The British North American colonies grew considerably between 1600 and 1763. Imports and exports across the Atlantic caused a constant demand for labor in the colonies. The British colonies supplied raw goods as well as some manufactured goods for countries around the world especially in Europe. As the demand for cash crops and raw materials from the Americas grew, the demand for labor also increased. Trans-Atlantic interactions fostered continuity in the demand for labor in the British North American colonies from 1600 to 1763 but also fostered changes in the sources of labor.
The harsh conditions for indentured servitude remained during this period. Indentured servants were treated basically as slaves and many, when freed, were unable to make a decent living for themselves with the small amount of land they were given. The government and society still viewed former indentured servants as inferior to the middle class colonial citizens. Indentured servants were the main source of labor, especially in the north, until Bacon’s rebellion. Nathanial Bacon in Jamestown led Bacon’s rebellion; this rebellion was brought about against the rule of Governor William Berkley. The immediate cause was Berkley’s refusal to retaliate against a number of recent Native American attacks on the frontier settlements, most of which were inhabited by former indentured servants.
The long-term cause was the inequality in society between former indentured servants, the lower class, and the middle class. After this rebellion, landowners began to prefer permanent African slaves to indentured servants who only worked unpaid for about seven years. African slaves soon proved a better source for labor because they did not rebel like the indentured servants, and they proved far more healthy and durable than Native Americans. The south especially began to rely on this source of labor because of their cash crops and their plantation society.
Farming of cash crops such as tobacco, indigo, rice, and cotton provided for a continued demand in labor throughout the colonies. The south especially had a strong, constant, demand for laborers because their cash crop, rice, required a lot of time and expertise. The southern colonies also required more labor because of their vast amount of land compared to the northern colonies.
Slaves from West Africa proved to be very valuable to plantation owners in the south as these slaves had knowledge in the growth and care of rice. As demand for these crops rose in Europe, so did the demand for labor both forced and voluntary. British colonists began to shift from farming varied cash crops to monoculture crops such as tobacco and cotton, which impacted labor systems. This shift created a plantation labor system, particularly in the southern colonies. The plantation labor system relied heavily on African slaves rather than indentured servants.
In the north, family farm labor characterized the majority of the labor during this time; consequently the north did not require as much demand for alternate labor. The South, however had a predominantly plantation based society with a strong demand for cheap labor. The families in the South did not grow fast enough to be able to sustain such large amounts of land on their own. When the American colonies broke from England this difference in dependency of slaves between the north and south proved to be an issue in the creation of the government. The Northwest Land Ordinance created by the Articles of Confederation prohibited any slavery from the old western territories. This began the slow removal of slavery that eventually led to the civil war.
The trans-Atlantic slave trade rose during the period of 1600-1763. This allowed for employers to acquire African slaves much easier. New England would trade rum with the Africans for slaves, which they would then use to trade with the southern Americans for sugar, which was then returned to New England. European imperial systems correspondingly shifted from mercantilism to capitalism.
The private owners in colonial America began to have more control over the trade and profit of the community rather than the state. America also began to become much more self-sufficient even though they were still under England’s control. England’s policy of salutary neglect allowed for the colonies to expand and become more independent from the British and the other colonies. This independence and increased demand by other countries for goods from the American colonies caused an increase demand for labor.
Trans-Atlantic trade and other interactions caused an increase demand for labor in the British North American colonies from 1600-1763 but also created a change in the sources of labor. The demand for changes in labor sources were due to Bacon’s rebellion, the shift from farming varied cash crops to monoculture crops such as cotton and tobacco, the shift from mercantilism to capitalism in Europe, and the formation of a plantation system predominantly in the South. Slave labor in the south helped direct the nation to the Civil War. The Developments between 1600 and 1763 led to little slave labor in the North and slave dependency in the South. This labor development aided in sectional division and political issues that led to the Civil War.
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