from British merchants. This implicitly included slaves, and stopped the slave trade in Philadelphia. The second similar act explicitly stopped the slave trade. In 1773, Phillis Wheatley had her own book entitled, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. By 1774, the first black Baptist congregations were organized in the South at: Silver Bluff Baptist Church in South Carolina, and First African Baptist Church near Petersburg, Virginia. On April 14, 1775, Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully held in Bondage holds four meetings. It was re-formed in 1784 as the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, and Benjamin Franklin would later be its president.

During the days of the American Revolution, political upheaval existed in America. Many white settlers talked about relief of British rule and independence, but some of them hypocritically owned slaves while demanding freedom. The Declaration of Independence is a document that would inspire people in the future to promote human rights and personal freedom. It was written by Thomas Jefferson when he owned more than 200 slaves. Other Southern statesmen were also major slaveholders.  The Second Continental Congress did consider freeing slaves to disrupt British commerce. They removed language from the Declaration of Independence that included the promotion of slavery amongst the offenses of King George III. A number of free black people, most notably Prince Hall—the founder of Prince Hall Freemasonry, submitted petitions for the end of slavery. But these petitions were largely ignored. This didn’t deter black people as black people always fought for freedom. Black Americans (both slave and free) served on both sides of the American Revolutionary War.  Crispus Attucks, a free Black tradesman, was the first casualty of the Boston Massacre and of the ensuing American Revolutionary War. 5,000 Blacks, including Prince Hall, fought in the Continental Army. Many fought side by side with White soldiers at the battles of Lexington and Concord and at Bunker Hill. Some of the black people involved in the battles of Lexington and Concord plus at Bunker Hill included these human beings on the Patriot side: Peter Salem, Salem Poor, Barzillai Lew, Prince Estabrook, etc. Peter Salem is said to have killed Major John Pitcairn at Bunker Hill. James Armistead Lafayette was another black man who fought for the U.S. during the Revolutionary war too. He was a runaway slave who scouted British encampments in Richmond, VA.

When George Washington took command in 1775, he barred any further recruitment of black people. About 5,000 free African American men fought with the Patriots during the American Revolution. One of these men, Agrippa Hull, fought in the American Revolution for over six years. He and the other African-American soldiers fought in order to improve their white neighbor's views of them and advance their own fight of freedom. By contrast, the British and Loyalists offered emancipation to any slave owned by a Patriot who was willing to join the Loyalist forces. Lord Dunmore, the Governor of Virginia, recruited 300 African-American men into his Ethiopian regiment within a month of making this proclamation. In South Carolina 25,000 slaves, more than one-quarter of the total, escaped to join and fight with the British, or fled for freedom in the uproar of war. Thousands of slaves also escaped in Georgia and Virginia, as well as New England and New York. Well-known Loyalist soldiers include Colonel Tye and Boston King. Later, the Americans won the war. The provisional treaty outlined the goal of many Americans to return slaves. Yet, the British helped up to 4,000 documented African Americans to leave the country for Nova Scotia, Jamaica, and Britain rather than be returned to slavery. 

Thomas Peters was one of the large numbers of African Americans who fought for the British. Peters was born in present-day Nigeria and belonged to the Yoruba tribe, and ended up being captured and sold into slavery in French Louisiana. Sold again, he became a slave in North Carolina and escaped his slave-owner’s farm in order to receive Lord Dunmore's promise of freedom. Peters fought for the British throughout the war. When the war finally ended, he and other African Americans who fought on the losing side were taken to Nova Scotia. Here, they were given pieces of land that they could not farm. They also did not receive the same freedoms as white Englishmen. Peters sailed to London in order to complain to the government. He arrived at a momentous time, when English abolitionists were pushing a bill through Parliament to charter the Sierra Leone Company and to grant it trading and settlement rights on the West African coast. Peters and the other African Americans on Nova Scotia left for Sierra Leone in 1792. Peters died soon after they arrived but the other members of his party lived on in their new home. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 defined the early government of the newly formed United States of America. The constitution related to the discussions about freedom and equality. Also, it is important to note that the original Constitution continued slavery via the fugitive slave clause and the three-fifths compromise. That compromise is about counting slaves as three-fifths of a person in order to increase Southern voting representation in Congress while denying black people fundamental human rights in a vicious fashion. Additionally, free blacks' rights were also restricted in many places. Most were denied the right to vote and were excluded from public schools. Some Blacks sought to fight these contradictions in court. In 1780, Elizabeth Freeman and Quock Walker used language from the new Massachusetts constitution that declared all men were born free and equal in freedom suits to gain release from slavery. A free Black businessman in Boston named Paul Cuffee sought to be excused from paying taxes since he had no voting rights. People continued to fight for justice. Many people fought against slavery in the North and in the South.

July 8, 1777 was the year when the Vermont Republic (a sovereign nation at the time) abolished slavery, the first future state to do so. No slaves were held in Vermont. Pennsylvania was the first U.S. state to abolish slavery in 1780. Northern states passed emancipation acts between 1780 and 1804. In 1787 Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance and barred slavery from the large Northwest Territory.  In 1790, there were more than 59,000 free black Americans in the United States. By 1810, that number had risen to 186,446. Most of these were in the North, but Revolutionary sentiments also motivated Southern slaveholders to fight back against freedom loving movements. Some Southerners freed slaves by manumission or in wills after the slave-owners’deaths.  In the Upper South, the percentage of free black human beings rose from about 1% before the Revolution to more than 10% by 1810. Quakers and Moravians worked to persuade slaveholders to free families. In Virginia, the numbers of free black people increased from 10,000 in 1790 to nearly 30,000 in 1810, but 95% of black people were still enslaved. In Delaware, three-quarters of all black people were free by 1810. By 1860 just over 91% of Delaware's black population was free and 49.1% of those in Maryland. One famous freeman was Benjamin Banneker. He was a Maryland astronomer, mathematician, almanac author, surveyor, and farmer. He assisted in the initial survey of the boundaries of the future District of Columbia back in 1791. Some free black people emigrated to Africa.

Some stayed in America. Black people, who were enslaved, suffered rape, torture, abuse, family splitting, and other evils. Many black people back then were Muslims, Christians, and followers of traditional African religions. Networks of churches were formed by both free and enslaved African Americans. The black church was an expression of community and a gathering place for social activist movements. They were community centers where black people could celebrate their African heritage without apology. Many churches were educational centers for black people. They helped to educate black people throughout the nation. Richard Allen (who was a bishop) founded many separate black denominations. February 12, 1793 was when the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was passed by President Georgia Washington. It was an evil law that allowed slave-owners to recover an escaped slave. The Second Great Awakening would further develop African-American Christian circles. By the end of the 1700’s, Toussaint L’Ouverture (1743-1803), Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806), and Henri Christophe (1767-1820) were heroically fighting the French empire during the Haitian Revolution. Also, many black people were Muslims long before 1800. The African American journey for freedom and justice continues to this very day in 2018.

By Timothy

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