Explain Why Indentured Servants And Other Poor Whites Were Given More Rights Than Slaves Or Free Blacks During The Early 1800's

1046 words - 4 pages

Because black indentured servants were treated as slaves even before the establishment of slavery in America, it is easy to conjecture that economic opportunities were made available to white settlers by oppressing the black minority. However, it is more accurate to say that the elite whites of colonial society did not deny blacks the opportunity for economic advancement so much as they made it easier for formerly-indentured whites to establish themselves in the community and become wealthy. Because there was no rigid class system in colonial America like there was at the time in most of Europe, poor whites did have the opportunity, though not necessarily the ability, to move up the social ladder. Elite white planters in America were worried that the lower classes would join in rebellion to overthrow the social structure. Thus, while at first glance it seems that these opportunities were theoretically available to poor whites because they were denied to the blacks, in truth it is only that white plantation owners were trying to prevent an outbreak of riots.Originally, white indentured labor was the easiest to come by. Tobacco growers desperately needed more labor and searched for a source. Though African slaves were available, they were too expensive. Fortunately, England could provide thousands of out-of-work farmers who couldn't afford passage to America on their own. Colonists with enough money could pay for these farmers to arrive in America, where they would then work for an agreed number of years until the debt was paid. Virginia and Maryland employed a system that gave land to masters who paid for their laborers to voyage across the ocean. In this way, the master of indentured servants not only benefited twice but could also become a powerful plantation owner if he were financially savvy. Under this system, a few incredibly wealthy planters emerged in the southern colonies. But after Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, planters began to look for another source of cheap labor. Poor farmers from England could be servants for only a few short years before they had paid their debts and were free by law. Plantation owners envisioned a nightmare of disgruntled, poor whites rising against them. African slaves became the preferred laborers. By the middle of the 1680's, there were more black slaves than white servants arriving in the colonies. When the Royal African Company lost its monopoly on slave trade, American colonists stepped in to become a part of it, and by 1750 half of the population of Virginia was black.During the latter part of the 17th century, laws were passed in the southern colonies that prevented black and white indentured servants from fraternizing. This serves to strengthen the case that black and white servants shared common ground and treated each other with some sort of equality. Since both groups would have had about the same tasks, the same living quarters, and would have taken orders from the same master, it is no wonder that...

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