HIS 405 US history case study Week one

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Slavery in Africa

For centuries, the institution of slavery has been intertwined with African history, where enslaved individuals were traded within African nations, driven by supply and demand dynamics. In Africa, slavery took various forms, and slaves were not always treated as mere commodities. In Europe they were considered chattel slaves, treated as property. Despite some limited rights within the continent, Africans themselves engaged in enslavement for reasons such as debt, assistance in wars, and labor, as highlighted in the autobiography of Otto Bah Cu Guano, who experienced being kidnapped and sold multiple times. Slaves often became part of their “masters'” households and could also be sold into foreign trade by their captors. Centuries later, the Atlantic slave trade emerged to meet the growing demand for labor, resulting in Africans being forcefully supplied outside their continent, sold as captives for monetary gain, and subjected to a life of unfree labor.

HIS 405 US history case study Week one

Slavery in the Early 1600s

During the early colonial period, many immigrants arrived as indentured servants, willingly trading their labor for passage to America and housing. Initially, the laws regarding indentured servants and slaves did not distinguish between them. In the early 1600s, both indentured servants and slaves shared similar legal statuses and were subject to the same requirements of servitude. As stated in Act XXVI, 1:257 of the Acts of the Virginia Commonwealth, individuals who were imported as servants without indentures or covenants were obligated to serve for a specific duration based on their age. So with those above twenty serving four years, those between twelve and twenty serving five years, and those under twelve serving seven years (Henning, 1619).

In October 1705, Virginia implemented the Acts of the Commonwealth, which redefined slaves based on race and reduced black slaves to the status of property. The laws underwent significant changes, and individuals of African descent were commonly referred to as “servitude for natural Life.” The Acts stated that all Negro, mulatto, and Indian slaves would be considered real estate in all courts of judicature and other places within the dominion (Henning, 1619).

HIS 405 US history case study Week one

In 1692, Virginia passed two laws as part of the Acts of the Commonwealth that addressed the status of children born to female servants and black slave women and their masters. Women servants who gave birth were required to serve an additional two years of servitude, while the fate of children born to black slave women depended on the mother’s status. They would either remain in slavery or be freed accordingly. This law significantly impacted the expansion of slavery, as slave owners sought to ensure an adequate workforce for their plantations. These children of black slave women became valuable assets (Law Library of Congress, n.p.).

Slaves were treated as property and governed by codes or “laws.” While these laws varied from state to state, they shared fundamental similarities in how they regulated the institution of slavery.

HIS 405 US history case study Week one

The “Slave Codes” were a set of laws utilized by various states that viewed slaves as property, rather than individuals, and treated them as such. These codes typically barred slaves from testifying against a white person in court, engaging in contracts or purchasing goods, or leaving the plantation without permission, among other limitations. Furthermore, slaves were not allowed to own firearms or engage in physical confrontations, regardless of whether they acted in self-defense.


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Henning, W. W. (1619, September). Acts of the Commonwealth of Virginia [Original Documents].:. Acts of the Commonwealth of Virginia 1667 and 1705 Cited in William Walter Henning. THE STATUTES AT LARGE; BEING A COLLECTION OF ALL THE LAWS OF VIRGINIA, FROM THE FIRST SESSION OF THE LEGISLATURE IN THE YEAR 1619. voles I and II. (New York: R & W & G Bartow, 1823)


Keene, J. D., Cornell, S. T., & Donnell, E. T. (2011). Visions of America: A History of the United States (2nd Ed.). [Vital Source]. Retrieved from


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