John H Armwood
Bacon's Rebellion and Racial Slavery | History Revived
Nearly every African who arrived in British North America did so as a slave or an indentured servant. Since many of the first black arrivals were baptized and English law forbid enslavement of baptized individuals, the legal status of Africans in Virginia was somewhat fluid. However, their social status was never in doubt. Africans were treated substantially worse than the English colonists, but better than hostile Indians.
One key event in 17th century changed the relationship of Africans to the British state: Bacon’s Rebellion. In 1676 several frontiersmen aggressively protested the Governor, William Berkley, and his refusal to launch reprisal attacks against hostile (to the colonists) Natives. Relations between natives and colonists had been growing progressively worse in 1670s and Berkley was trying to eliminate costs while building peace with the Indians. Soon the frontier rebellion expanded into a popular uprising led by aristocrat Nathaniel Bacon. Bacon was a populist who wanted Berkley’s job and was soon the figurehead of the movement.
Initially put down by mercenaries, the uprising evolved into greater resistance. Instead of just frontiersmen demanding protection the rebellion turned a social corner. Poorly treated African Americans (meant in the truest sense), indentured servants, and the poor farmers of the region united and demanded better treatment under colonial rule. The “dregs” of society uniting terrified the Governor who sent for Royal soldiers while even Bacon grew worried over the potential for change.
Over the next several years, British soldiers defeated Bacon’s forces, (killing Bacon and others), and restored Royal rule over the Virginian colony. When it comes to black history, however, the main effect was the end of indentured servitude. The ruling class in Virginia was terrified of white and black servants uniting and changed the hardened the slave policy along racial lines. No more would white and black people serve together on the lowest rung; from now on black labor would be the only stolen labor.
The hardening of racial labor occurred across British North America. Bacon’s Rebellion was the most famous event, but uprisings occurred throughout the colonies. From Massachusetts to Georgia by the end of the 17th century black men and women were the only people officially enslaved.
What is fascinating (but largely ignored) is that black labor created the opportunity for the fantastic growth of the American economy throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. For most of this country’s early history there was a very real disparity between land and population. The most economically effective strategy for this was massed stolen labor. Black slaves grew cotton, cleared land for houses or farms, planted/grew/harvested huge amounts of food stocks, and provided the opportunity for white owners to invest the huge sums in larger projects and other opportunities. Obviously this was done without the agreement of the enslaved individuals.
But think about it. Beautiful buildings like Monticello, Mount Vernon, Stagville, much of Newport and Boston were funded almost entirely through the wealth created through slave labor. When people say today that slavery was an economically defunct system they are wrong. Slavery created huge amounts of wealth and very little cost to the investor (the owner). The real cost, however, came in the enslavement, abuse, rape and murder of African men and women, and in the transformation of owners by the brutality of slave ownership. It must be remembered that slavery—at the time—throughout the world, was not seen as immoral or illegal.
So, during this Black History Month, when you are reading an article about George Washington Carver or Charles Richard Drew, that black history is more than inventions and social revolutions. Through their labor and effort (though not their assent) much of this nation’s wealth was built.
 Spanish and Portuguese policy was to baptize slaves before shipping them to the New World, and in the early 17thcentury Iberians controlled much of the slave trade.
 Indentured servants were oftentimes treated worse than slaves. In a slave the master is encouraged to feed and clothe them so the laborer survived. With indentured servants, on a seven year contract, if they died in year five the master lost little.
 An agricultural alchemist, Carver invented 400 different kinds of food.
 Invented the blood bank. Changed the treatment