The Relationship between Slavery and Freedom in Provincial Chesapeake
Edmund S. Morgan has presented an interesting question regarding the question of the colonists' treatment of slavery as a special circumstance, one that is separate from freedom. The promotion of freedom by the Virginia settlers to their own kind, but not to those whose skin was a darker shade, exhibits the tough judgment calls that had to be made to help the colony survive. There seemed to be a more prevalent concern among the upper class of Virginian settlers: poor freedmen, and their possible uprising against the ruling class. Slavery became an idea that made the most sense and the best match for the Virginia colonists' situation. This does not mean slavery is a correct civil practice, but it was the only method explored that seemed to correct the problem with freedmen. The freedmen presented two problems (in Jeffersonian philosophy, at least) to the colonists: the inevitable debt they would incur, and their migration to positions of manufacturing. Only through the revelation of slavery were the Virginians able to begin comprehending the true meaning of freedom.
The "riff-raff" that began populating Virginia in the mid-1600's were people who had been forced out of England for punishment's sake, hope of a new life, or just general disapproval of English life. These men (men outnumbered women by three or four to one in Virginia) found themselves stuck in a situation out of their control: they had no land, no family, and no job opportunity. Their only option was to work for the large planters for a period before they received land of their own. After tobacco prices plummeted, these freedmen had little chance of success in the growers' market. Their disgust with the conditions of Virginia was exemplified best through Bacon's Rebellion. The men of frontier Virginia saw that they had little chance of equality and joined with men all over the state to rise against the ruling class. This symbolized a need for change in policy to the bureaucrats in Virginia, and slavery seemed to be the next alternative. The freedmen went back to work as servants, and the Virginia magnates looked to Africa to grant them the freedom they sought themselves.
Between 1680 and 1720, the slave population in Virginia exploded and left the large plantations to be run by individuals with no sense of what freedom was. This was key, for the white servants knew what freedom was, and expected certain benefits; whereas, the slave population had no notion of what freedom was, having lived most of their lives as slaves. Not all Africans were slaves, but the vast majority were. The introduction of slavery into Virginian society on a large scale led to the freedom that settlers had been trying to attain for almost a hundred years. The magistrates had their workers and the freedmen had their opportunity to make their own way in the New World. The...