ITS BEGINNINGS IN THE UNITED STATES
The economical success which had attended the introduction of negroes into the West Indies made it almost certain that the American colonies would betake themselves to the same resource. The first introduction of negroes is commonly placed in the year 1620, when a Dutch ship landed twenty of them for sale at Jamestown. For some years their numbers increased but slowly. In 1649 Virginia contained only three hundred. By 1661 they had increased to two thousand, while the indented servants were four times that number. Twenty-two years later, if we may trust Culpepper's statement, the number of white servants was nearly doubled, while that of the negroes had only increased by one-half. Of their numbers and proportions in Maryland and North Carolina we have no definite evidence. In South Carolina negro slavery seems to have been almost from the outset the prevalent form of industry.
As early as 1708 we are told that three-fifths of the population were blacks. This alteration in the relative numbers of white servants and black slaves was accelerated by a change which had come over the commercial policy of the English Government. In 1662 the Royal African Company was incorporated. At the head of it was the Duke of York, and the King himself was a large shareholder. The chief profit of this company was derived from the exportation of negroes from Guinea to the plantations. The King and his brother henceforth had a direct interest in limiting the supply of indented servants, and it is not unlikely that this explains why Jeffreys for once deviated into the paths of humanity and justice. . . .
Had negro slavery never existed, had the natural resources of the Southern colonies favored the growth of a free yeomanry, the system of indenture would have been admirably fitted to establish a population of small proprietors, trained in habits of industry and in a competent knowledge of agriculture. The social and industrial life of the colonies forbade this. A peasant proprietary can only exist under severe restraints as to increase, or where there is urban life to take off the surplus population for trades and handicrafts. The Southern colonies fulfilled neither of these conditions. When the servant was out of his indentures there was no place for him. He could not become a shopkeeper or craftsman or a free agricultural laborer, for none of these callings existed. Moreover, the very same conditions of soil and climate which enabled slavery to exist, made it possible for the freeman to procure a scanty livelihood, without any habits of settled industry.
Thus the liberated servant became an idler, socially corrupt, and often Politically dangerous. He furnished that class justly described by a Virginian of that day as "a foeculum of beings called overseers, a most abject, unprincipled race." He was the forerunner, and possibly in some degree the progenitor, of that class who did so much to intensify the evils of slavery, the "mean whites" of later times. . . .
When once negro slavery was firmly established any rival form of industry was doomed. For it is an economical law of slavery, that where it exists it must exist without a rival. It can only succeed where it is a predominant form of labor. The utility of the slave is that of a machine. When once he has been trained to any special kind of industry, no attempts to enlarge his sphere of activity can be attended with profit. The time given to the new acquisition is so much waste, and his mental incapacity and absence of any moral interest in his work almost necessarily limits him to a single task. Thus, as we have seen, the many attempts to develop varied forms of production in the Southern colonies all failed. Maryland and Virginia grew only tobacco. South Carolina grew mainly rice. Moreover, the spectacle of the free laborer working on the same soil and at the same task, would be fatal to that resignation, and that complete moral and intellectual subjection, which alone can make slave labor possible. Thus the cheaper and more efficient system obtained the mastery so completely that by the beginning of the eighteenth century slave and negro had become well-nigh synonymous terms.
1From Doyle's "English Colonies in America." By permission of the publishers, Henry Holt & Co.