Describe the three slave systems that existed in British North America during the mid-18th century?

1 Answer

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Not all textbooks talk about three slave systems in Colonial America.  One that does, however, is Eric Foner’s Give Me Liberty.  Foner argues that there were three distinct slave systems during colonial times.  These systems existed in three different parts of the colonies.  There was the Chesapeake system, the Georgia and South Carolina system, and the non-plantation system of the mid-Atlantic colonies and the North.  The differences were based largely on the sort of things the slaves were producing.

The Chesapeake system was based on tobacco.  The most prominent feature of this system, aside from what it produced, was the size of the plantations on which most slaves lived.  Most slaves in this area lived on relatively small plantations.  This means that there was a great deal of interaction between the typical slave and his or her owners and other whites.

The Georgia and South Carolina was, in those pre-cotton days, based largely on rice with some production of indigo.  Both of these crops required very large work forces to cultivate.  This meant that these slaves lived mainly on very large plantations.  They had less interaction with whites.

The Northern system was not based on any one staple crop.  There, slaves worked on small family farms to some degree but also worked in urban occupations.   A major aspect of this system was that there were not that many slaves relative to the number of white people.  Since there were so many fewer slaves in the North, these colonies did not have the same kinds of harsh restrictions on slaves that were seen in the South.