Abolitionism in America

A Slave's Life
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Although many cultures have practiced slavery throughout human history, no system of slavery was ever more brutal and dehumanizing than the race-based slavery of the transatlantic slave trade. Africans kidnapped from their homes faced a terrifying sea voyage to the Americas that often ended in disease or death. Upon arrival in America, they faced an existence foreign to any they had known, and they were stripped of all freedoms and human rights. Bought and sold, physically and mentally confined, and often starved or abused, slaves in America were forced to cope with ever more restrictive conditions.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, American slavery was tied to the tobacco and rice crops of Eastern Seaboard states. Because traditional methods of growing and harvesting these crops required knowledge and skill, most slaves during this time were skilled workers. But during the nineteenth century, America turned its attention to cotton, a crop experiencing explosive growth after the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. The cotton gin was a machine that quickly and easily separated cottonseed from the short-staple cotton fiber. Unlike rice and tobacco processing, cotton production did not require skilled labor. Seizing an opportunity for unprecedented financial gain, many farm owners migrated to the lower South, taking their slaves with them. Life for Southern slaves, especially for those working in the cotton fields, became more isolated and restricted.

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