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The first Africans in the new world arrived with Spanish and Portugeuse explorers and settlers. By 1600 an estimated 275,000 Africans,both free and slaves, were in Central and South America and the Caribbean area. Africans first arrived in the area that became the United States in 1619, when a handful of captives were sold by the captain of a dutch man-of-war to settlers at Jamestown. Others were brought in increasing numbers to fill the desires of labor in a land where land was plentiful and labor was scarce. By the end of the 17th century, more than 1,300,000 Africans had landed in the New World. From 1701 to 1810 the number reached 6,000,000, with another 1,800,000 ariving after 1810. Some Africans were brought directly to the English colonies in North America. Others landed as slaves in the West Indies and were later resold and shipped to the mainland.

The earliest African arrivals were viewed the same way as indentured servants from Europe. This similarity did not long continue. By the later half of the 17th century, clear differences existed in the treatment of black and white servants. A 1662 Virginia law assumed Africans would remain servants for life, and a 1667 act declared that "Baptisme doth not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or freedome." By 1740, the slavery system in colonial America was fully developed. A Virginia law in that year declared slaves to be "chattel personel in the hands of their owners and possessors... for all intents, construction, and purpose whatsoever."
The principle by which persons of African ancestry were considered the personal property of others prevailed in North America for almost two-thirds of the three and a half centuries since the first Americans arrived there. Its influences increased even though the English colonies won independence and articulated national ideals directly in opposition to slavery. In spite of numerous ideological conflicts,however, the slavery system was maintained in the United States until 1865, and widespread antiblack attitudes nurtured by slavery continued thereafter.

Prior to the American Revolution, slavery existed in all the colonies. The ideals of the revolution and the limited profitability of slavery in the North resulted in its abandonment in northern states during the last quarter of the 18th century. At the same time the strength of slavery increased in the South, with the continuing demand for cheap labor by the tobbaco growers and cotton farmers of the southern states. By 1850, 92 percent of all American blacks were concentrated in the south, and of this group approximately 95 percent were slaves. Life on plantations was not easy, and the cultural traditions of blacks were given no consideration. In the slave market men were separated from their wives, and frequently children were taken from their mothers. Family and tribal links were immediately cut. Fifty percent of the slaves were owned by 10 percent of the 385,000 slave holders. This concentration within a limited number of agricultural space had many effects on the lives of blacks. Under the plantation system gang labor was the typical form of employment. Overseers were harsh as a matter of general practice, and brutality was not uncommon. Punishment was given out by the owner's decision. Slaves could own no property unless sanctioned by a slave master, and rape of a female slave was not considered as a crime except as it represented trespassing on another's property. Slaves could not present evidence in court against whites. Housing, food, and clothing were of very poor quality and not fit to work in. Owners reinforced good behavior not by rewards but by punishment of misbehaviors. In most of the South, it was illegal to teach a black to read or write.

All southern states passed slave codes to control slaves and opposition. Outbreaks of opposition did occur,however, including the Prosser and Bowler Revolt of 1800, the revolt led by Denmark Vesey in 1822, Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831, and numbers of smaller uprisings. As a result, the substance and the enforcement of repressive laws against blacks became more severe. Blacks were forbidden to carry any arms or to gather in numbers except in the presence of a white person. Free blacks, whether living in the North or South, were confronted with attitudes and actions that differed little from those facing Southern black slaves. Discrimination existed in most social and economical activities as well as in voting and education. In 1857 the Dred Scott V. Sandford case of the U.S. supreme court placed the authority of the Constitution behind decisions made by states in the treatment of blacks. The Dred Scott decision was that black Americans, even if free, were not intended to be under the word citizen as defined in the Declaration of Independence and could,therefore,claim none of the rights and privileges provided for in that document. Blacks responded to their treatment under slavery in a variety of ways. In addition to persons such as Prosser, Vesey, and Turner, who openly opposed the slave system, thousands of blacks escaped from slavery and moved to the northern United States or Canada. Others sought ways to retain some sense of individuality and retain their African heritage under difficult circimstances. Still other accepted the images of themselves that white America sought to project onto them. The result in some cases was the "Uncle Tom,"or "Sambo" personality, the black who accepted his or her position as evidence that whites were superior to blacks.

In spite of the absence of legal status and the adverse effects of the domestic slave trade, the black family retained its traditional role in ordering the relations between adults and children. Much religious activity among slaves reflected the influences of African religious practices and served as a means by which slaves could develope and promote views of themselves different from those held by their owner. Outside the South, blacks established separate churches and, eventually, blacks within Protestantism, including many black Baptist churches. Another early religious effort was the African Methodist Episcopal Church, initially called the Free American Society, which was founded(1787) in Philadelphia by Richard Allen.

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