Slavery in the British Colonies


APUSH Unit 2, Topic 2.6 covers concepts related to the establishment and expansion of slavery in the British Colonies.

Sugar Plantation, West Indies, Illustration

This illustration depicts African slaves working on a Sugar Plantation in the West Indies. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Slavery in the British Colonies Overview

Before the establishment of the British Colonies in North America, slavery was practiced in the New World by the European colonizers and Native American Indian tribes. Spanish slavery started in the West Indies, and the island of Hispaniola played an important role in its expansion. 

Origins of European Slavery in the New World

In many societies, slaves primarily served as domestic servants in wealthy households, while others labored in mines and fields. People became enslaved through various means — being captured in battle, sold to pay off debts, or born into slavery. Some slaves were treated with a degree of respect, allowed to marry, own property, and in certain cases, their children were granted freedom.

The nature of slavery started to change with the emergence of Sugar Plantations. Since the 1100s, Europeans had used slaves to work these plantations in southern Europe. By the 1400s and 1500s, Portugal and Spain established Sugar Plantations on the islands in the eastern Atlantic, using African slaves as workers

Hispaniola and Maroon Communities

After landing on Hispaniola in 1492, Christopher Columbus instituted a plantation system that enslaved the people he found living there, whom he called “Indians.” Eventually, Spanish plantation owners replaced their Indian slaves with captive Africans. 

Thirty years later, the first major slave revolt in the Americas took place in the island’s capital, Santo Domingo. It was carried out by enslaved Africans who led an uprising on the Sugar Plantation of Admiral Don Diego Colon, the son of Christopher Columbus. 

Many of the slaves were able to escape to the remote mountain regions of the island, where they established settlements. These groups were known as “Maroons” and they actively defended themselves against the Spanish. 

In the 1540s, French pirates made their way into the West Indies and actively challenged the Spanish in the region. Spanish settlers started to leave Hispaniola to make a new start on the mainland — taking their concept of the plantation system and slavery with them.

John Hawkins and the First Slave Voyage

The first expedition specifically to transport captive Africans to sell in the New World is believed to have been carried out by Sir John Hawkins, an English sea captain, in 1562. Hawkins captured and traded for captive Africans along the coast of Africa, and sailed to the Caribbean, where he traded them for pearls, animal hides, and sugar. The expedition was so lucrative that a coat of arms was designed for him, which included a crude drawing of an enslaved African. The first trip is considered by some to be the first implement and profit from the Triangular Trade Route.


Although the English Crown sponsored various expeditions that mapped and explored the East Coast of North America, it took until 1607 to establish a permanent settlement. While the Lost Colony on Roanoke Island and Popham Colony failed, Jamestown succeeded. Twelve years later, in 1619, the first European ship carrying captive Africans arrived. The colonists traded supplies to the ship’s captain for roughly 20 Africans. 

Landing at Jamestown, Illustration
This illustration depicts the colonists landing in Virginia in 1607. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Headright System

As England’s colonies grew and expanded, plantation owners needed a larger workforce. The Headright System was developed to provide an incentive for people to emigrate to the colonies. However, most of these people were Indentured Servants, who eventually fulfilled their contracts and became private citizens.

As the need for a larger workforce grew in the Southern Colonies and the West Indies, more captive Africans were sold into slavery, replacing Indentured Servants. However, the pace was slow.

Slavery in the Barbados Colony

In many ways, slavery in the English Colony on the island of Barbados served as the model for slavery in the British Colonies. 

In 1636, a law was enacted that made enslaved Africans and natives slaves for life unless an arrangement was made to free them. 

25 years later, in 1661, a new law was passed, “An Act for the Better Ordering and Governing of Negroes,” that is widely held to be the first set of Slaves Codes enacted in the American Colonies. These laws declared that African slaves were:

  • A “heathenish, brutish, and an uncertaine dangerous kind of people…” 
  • Their owners needed to be able to protect them just like they needed to protect “…other goods and Chattels…” This effectively declared slaves were personal possessions — like real estate or livestock.

When plantation owners moved from Barbados to the Carolinas, they brought these laws with them.

John Casor — America’s First Slave for Life

Anthony Johnson was the first known landowner of African descent in Virginia. He arrived there in 1621 as an Indentured Servant. Johnson, like others, took advantage of the Headright System, and was given land after he brought five Indentured Servants to Virginia, including one known as “John Casor.”

In 1653, Casor filed a lawsuit, arguing he was an Indentured Servant and had fulfilled his obligation. Johnson argued he was not an Indenture, but eventually agreed to let Casor go, fearing the court would strip him of his land.

A year later, Casor was working for another plantation owner, Robert Parker, when Johnson sued Parker, demanding the return of his “servant.” Johnson further “he had [Casor] for his life.”

The court ruled in favor of Johnson, and Casor was returned to him — as a slave.

Partus Sequitur Ventrum

Virginia continued to modify and change the status of slaves in the colony. In 1662, the House of Burgesses instituted partus sequitur ventrum, meaning the children born in Virginia inherited the legal status of their mother. Before this, children inherited the legal status of their fathers.

This change meant the child of an enslaved woman was also a slave.

Bacon’s Rebellion

Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677) was the first uprising in Colonial America by colonists against British officials. It is also seen as the most significant event in American History that created the shift from the use of Indentured Servants to slaves in the Southern Colonies.

Although the Headright System helped increase the population of Virginia, it created several problems for large plantation owners, who not only controlled the tobacco industry but also the Fur Trade with Native American Indian Tribes.

  1. First, when an Indentured Servant was freed, his employer lost a worker.
  2. Second, the Indentured Servant was granted land. The land was usually undeveloped — full of trees — and on the frontier — close to Indian tribes.
  3. Finally, the plantation owners used the political system to increase their advantages over these new owners of small farms.

These problems created tension between the upper class and lower class in Virginia. After Indians carried out raids on a smaller plantation, the settlers living on the frontier asked Governor William Berkeley for help. Berkeley declined to take military action but did offer to build new forts and strengthen the colony’s defenses.

The settlers, many of whom had been Indentured Servants, were outraged and accused Berkeley of protecting his interests in the Fur Trade. The settlers decided to take action and formed an army, which was eventually led by Nathaniel Bacon, a former ally of Berkeley’s.

The rebellion lasted for roughly a year, and Bacon and his followers seized control of the colony and burned Jamestown to the ground. After Bacon died from disease order was restored. 

Bacon's Rebellion, Burning Jamestown
This illustration depicts the Burning of Jamestown that took place during Bacon’s Rebellion. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

In the aftermath, plantation owners turned away from Indentured Servants to African slaves. With African slaves, the plantation owners had complete control of their workforce. Further, new Slave Codes were issued that restricted the rights and liberties of slaves in Virginia.

Slavery in the New England and Middle Colonies

Slavery was not limited to the Southern Colonies. Farms throughout the New England Colonies and Middle Colonies used slaves, but not nearly as many as their Southern counterparts. Slaves were more commonly found in the larger port cities, where they were used as laborers and servants. 

Debt Recovery Act of 1732

In 1732, many American merchants were falling behind on their payments to British merchants due to a long recession that was caused by low prices for tobacco. British merchants appealed to Parliament, which passed a law that made major changes to property rights in the American Colonies. 

The “Act for the More Easy Recovery of Debts in His Majesty’s Plantations and Colonies in America,” or the Debt Recovery Act, allowed creditors to seize property — including slaves. This gave a creditor the legal right to seize slaves (as chattel) from someone who owed them money even for small debts — and codified it into the British Constitution.

Slave Uprisings and Tightening Slave Codes

As slavery spread and the number of slaves increased, so did the fear of Slave Uprisings. Two of the most prominent uprisings in the Colonia Era were:

  1. New York Slave Revolt (1712) — The New York Slave Revolt of 1712 was a violent uprising where enslaved people, likely Africans, and Native American Indians, armed themselves, started a fire, and then attacked people who responded to the alarm.
  2. Stono Rebellion (1739) — The Stono Rebellion of 1739 was a violent uprising in the Southern Colonies where a large group of enslaved Africans in South Carolina attempted to escape to freedom in Florida and killed 20-30 whites. It was the largest Slave Uprising in Colonial America.

Fears over uprisings also contributed to the New York Slave Conspiracy (1741). This was an alleged plot by poor whites and black slaves to take control of the City of New York. Although there was no concrete evidence about the supposed plot, more than 30 people were tried, convicted, and executed for their involvement. The entire incident was similar to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

Abolition in Colonial America

Although it is often overlooked during the Colonial Era, there were pockets of Abolitionists throughout the colonies, however, they were largely disconnected. The seeds of an organized movement in America were undoubtedly planted, as early as 1688. That year, four Quaker men wrote the first formal anti-slavery petition, known as the Germantown Petition Against Slavery (see Abolition in Colonial America).

Impact of British Colonial Policies

Despite the moral issues surrounding the practice of slavery, it was viewed as part of conducting business in the British Empire, including the British Colonies in North America. The Acts of Trade and Navigation, which controlled trade in the empire and restricted American manufacturing, also contributed to the establishment and maintenance of Triangular Trade Routes and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

AHC Note — England did not formally become Great Britain until 1707.

APUSH 2.6 Review Video

This video from Heimler’s History provides an excellent overview of APUSH 2.6. You can also check out our APUSH Guide, which provides a look at all Units and Topics in the APUSH Curriculum.

APUSH 2.6 Review Terms and Notes for Unit 2 Key Concepts and APUSH Themes

The terms and definitions that follow are related to the Key Concepts for Unit 2 and are broken into sections by APUSH Themes. Within the explanations of APUSH 2.6 Terms are links to content on American History Central that should provide a more comprehensive understanding of each topic.

Unit 2 Key Concepts

Key Concept 2.1 — Europeans developed a variety of colonization and migration patterns, influenced by different imperial goals, cultures, and the varied North American environments where they settled, and they competed with each other and American Indians for resources.

Key Concept 2.2 — The British colonies participated in political, social, cultural, and economic exchanges with Great Britain that encouraged both stronger bonds with Britain and resistance to Britain’s control.

APUSH Themes

  1. American and National Identity
  2. Work, Exchange, and Technology
  3. Migration and Settlement
  4. Politics and Power
  5. America in the World
  6. Geography and the Environment
  7. Culture and Society

Work, Exchange, and Technology — Labor Systems

Fur Trade

The Fur Trade in Colonial America was a vital economic activity involving the exchange of animal pelts for goods, particularly with Native American tribes. Europeans, including the French, Dutch, and English, established trading posts and trade agreements with various Indian tribes to acquire furs, which were highly sought after in Europe. The Fur Trade significantly shaped colonial economies and contributed to the westward exploration and expansion of Europeans in North America.

Headright System

The Headright System was used in the English colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries to encourage settlement and to allocate land. Under the headright system, individuals who paid for their own passage to the colonies or who brought indentured servants with them were entitled to a grant of land. The size of the grant depended on the number of people the individual brought with them. The Headright System was a way for the colonial authorities to encourage immigration and was a key factor in the rapid population growth of the colonies.

Indentured Servants 

Indentured Servants were individuals who agreed to work for a fixed period of time, usually four to seven years, in exchange for passage to the colonies. Indentured Servants were a common labor force in the English colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, and many of the early settlers in the colonies were indentured servants. The system exploited some workers, as Indentured Servants were often not paid and were subject to harsh working conditions.

Patroon System

The Patroon System was a Dutch landholding system established in the 17th century in colonial New Netherland. Under this system, wealthy individuals, known as Patroons, were granted large estates in exchange for bringing settlers to the colony. The Patroons had almost feudal authority over their estates and tenants, including the right to administer justice.


Redemptioners were European immigrants, primarily from Germany and Switzerland, who arrived in Colonial America during the 18th century. Unlike traditional Indentured Servants, Redemptioners agreed to work for a specified period to pay off their passage to America. However, they were not bound to a specific master but instead were sold at auction upon arrival. This system provided a means for immigrants to gain passage to America but often resulted in harsh working conditions and limited opportunities for advancement


Slavery is the practice of owning and controlling people as property, often for the purpose of forced labor. Slavery was practiced in the English colonies in North America from the early 17th century onwards and played a significant role in the economy of the colonies. Slaves were brought to the colonies from Africa and other parts of the world and were often subjected to brutal treatment and exploitation. The abolition of slavery in the United States was a major issue in the 19th century and played a key role in the Civil War.

Migration and Settlement — Immigration

Middle Passage

The Middle Passage was a route in the Triangular Trade System that started in Northwest Africa, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and ended in the Americas. The Middle Passage is most well-known for its use in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the terrible suffering it imposed on imprisoned Africans who were sold into slavery.

Transatlantic Slave Trade

The Transatlantic Slave Trade was a business in which the commodity was African men, women, and children. They were captured in Africa, transported across the Atlantic Ocean over the “Middle Passage,” and forced to work in the Americas. It was also part of the Triangular Trade System and the Mercantile System.

Triangular Trade

Triangular Trade was a system of trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americas that developed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Under the triangular trade system, European traders would bring manufactured goods to Africa, where they would be exchanged for slaves. The slaves would then be transported to the Americas, where they were sold and used to work on plantations and in mines. The profits from the sale of the slaves were then used to purchase raw materials, such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton, which were then shipped back to Europe.

Politics and Power — British Imperial Policies

Enumerated Goods

Enumerated goods were specific products that were allowed to be exported only to British markets, as mandated by the Navigation Acts. These goods included commodities such as tobacco, sugar, cotton, and indigo. The purpose of the enumeration was to ensure that certain colonial industries remained under British control and to limit competition with British manufacturers. This policy contributed to tensions between the American colonies and Britain which led to the American Revolution.


Mercantilism was an economic theory and policy that dominated European thinking in the 16th to 18th centuries. It emphasized the idea that a nation’s wealth and power were determined by its accumulation of precious metals, primarily gold and silver. To achieve this, mercantilist governments sought to maintain a favorable balance of trade by exporting more than they imported, establishing colonies to provide raw materials, and enacting protectionist measures like tariffs and monopolies. Mercantilism had a profound influence on colonial economic policies and contributed to tensions between American colonies and Britain, which sought to extract economic benefits from its colonial possessions.

Salutary Neglect

Salutary Neglect was a policy of British non-interference in the internal affairs of its American colonies during the 17th and early 18th centuries. This policy allowed the American colonies a degree of self-governance and economic freedom. While British laws were technically in place, they were often loosely enforced, leading to a sense of autonomy among colonial governments and businesses. Salutary neglect encouraged self-reliance and self-government in the colonies, but it eventually ended with increased British control and regulation, contributing to colonial discontent and the American Revolution.

Politics and Power — British Laws

Hat Act (1732)

The Hat Act of 1732 was aimed at protecting the hat-making industry in Britain by regulating the production and export of hats from the American Colonies. The act required that all hats made in the colonies for export be sent to Britain for inspection and approval by British officials before being sold in other markets. This restriction limited the ability of colonial hat-makers to compete with their English counterparts and contributed to growing resentment among Colonial Artisans against British trade regulations.

Debt Recovery Act (1732)

The Debt Recovery Act of 1732 was enacted to improve debt collection in the American Colonies. It allowed creditors to seize both real and personal property of debtors who defaulted on their payments. This act was intended to protect the interests of British merchants and creditors by ensuring they could recover debts owed by colonial planters and merchants. The law contributed to economic tensions between the colonies and Britain, as it placed significant financial strain on colonial debtors and was seen as an example of British overreach into colonial affairs.

English Bill of Rights (1689)

The English Bill of Rights, enacted in 1689, was a landmark document in English political history. It established limitations on the powers of the monarchy and affirmed certain rights of Parliament and individual citizens. The Bill of Rights affirmed the right to petition the Crown, the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to bear arms for self-defense, among other provisions. It significantly influenced the development of constitutional principles and laid the foundation for democratic governance in Britain and the American Colonies.

Iron Act (1750)

The Iron Act of 1750 regulated the iron industry in the American Colonies. It aimed to restrict the production of iron goods in the colonies by prohibiting the construction of new iron forges and mills, as well as the expansion of existing ones. The act was intended to ensure that the colonies remained dependent on Britain for manufactured iron goods.

Molasses Act (1733)

The Molasses Act of 1733 was a piece of British legislation that imposed high import duties on molasses, rum, and sugar imported into the American colonies from non-British Caribbean sources, primarily the French West Indies. The act aimed to protect the sugar plantations in the British West Indies and generate revenue for the British Crown. However, it was widely evaded through smuggling and was deeply unpopular among colonial merchants, contributing to the rise of illicit trade and colonial opposition to British economic policies. However, the unwritten policy of Salutary Neglect contributed to lax enforcement of the law’s provisions.

Navigation Acts

The Navigation Acts were a series of British laws passed in the 17th and 18th centuries to regulate colonial trade and ensure that most of it benefited the British Empire. These acts required that certain colonial goods could only be transported in British ships, that goods bound for the colonies had to pass through British ports, and that certain key exports (like tobacco and sugar) could only be sold to Britain. These measures were intended to maintain British economic dominance over the American colonies but also generated tension and resentment, ultimately contributing to colonial discontent that led to the American Revolution.

Wool Act (1699)

The Wool Act of 1699 was a British law that aimed to protect the woolen industry in Britain by restricting the export of woolen goods from the American Colonies. The act prohibited the export of woolen cloth from the colonies to any destination other than Britain or other English territories. This legislation was part of the Mercantile System implemented by Britain to ensure that colonial trade benefited the mother country’s economy.

Politics and Power — British Imperial Control

Charter Colonies

Charter Colonies were a type of colonial government established in the American Colonies during the 17th century. In this system, colonies were granted a charter by the British Crown, outlining the colony’s government structure, rights, and responsibilities. Unlike Proprietary Colonies, which were owned by individuals or companies, Charter Colonies had more autonomy and self-governance, as they were typically governed by elected Colonial Assemblies. This system allowed for greater local control and helped develop colonial governance in America.

Dominion of New England

The Dominion of New England was a short-lived administrative union of several English colonies in North America, established by King James II in 1686. It aimed to strengthen royal control over the colonies by centralizing governance under a single authority. Sir Edmund Andros was appointed as governor-general to oversee the Dominion. The Dominion included colonies such as Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and later New York and New Jersey. However, the Dominion faced strong opposition from colonists due to its authoritarian policies, including the enforcement of the Navigation Acts and the suppression of local assemblies. It was overthrown following the Glorious Revolution in 1689.

Proprietary Colonies

Proprietary Colonies were a form of colonial government in North America during the 17th and 18th centuries. Under this system, the British Crown granted land and governing rights to individuals or groups known as Proprietors. Proprietors were given considerable control over the colony, including the ability to establish laws, appoint officials, and administer land. Examples of proprietary colonies included Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. While the Proprietors enjoyed certain privileges, they were still subject to the authority of the British Crown and were expected to govern following English law.

Royal Colonies

Royal Colonies were a type of colonial administration in North America during the 17th and 18th centuries. In these colonies, the British Crown retained direct control over governance and administration. The Crown appointed a Royal Governor to oversee the colony, often with the assistance of a Governor’s Council. The Governor had significant powers, including the authority to enact laws, levy taxes, and command the colonial militia. By the time of the American Revolution, nearly all the American Colonies were Royal Colonies. Pennsylvania and Maryland remained Proprietary Colonies.

Politics and Power — Military Conflicts

Bacon’s Rebellion

Bacon’s Rebellion was an armed uprising that took place in 1676 in the Virginia Colony. Led by Nathaniel Bacon, a group of frontier settlers and Indentured Servants revolted against the colonial government, led by Governor William Berkeley. The rebellion was fueled by grievances over Berkeley’s policies towards Native Americans, particularly his refusal to authorize military action against them and perceptions of corruption and favoritism within the colonial administration. Although the rebellion collapsed following Bacon’s death, it exposed deep tensions between the frontier settlers and the colonial elite, and it prompted changes in colonial policies, including a shift towards increased use of African slave labor to avoid reliance on Indentured Servants.

Glorious Revolution

The Glorious Revolution, also known as the Revolution of 1688, was a bloodless coup in Britain that led to the overthrow of King James II and the installation of William III and Mary II as joint monarchs. It was triggered by the fear of Catholicism and James II’s attempts to impose absolutist rule. The revolution resulted in the affirmation of parliamentary supremacy, the Bill of Rights of 1689, and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in Britain.

King James II of England, Portrait
King James II. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Susquehannock War

The Susquehannock War, which occurred from 1675 to 1677, was a conflict between the Susquehannock Tribe and English settlers in the Maryland and Virginia colonies. Tensions flared over due to competition over land and resources, and violent incidents between settlers and the Susquehannocks. The conflict intensified when Virginia and Maryland militia forces attacked a Susquehannock fort, leading to a series of brutal encounters. This war contributed to the hostilities that led to Bacon’s Rebellion.

Geography and Environment — Crops

Indigo Plantations

Indigo Plantations were agricultural estates primarily located in the Southern Colonies of British North America during the Colonial Period. Indigo, a plant native to Asia and extensively cultivated in South Carolina and Georgia, was a valuable Cash Crop used in the production of blue dye. Indigo Plantations relied heavily on Slave Labor to cultivate and process indigo plants, contributing to the region’s economic prosperity and the expansion of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Rice Plantations

Rice Plantations were large agricultural estates in the southeastern United States that specialized in the cultivation of rice, a grain crop that requires a wetland habitat. Rice plantations were common in the low-lying coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia, and were often worked by slaves. Rice plantations were highly profitable, as rice was in high demand in Europe and the Americas, and were a major contributor to the economy of the southeastern United States.

Sugar Plantations

Sugar Plantations were large-scale agricultural estates primarily located in the West Indies during the Colonial Period. Sugar Plantations specialized in the cultivation of Sugarcane, a labor-intensive crop that required significant manpower for planting, harvesting, and processing. Enslaved Africans were commonly used as laborers on Sugar Plantations. Sugar and its byproduct, Molasses, became a lucrative commodity, driving economic growth and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Tobacco Plantations

Tobacco Plantations were agricultural estates in the eastern United States that specialized in the cultivation of tobacco, a crop that is grown for its leaves, which are dried and used to make cigarettes and other products. Tobacco farming was a major industry in the eastern United States in the 17th and 18th centuries, and tobacco was one of the main exports of the colonies. Tobacco farming was labor-intensive, and many tobacco farms in the colonies were worked by slaves.

Geography and Environment — Manufactured Products


Molasses is a thick, dark syrup produced during the process of refining Sugarcane into Sugar. In Colonial America, Molasses was a valuable commodity, primarily imported from the West Indies. It was widely used as a sweetener in cooking and baking, as well as in the production of Rum and other alcoholic beverages. Molasses played a significant role in trade and commerce, particularly in the Triangular Trade Routes between the American Colonies, Africa, and the Caribbean.

Geography and Environment — Waterways

Atlantic Ocean

The Atlantic Ocean played a crucial role in Colonial America, serving as a highway for trade, transportation, and communication between the colonies and Europe. It facilitated the exchange of goods, ideas, and people, shaping the economic, social, and cultural landscape of the colonies. The Atlantic Ocean also influenced colonial expansion, exploration, and conflict, as European powers competed for dominance and colonies sought access to overseas markets and resources. However, the Triangular Trade Routes across the ocean, including the Middle Passage, helped grow and expand the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean Sea is a large body of water in the Atlantic Ocean, bordered by Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands. During the Colonial Era, it was an important region for European powers, including Spain, France, England, and the Netherlands, who established colonies and competed for dominance. The Caribbean Sea was part of trade routes for commodities like sugar, rum, and tobacco, and was central to the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Geography and Environment — Locations


Barbados is an island in the Caribbean that became a significant English colony in the 17th Century. It was one of the earliest and most profitable colonies due to its successful Sugar Plantations, which relied heavily on enslaved African labor. The island’s economy and society were shaped by the Plantation System, making it a model for other Caribbean Colonies. Barbados was critical to the Transatlantic Slave trade and was a key part of the British colonial empire in the Americas. The wealth generated from sugar production helped fuel the British economy and contributed to the expansion of British colonial influence.

Chesapeake Colonies

The Chesapeake Colonies were a group of English colonies in North America that included Virginia, Maryland, and parts of present-day Delaware. Named after the Chesapeake Bay, these colonies were primarily characterized by their reliance on agriculture, particularly tobacco cultivation. The region’s warm climate and fertile soil made it ideal for tobacco farming, which became the primary cash crop. The Chesapeake Colonies also played a significant role in the development of representative government in America, with the establishment of the House of Burgesses in Virginia in 1619, marking the first representative assembly in the English colonies.

Maroon Communities

Maroon Communities were settlements established by escaped enslaved Africans in the Americas, primarily in remote or difficult-to-access areas such as dense forests, swamps, or mountainous regions. These communities existed throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America, and parts of North America. They were characterized by their ability to maintain a high degree of independence from colonial authorities. They often preserved African cultural practices, formed self-governing societies, and sometimes engaged in armed resistance against colonial forces.

Middle Colonies

The Middle Colonies were a group of English colonies in North America situated between the New England and Southern Colonies. The region included present-day New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The Middle Colonies were notable for their diverse population, which included immigrants from various European countries, as well as a significant number of Quakers, Dutch, Germans, and Scots-Irish. Economically, the Middle Colonies were known for their fertile soil, diverse agricultural production, and thriving trade. The cities of New York and Philadelphia emerged as important commercial centers and helped grow trade and cultural exchange with Europe and the other regions in Colonial America.

New England Colonies

The New England Colonies were a group of English Colonies located in the northeastern region of North America during the Colonial Period. This area included the present-day states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. The New England Colonies were characterized by their Puritan religious beliefs, which influenced their social, political, and economic structures. These colonies emphasized education and established the first American public school system. Economically, the New England Colonies relied on fishing, shipbuilding, trade, and agriculture, although the rocky soil and harsh climate limited agricultural production compared to other regions. The New England Colonies played a significant role in the early history of the United States, particularly in terms of religious freedom, governance, and the development of an American identity.

Southern Colonies

The Southern Colonies were a group of English Colonies located in the southeastern region of North America during the Colonial Period. This area included the present-day states of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The Southern Colonies were characterized by their reliance on cash crops, particularly tobacco, rice, and indigo, which were cultivated on large plantations using slave labor. The plantation economy shaped social structures, with a small wealthy elite class dominating politics and society. The Southern Colonies also had a significant African slave population, which contributed to the development of distinct cultural and racial dynamics. Additionally, the Southern Colonies had a more rural and agricultural economy compared to the industrial and commercial economies of the Northern Colonies.

West Indies

The West Indies refers to the islands of the Caribbean Sea and surrounding coastal areas, including the Greater Antilles, Lesser Antilles, and the Bahamas. During the Colonial Period, the West Indies were a crucial part of European colonial empires, particularly those of Spain, Britain, France, and the Netherlands. The islands were significant for their production of cash crops such as Sugar, Tobacco, and Cotton, which were cultivated on large plantations using enslaved African labor. The West Indies played a role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, serving as a major hub for the transportation of enslaved Africans to the Americas. The region’s strategic location also made it a target for European rivalries and conflicts over control of lucrative trade routes and resources.

Culture and Society — People

Nathaniel Bacon

Nathaniel Bacon was a Virginia planter and leader of Bacon’s Rebellion, a revolt against the colonial government led by Governor William Berkeley. Bacon and his followers, frustrated with Berkeley’s policies towards Native American Indians and perceived corruption, took up arms, attacked Indian tribes, seized the colony, and burned Jamestown. The rebellion was suppressed after Bacon died from dysentery.

William Berkeley

William Berkeley was the Governor of Virginia from 1642 to 1652 and again from 1660 to 1677. His administration was marked by economic growth and expansion, but also by increasing discontent among colonists, particularly frontier settlers. Berkeley’s policies towards Indians, which included maintaining trade and avoiding conflict, led to widespread dissatisfaction and ultimately sparked Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. Berkeley’s response to the rebellion, including his harsh reprisals, was criticized and led to his recall to England, removing him from power.

John Casor

John Casor was an African indentured servant in colonial Virginia who became the first person of African descent in the American colonies to be declared a slave for life as a result of a civil suit. In 1655, Casor’s owner, Anthony Johnson, a former African Indentured Servant who had gained his freedom, sued a neighbor, Robert Parker, claiming that Casor was his servant for life. The court ruled in favor of Johnson, establishing a legal precedent for lifetime servitude based on race. This case marked a significant moment in the development of Chattel Slavery in the American Colonies.

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano, also known as Gustavus Vassa, was a prominent African abolitionist, author, and former enslaved person. His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, published in 1789, provided a firsthand account of the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and played a role in the growth of the Abolitionist Movement. Equiano was born in present-day Nigeria and was enslaved at a young age. He endured the Middle Passage to the Americas and was eventually sold to a British naval officer. After gaining his freedom, Equiano became actively involved in the Abolition Movement.

John Hawkins

John Hawkins was an English naval commander and slave trader during the 16th century. Hawkins played a key role in the development of the English Slave Trade. Hawkins oversaw voyages to West Africa where he captured and transported African slaves to be sold in the Spanish Colonies of the Americas.

Lords Proprietors of Carolina

The Lords Proprietors of Carolina were the eight noble individuals to whom King Charles II of Britain granted the Carolina Territory in 1663. They were tasked with establishing and governing the colony. The Lords Proprietors had considerable autonomy in managing Carolina, including the ability to establish laws, appoint officials, and distribute land. However, conflicts arose among them, leading to the eventual division of Carolina into North Carolina and South Carolina in 1712.

William Penn 

William Penn was an English Quaker and the founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, which later became the state of Pennsylvania. Penn was granted a charter by King Charles II in 1681 to establish a colony in the New World as a haven for Quakers and other religious minorities. Penn also played a key role in the development of the concept of religious freedom in the colonies and was instrumental in the passage of the Charter of Liberties, which granted religious freedom to all inhabitants of the colony.

Robert Walpole

Robert Walpole was a British politician who is often regarded as the first Prime Minister of Great Britain. He served as Prime Minister from 1721 to 1742 and held influence over British politics in the early 18th century. Walpole was a member of the Whig Party and is known for stabilizing the British government and promoting economic growth. He pursued a policy of moderation and compromise, seeking to maintain stability and avoid costly foreign entanglements. In American History, he is recognized for the unwritten policy of Salutary Neglect, which eased the enforcement of British laws in the American Colonies.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Slavery in the British Colonies
  • Date 1607–1754
  • Author
  • Keywords Slavery in the British Colonies, APUSH 2.6
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 5, 2024