White and Black Labor in the Early Virginia

 Discuss about the black and white labor in the early Virginia………….



            The essay highlights important issues that relate to slavery in the British colony of Virginia in the seventeenth century. It started by enslaving white Englishmen most of them were running away from crimes they committed in their homeland. They signed indenture contracts and were paid wages for the services rendered while working in Tobacco farms.

The increased demand for labor force, declining supply of white indenture and rebellion from white servants led to the introduction of black slavery in Virginia. The number of black slavery grew rapidly between 1640s to 1680s. However, they were subjected to racial prejudices by their masters and mistresses. In their efforts to resist discrimination, they devised different ways to resist their enslavement.

The brutal slavery laws in Virginia and other British colonies help propagate slavery and racial discrimination against non- white population. Churches, although initially supported slavery, later in eighteenth century became the one of the major opponents of acts of slavery. They advocated for equality among all people and campaigned against all forms of slavery and racial discrimination.

Schools also played a crucial role of educating black children after it was abolished (slavery) in all American states in 18th century. However, there were efforts by the white southerners (who previously depended on slavery) to restrict newly acquired freedom by the black population. Their efforts did not succeed as blacks used the little freedom they had to fight for social and economic equality with white their counterparts.

But the allegedly marginalized race has proven itself capable of succeeding in the face of enormous tyranny and oppression. The 15th amendment of the constitution was enacted to give all citizens the right to vote and equal freedom. It intended to bring an end to slavery and bring in a brand new equalized reality.

However, although racist whites tried to limit freedoms of black people, they could not hope to get rid of them entirely.  All they truly succeeded in doing was making the realization of an inevitable ideal, a violent and depressed process instead of an era worthy of this country’s ideals of freedom.



Historians have traced enslavement of Africans in Virginia to early 17th century. A small number of Africans are said to have lived in Virginia way before 1619. However, black slavery started providing extensive labor in plantations in 1980s. The number of black slaves increased gradually from 150 in 1940s to over 10,000 slaves in the tear 1704.

Until 1980s, a number of white servants were adequately providing labor force in Virginia and Maryland. The supply of white servants began to fall in mid seventeenth century with a sharp decline being experienced in mid 1960s due reduced birth rate among the white population which resulted in increased wage rates occasioned by low labor supply.

To replenish declining labor force, planters turned to enslaved Africans most which were coming from Africa, Barbados and Caribbean colonies. Racial based slavery began in early 1630s and in 16610, Virginia court adopted laws to denigrate black people.

The court in Virginia legalized slavery in 1661 and year later ruled that children born in the colony will be free or slave according to the condition of the mother. The new laws proscribed interracial marriages, intersexual relations and deprived black people rights to own property among other forms of racial discrimination.

By the year 1750s, 70% of black people in Virginia were slaves mainly from West Africa who travelled 60 to 90 days to the new world through the miIDle passage. Many slaves however rebelled as they were being transported. The slave trade resulted in the loss of millions of life and hundreds of years.

The status of black slaves in early seventeenth century was complex in Virginia with some permanently unfree and others indentured servants. They could own property, intermarry and could even testify against whites in courts of law.

Those who were baptized could sue for their freedom including those who were permanently not free. Black people were even allowed to purchase and own white servants and there was surprisingly high degree of tolerance in sexual interrelations and intermarriages across racial lines.

However slavery of 17th century was characterized with racial discrimination with blacks being degraded by laws. They were deprived rights to own properties and have interracial marriages with whites. Interracial sexual relationships were completely banned in 17th century.

Unlike in previous years, in seventeenth century, being baptism as a Christian could no longer free a black slave. Blacks could no longer travel without written permission unlike in the period before seventeenth century.

Brutal laws were imposed, with Virginia being the first colony to pass laws that permitted killing of disobedient black slaves during the normal course of punishment and ratified laws barring slave masters and mistresses from freeing their slaves. The new laws legalized slavery and allowed brutal punishment against slaves, where black slaves were stripped naked and whipped by their white masters. Slavery was defined by race and perpetuated through heredity.



The common form of resisting slavery that was employed by blacks was termed as ‘day-to- day’ resistance which comprised small acts of rebellion against their masters. This included acts of sabotage like breaking and damaging tools and buildings. They would set buildings on fire and constantly strike owners properties to inflict damages.

In other cases, slaves could even poison their masters and mistresses. For instance, there was poisoning case by a woman household slave in Charleston, South Carolina in 1755, this being just one case among many others.

Another form adopted by black slaves in day-to-day resistance were faking of illness, playing dumb and go slow in work performances with both men and women faking illness to gain relief from white prejudices. Slaves could also play on their masters and mistresses by pretending not to comprehend their directives and work instructions.

Women were required to bear children for their masters and mistresses to provide more future slaves. They may have resisted this burden by using birth control and abortion to keep their children out of future slavery.


White servants were used in plantations way before arrival of black slavery. White Englishmen signed a contract of indenture for the services they were going to render in exchange for being transported to new world and could work for up to four without wages.

In contrast, black slaves signed no work contract and they were forced to work unlike white Englishmen who worked at their will and signed indentured contract. The white workers from England were mainly criminals who were running away unlike African slaves who were innocent people taken by force out of countries.

White indentured servants were treated better and paid wages unlike black slaves who were mistreated and were not paid wages for the services rendered.


The status of indentured white servants started to improve in 1670s as the rigid black slavery legislations and laws came into place. This new laws against black slavery greatly contributed to growth of democracy, liberty and equality among the white population.

Friction developed in 1676 between landless backcountry former indentured servants and the coastal planters in Virginia which led to Bacon’s rebellion. In the ensued violence many indentured white servants were set free and several plantations were plundered.

Although Mr. Nathaniel Bacon, the rebellion leader died of dysentery in the midst of the revolt leading to the collapse of the uprising, fear of servant unrest led to the replacement of white indentured servants with black slaves.

This led to rise of black slavery that came in to replace white indentured servants and by 1980s; the number of black slaves had increased to over twelve thousand in Virginia and Maryland alone. Slavery played critical role to the economy in Virginia for the two centuries.



Introduction of slavery laws and legislation was the major contributor to black slavery in Virginia and other colonies in North America. Black African had no choice but to succumb to slavery in compliance with new legal requirement of the land.

They succumbed to slavery to escape from brutal punishment which some cases resulted into deaths of many black slaves.


            The church although initially supported slavery, it later helped in abolishing it. Origin of slavery abolishment can be traced back to 17th century when religious Society of Friends or Quakers stated that everyone was equal before God, setting in place public debate on slavery and racial discrimination. Several Quakers were however persecuted for this belief.

The group leaders encouraged their congregants to stop owning slaves and publicly declared their opposition to slavery. Early Christian opponents to slavery came from Quakers, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists who then called dissenters by those propagating slavery.

Their call for slavery abolishment gained momentum in the eighteenth century with evangelical revivals questioning the moral behind slavery. Many clergymen including James Ramsay were influential in pointing that many Africans have died of slavery without hearing the gospel of Christ.

The emancipation proclamation was issued by President Lincoln in 1862 declared the freedom for all black slaves in all federate states of America not under Union control. Millions of slaves were freed after this declaration. The 13th amendment of the constitution in 1865 officially outlawed slavery and servitude in America.

The schools played a crucial in reforming former slaves. They educated former black slavery children to take up their rightful place in the society just the whites. The schools received fundings from churches and human rights bodies. Policies were ratified to allow black children into public schools.

Among strong advocators of black education include Fredrick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe. They advocated for education of black people to elevate them out of the evils of poverty, ignorance and degradation and put them on equal footage with the countrymen.

Mary Battey started a school for black children in Andersonville in spite of many threats from the white population, and the subsequent fear of the blacks. She writes that after her seven years teaching experience, she had not seen such an appetite for learning and active progress as those shown by black children.


White southerners used different tactics including laws and legislations called the black codes in their attempt to limit and restrict black freedom in the years preceding American civil war. According to Dorsey (2009), these codes required that blacks sign annual contracts with their white landowners, restricted blacks people from engaging in businesses, they could participate in voting.

Sharecropping was another technique employed by white southerners to woo back black people into slavery. They were to keep part of crops they raised which made them go back to the white farms.

White southerners also rebelled against federal measures to redistribute land to black slaves.  Regardless of the inputs of the Freedmen’s Bureau, for instance, whites chased blacks out of land that had been given to them.  With nowhere to go, many fell back into the sharecropping system out of desperate necessity.
            According to Takaki, (200), white southerners influenced politics during rebuilding and reconstruction through the use of terror and violence. For instance, the bloodshed of the Ku Klux Klan, though savage, was not random.  It was a calculated attempt to frighten black people away from voting and out of areas where their minority vote might swing elections in pro-black and pro-freedom directions.

In robes and masks, the KKK unleashed violence and terror; they beat, lynched, murdered, and raped their way through the South.  In terms of solidifying white political regimes and eliminating positive developments of the rebuilding, they were wildly successful.

However all these efforts by whites to limit their freedom were not successful as blacks still formed churches and schools educated their children and worked hard with the little freedom they had, and began a long uphill task to social equality with the white fellows. All this efforts have paid up, despite current incarceration rates and other measures of social status.

But the allegedly marginalized race has proven itself capable of succeeding in the face of enormous tyranny and oppression. While racist whites limited black freedoms, they could not hope to get rid of them entirely, (Dorsey, 2009).  All they truly succeeded in doing was making the realization of an inevitable ideal, a violent and depressed process instead of an era worthy of this country’s ideals of freedom.

Works Cited

Takaki, Ronald. A Different Mirror; A history of multi-cultural America. Little, Brown and Company. 2009

Dorsey, Jennifer Hull. “A Documentary History Of African-American Freedom: An Introduction To The Race, Slavery And Free Blacks Microfilm Collection.” Slavery & Abolition 30.4 (2009): 545-563. Academic Search Premier. Mon. 2 Apr. 2012

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