Growth of the English Colonies, 18th-Century Slavery
new slaves, Marylanders, African cultures, American slaves, African population
In the first half of the 18th century, the mainland colonies grew dramatically but in very different ways. The Chesapeake and the Carolinas grew plantation staples for world markets—tobacco in the Chesapeake and North Carolina, rice and indigo in the coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia—and they were committed to African slave labor. Fully 70 percent of South Carolina’s population was black; nearly all Africans were imported directly to the colony in the 18th century. The numbers were so huge and the malarial wetlands they worked on were so unhealthy that masters encouraged slaves to organize their own labor and to work unsupervised. Because so many slaves lived and worked relatively unsupervised in this area, African cultures—language, handicrafts, religious experience and belief, and more—survived most fully among American slaves in South Carolina. Rice planters of South Carolina permitted this cultural independence because it was easier and because the slaves made them lots of money. South Carolina’s lowland planters were the wealthiest group in the mainland colonies.
Further north, the tobacco colonies of Virginia and Maryland were equally committed to slave labor, but slaves led somewhat different lives here than in the deep South. The African population in these colonies began to replace itself through reproduction as early as 1720 (compared with 1770 in South Carolina). Still, Chesapeake planters continued to import new slaves from Africa; about 70,000 went to Virginia in the 18th century and about 25,000 to Maryland. Slaves in these colonies tended to live and work in smaller, more closely supervised groups than slaves farther south, and their cultural memory of Africa, although often strong, was less pervasive than that of Carolina slaves. In addition, white Virginians and Marylanders were turning to wheat as a secondary crop, a development that required mills and towns, and thus slave labor in construction, road building, and some of the skilled crafts.
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