R. Menard, From Servitude to Slavery

R. Menard, From Servitude to Slavery - From Servitude to...

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From Servitude to Slavery in the Chesapeake RUSSELL MENARD Russell R. Menard, "From Servants to Slaves: The Transformation of the  Chesapeake Labor System,"  Southern Studies, XVI  (1977), 355-390. Reprinted by  permission. --------------------------------------- Why, in the decades surrounding 1700, did Chesapeake planters turn their labor force from one dominated by white servants bound for a term of years into one dominated by black slaves held for life? There would seem, on the surface at least, no compelling necessity, nothing inevitable about the transformation. Unlike sugar and rice, tobacco was not a crop that Englishmen believed themselves unsuited to cultivate. Indeed, until the end of the seventeenth century most Chesapeake tobacco was made by Englishmen; even after the rise of slavery Englishmen and their descendants continued to work in tobacco fields, sometimes as servants to substantial planters, more often as planters in their own right on small family farms. Why, then, the rise of slavery along the tobacco coast? Briefly stated, this essay contends that the usual answer, which stressed the superior profitability of slaves, is not satisfactory. Chesapeake planters did not abandon indentured servitude because they preferred slaves; rather, a decline in the traditional labor supply forced planters to recruit workers from new sources, principally but not exclusively from Africa . . . . I There is a long tradition among economists that―and there is more than a touch of irony here―associates slavery with the widespread availability of free or nearly free land . . . . Under some conditions free land promotes opportunity, relative equality of condition, family farms, and political democracy; under others it tends toward rigid social stratification, slavery, plantation agriculture, and oligarchy . . . . . . . A high land/man ratio creates a demand among landowners for unfree labor precisely because it drives wages up and offers widespread opportunities for workers to become landlords. In short, free land was an important precondition for both the slave-based, gentry dominated colonial South and the small farmer communities of early New England . . . . . . . [W]hile the model highlights conditions which made unfree labor desirable, it offers little help in accounting for the switch to slaves late in the seventeenth century. For more than fifty years, Chesapeake planters met their demand for labor with indentured servants. And, although in the eyes of aspiring rentiers it perhaps had disadvantages, servitude appears to have been a largely satisfactory institution. For a time it at least permitted planters to expand the size of their labor force and therefore of their plantations without resort to slavery, despite the brevity of servants' terms. The model, then, is incomplete when applied to the Chesapeake: it simply does not tell us why slaves replaced servants along the tobacco coast. II
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This note was uploaded on 09/29/2011 for the course HISTORY 101 taught by Professor Hives during the Fall '07 term at Temple.

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R. Menard, From Servitude to Slavery - From Servitude to...

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