Slavery in the Americas

The rise of slavery in the Americas


The new world slave system in the Americas was shaped as well as driven by the discovery of sugar, grains and tobacco. The demand for this products in the new world had a direct effect on slavery, mainly the acceptance of being able to own another human being. These new products were now able to ship to Europe by the Spanish sailors. The height of the export trade during the 1700s to late 1800s travel time had been reduced from 3 months to under a month. This was possible by charting the currents as well as use of the trade winds. Now there is an increased demand for goods from South America as well as a growing population in the United States and Europe since the discovery of the new world.

The invasion of the new settlers from Europe as brought new problems to the indigenous found in the Americas. The Europeans brought a host of new diseases to the many indigenous people found in the areas that the settlers inhabited. The diseases were never found among the indigenous people with caused them to have a rapid decline. This as well as the indigenous populations revolting more frequently made the choice to capture and use Africans for free labor practices in the Americas.

The Portuguese, Spainards, British and the Americas

The discovery of sugar, tobacco as well as many grains in South America by the Portuguese as well as Spaniards in the early 1500s led to large demand for these goods in European countries when they returned home. The Portuguese were believed to be the first to capture the slaves and sell them on grand scale to be used on plantations as well as mining for gold, silver and copper in the Americas.

The Spanish and Portuguese sailors brought back the newly discovered sugar back with them after exploring the South American counties. The ability to transport the good back across the Atlantic had created a global market for these goods since they were new and not available before. The new demand for these good made plantations pop up almost overnight since land owners found a way to gain wealth with export of goods. The need to expand plantations to be able to keep up with the demand created a need for a large labor force to prepare the land for the production of sugar.

The early plantation owners tried enslaving the indigenous people as well people who were prisoned, but as they soon figured out they were not equipped to work on a grand scale. It was also difficult to make them want to work under terrible conditions since they were close their homelands and would often revolt against the owners. The early European settlers brought diseases to the Americas that the ingenious people’s immune system was not capable of fighting off. This led to large epidemic diseases that reduced native populations by 50 to 90 percent. The owners of the plantations were looking for other ways to get slave labor for their large plantations to keep up with the growing demand.

Slave in the Americas

The Portuguese as well as the Spaniards were first to notice that the Africans not only lived longer under the harsh conditions but also possessed the knowledge of animal husbandry. The Africans also had the skills and knowledge to farm on large scale. This was an important factor in the new and growing settlements in the Americas as the knowledge helped to expand the colonies as well to try to build a monopoly on sugar production.

The African slaves possessed the skills that the plantation and mining owners were looking for. The African slaves had many generations of knowledge in raising animals as well as raising many of the crops that were being shipped or beginning to be grown in the new world outside of and in South America. This knowledge was vital to the plantation owners since many of these crops like: rice, sugar cane and tobacco were new and the plantation owners had no prior experience with the crops on a large scale.

The 1st African slaves to come to the United States in the early 1600s by the Dutch to Virginia. It wasn’t until the late 1600s and early 1700s that the African slave was the choice of labor. The new world demand for goods had forced millions of slaves to be used throughout the Americas. In the United States only four percent of the total amount of traded slaves were brought to the U.S. The plantation owners in the U.S. figured out quickly it was cost effective to gain a slave population by reproduction. The slaves in the United States lived longer than slaves in South America. Slave in South America lived to about 24 years of age while U.S. slaves lived to 36 years of age. It was attributed to better living conditions, nutrition and less chance of a tropical disease.

Slave Labor in the Americas

The common belief is that slaves only did back breaking non skilled labor which is true in some cases. They did perform labor intensive jobs such as: the cultivation of cotton, sugar, rice as well as tobacco. On the large plantations the slave owners also relied on their skills as carpenters, blacksmiths, bricklayers, tanners, butchers, masons, and silversmiths. They were used in logging, shipbuilding as well as house servants for the owner’s families.

Slave labor played a large role in the development of the Americas. The slaves gave the ability to be able to keep up with the growing demands of the new world populations. The rapid growth in the United States as well in many countries in South America would have not been able to happen without slave labor. The labor needed was performed by hand and with the use of animals. The need for labor in agriculture and to be able grow food on a large scale was possible with the use of slave labor.

Slaves were required to work 6 days a week in South America and produce their own food in their off time. They were allowed 1 day a week off which was Sunday except during harvest times. During harvest season most slaves were required to work 7 days a week up to 18 hours a day in places like Brazil. This led to high mortality rate as well as a low birth weight due to poor nutrition. Having these issues led to South America as well as many places throughout the Caribbean to be importing much more slaves than anywhere else during the 1700s and 1800s. Sugarcane and rice production took tremendous amounts of labor which took a toll on the slaves also. South American slave conditions were documented but not known as well as the conditions in the United States. The conditions were far worse than in the North America. The slightly better working conditions as well as the owners being able to provide a diet higher in proteins led to longer lives for the slaves. On average most slaves lived about 12 years longer in the United States.

Slaves were required to work form sun up to sun down 6 days a week in the United States. When it was harvest time they would work up to 16 hours a day using torches to provide light when it became dark. Children, elderly and disabled slaves were also required to perform work on the plantation. The work performed by the slaves who no longer work in the fields would be required to do household chores, being the nanny to owners children and making clothes making for the other slaves. Slave children as early as 3 years of age were put to work weeding fields or picking up garbage around the plantation. The young children were also responsible for feeding the small livestock as well as driving cattle towards the pastures. When the children became 7 years old they were required to work in the fields along with the adults.

Conclusion on slavery

Slavery systems around the Americas had one goal in mind, it was all about maximum production which had led to maximum profits. Greed was the driving factor in South America as well as in the new world. The expansion of Portuguese, Spanish and British colonies throughout South America was possible with the labor as well as the knowledge the slaves brought with made it possible. The Africans were discovered to have the skills and knowledge to farm on large scale whereas the local indigenous did not. The African slaves were also proficient in animal husbandry. These skills were vital for the colonies to grow and be able mine and produce to goods that were needed. In the new world the growth and development of the Europe, North and South America would have not been possible without the use of slaves. The mechanical revolution brought steam and combustion engines and machines to do the labor that was being performed by slaves.
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Johnson, W. (2005). The Chattel Principle: Internal Slave Trades in the Americas. Yale University. Retrieved from

Dal Lago, E., & Katsari, C. (2008). Slave Sysytems. Cambridge University. Retrieved from