New World Slave Systems

An outlook on slave life in North and South America


With the demand for labor and the rise of industrialization in the New World, slavery was the solution to the necessary workforce of the prospering plantation systems in North and South America, but the lives that they lived did not vary tremendously at times and were sometimes similar. Considering culture differences, social ethics, and the value of humanity, the lives of these slaves were either acknowledged with the unalienable rights that every human should be entitled to or they were treated as if they were sub-human and the only value they held was their hands for labor. A determining factor in how your life would manifest was the location that the slave would reside. The North or more urban, populated area usually meant that the slave would receive better treatment than slaves in the South or in rural populations in Latin America. However, even though in some areas of Latin America treated their slaves more humanely, the abolition of slavery took longer than the more industrialized North America and their life expectancy was very low due to the threat of diseases. So which life is better: a more civilized life with few but some human rights as a slave for a short lifetime, or a slave that is treated barbarically, stripped of all identity but has the chance of emancipation within their lifetime or their children’s lifetime?

Cultures, Religion, and Everyday Life

Latin American cultures are deeply rooted in their spirits and past ancestors. They believe that there is life found in everything and the efforts put into humanity will follow you in your afterlife. Even though Latin Americans participated in the slave trade, they treated their slaves as humans that are born with certain rights that cannot be stripped away. It was especially important to give them the right to worship and marry, usually under the Catholic Church. There would be musters where they would dressed in appropriate clothing, as pictured below, and they would all congregate together and find union with each other and God. Slaves in Latin America also sometimes received leisure days, where they were able to do whatever they pleased. Although they were slaves, they were still recognized as humans and were not denied the necessities that are essential to human life, such as family, church, and marriage. In the cities, slaves had the “chance to acquiring money that could purchase freedom” (Davis 237). The slave to Latin Americans possessed “an immortal soul that entitled him to respect as a human personality” (Davis 228), which may have been the differentiation between slaves in North America.

North American culture is founded on the basis of Christian beliefs. Christian belief contains a more absolute definition to life, and unlike Latin American beliefs, there is no lingering soul because your soul either goes to Heaven or Hell. In some views, slaves were being liberated by stepping foot in a land created and worshiped by God because they “bring to this land of freedom another cargo of benighted heathens to enjoy the blessings of a Gospel dispensation” (Greene 62). Although they were not allowed to worship in a church, most slave masters wanted to preach the word of God and slaves “found in fundamentalist Christianity paths to the satisfaction of their own needs, creating the strong commitment to Christianity that has persisted to this day” (Patterson 74). Anglo American slave masters made it clear that because you are black, you are not my equal and you are undeniably a slave; that was embedded in the culture in the United States at that time. Their inferior position equated to no rights to marry, to an education, or to any rights to own property. Although it’s been accounted that there were more lenient slave owners in the urban in the North or urban cities, the Southern slave life is what is more commonly known and depicted because of the harsh restrictions and incapacitations they had on their slaves. Lashing and whippings were in order if you did not meet a certain quota. Disrespecting their masters or trying to emancipate oneself was punishable by death. And every day living conditions were meager, as shown in the pictures below, they lived in small huts like in their native lands except there they don’t have to whether any extreme weather occurrences, but it is widely known that the South experiences all four seasons.

City/Thriving Areas VS. Rural South

As stated before, the plight of slave life was sometimes very dependent on the location that the slaves lived. Even if they did land in South America, did not always equate to a better life. In more rural areas of southern Brazil, slaves underwent the same treatment of slaves in the Deep South of the Free states in North America. An immense driving force of this differentiation was the thriving economies. In the Deep South, plantations were trying to compete and stay ahead of the industrialization of the North so they were also under more scrutiny and frustration. In the North, there were far more stories of emancipation and slaves that were turned into close companions and mentors. The North also differed from the South because they didn’t want to expand their economies based on slavery; it wasn’t so much based in morality, but it was a shift toward advancing industrialization and straying away from free labor to deter in the inevitability of a revolt. The South would breed their slaves and continued the slave trade to expand their labor force because there was a need for it on tobacco farms that didn’t require as big of a labor force as the cotton mills in the south.

Life Expectancy and Emancipation

One of the greatest factors in comparing the slave lives between North and South American slave is the quality of life pertaining to mortality and emancipation. Latin Americans clearly outnumbered the North Americans pertaining to the influx of slaves they received. However by the mortality rate was so high that they had less amount of slaves 50 years later. The ideal in Brazil and the West Indies was “a slave’s life expectancy was a few years at most and when each slave could easily be replaced, there was little incentive to improve conditions or limit hours of work” (Davis 233). So although they may have been more lenient slave owners in Latin America, their regard for life expectancy was nonexistent. Because of science, technology, and more advanced medicine practices, the slaves in Anglo America were able to withstand the spread of epidemic diseases that was a huge contributing factor to the mortality rate of Latin American slaves. Also where slaves were condemned as an inferior species, they also had allies of abolitionists in the Northern colonial states working to liberate them from the wrath of slavery. The slaves were at the mercy of the outcome of the Civil War, and were vindicated with the victory of the North and Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1865. Congress quickly passed acts that “defined rebels as traitors, ordered the confiscation of their property, including slaves, and declared 60 days after passage of the bill, slaves of the rebels ‘shall be deemed captives of war and shall be forever free” (Davis 313). Latin American slaves did not have a war to fight for the freedom of their slaves, but they eventually had to follow suit of the competing world powers but it gradually through the span of 30 years later. Coincidentally, the shift away from slavery brought more mobility and technological advances and forced the economy to proper through ingenuity and resources rather than the mercy of human lives. This shift brought permanent prosperity to the United States who remain a worldly, economic power while countries in Latin America are still impoverished and stuck in the second and third worlds.


Trying to pinpoint the problem with slavery is a feat that is impossible. Slave life varied amongst different colonies and countries, but the mere fact that a human life was completely stripped away and forced to be another person’s property will always be an evil consequence to the quick fix to economic productivity. Some slaves were able to experience some of the foundations to happiness, i.e., marriage, religion, and leisure, but most slaves experienced a life of endless labor and brutal memories of what they witnessed during their enslavement. The lack of regard for human life was found in all locations of slavery, whether if it ranged from thinking slave lives were disposable to not even acknowledging the slaves were worth of any experiences life had to offer except providing labor. The eventual vindication was inevitable but the consequences of the racial divide created during slavery continued to generate a struggle for black people living in America. One territory of slavery does not outweigh the other because after considering all factors, they all, in different ways, contributed to the suppressing of a human species for their own selfish gains.


Davis, David Brion. Inhumane Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World. N.p.: Oxford, 2006. Print.

Patterson, Orlando. Slavery and Social Death. N.p.: Harvard UP, 1982. Print.

Davis, David Brion. The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1966. Print.

Johnston Greene, Lorenzo. The Negro in Colonial New England. N.p.: Atheneum, 1969. Print.

"The Faith of Soul and Slavery." TIME 91.16 (1968): 76. Web.