Trace the shift from non-racially specific indentured servitude to perpetual race-based slavery in the British North American colonies.  Why did this shift occur, and what impact did the shift...

Trace the shift from non-racially specific indentured servitude to perpetual race-based slavery in the British North American colonies.  Why did this shift occur, and what impact did the shift have on the lives of colonial inhabitants?

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Jessica Pope | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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The shift from indentured servitude to racial slavery in the British North American colonies didn't occur all at once. Instead, the transition was much more uneven, spreading across different colonies at different times, and triggered by various unique historical incidents. However, two themes show up consistently in the transition from indentured servitude to race-based slavery.

First, as more and more indentured servants became free, the wealthy planter class began to perceive these newly freed men as a threat. Indentured servants acquired land at the end of their term, and were able to compete economically with their former masters. To quell this economic threat, the wealthy class began to prefer a system of lifelong servitude, e.g. slavery.

Secondly, European colonists began to associate Africans with their non-Christian ("pagan") roots. Traditionally, European colonists did not enslave Christians. However, the religious difference between African and European servants justified the subjugation of Africans into lifelong servitude. The consequence and impact of this shift was a system of color-based discrimination that eventually gave way to entire complex system of racial identity itself.

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