Slavery and Servitude in the Colonies

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What happened in Virginia in 1619?

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In 1619, two closely related events occurred in the Jamestown colony of Virginia. On 30th of June that year, the Polish craftsmen who had come to the colony with John Smith ten years before refused to work unless they were accorded the same voting rights as the British colonists. This was the first recorded strike in colonial America, and it lasted for three weeks—until the court granted the Poles equal voting rights on 21st of July.

A few weeks later, in August 1619, the first Africans (approximately twenty of them) arrived in Jamestown. The legal status of these people is not entirely clear. They were seized from a Portuguese slave ship by English privateers, but may have been treated as indentured servants (of whom there were already about a thousand in Jamestown), as they had been baptized as Christians and were therefore exempt from slavery according to the English custom of the time. It was not until 1640 that a Virginia man, John Punch, was legally sentenced to be a slave. Within a few decades, however, slavery was firmly established as an integral part of the political and economic structure of Virginia society.

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In 1619, the Colony of Virginia was little more than a remote outpost of Great Britain. There were relatively few colonists in the territory and the colony had failed to turn any significant profit for its investors in England. That year, however, two significant events did occur.

The first African slaves were brought to the continent in 1619. About twenty enslaved Africans were brought to the Colony of Virginia to work the tobacco fields and in other agricultural endeavors. While about half a million enslaved Africans were already in the western hemisphere, these were the first to arrive in what would become the United States. Most other forced labor at the time was done by indentured servants, but the introduction of slaves in 1619 marked the beginning of a shift toward slave labor.

In July of 1619, Virginia also convened its first elected assembly known as the Virginia House of Burgesses in Jamestown. The first session had to be terminated early as the result of a malaria outbreak, but the tradition of regular legislative meetings was established. In fact, this was the first legislative assembly in the Colonies. Other colonies would form their own soon afterward. The House of Burgesses continued to make laws for the colony until it was dissolved in 1774.

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The first slaves were introduced into what eventually became the British colonies in 1619. Approximately twenty slaves arrived in Jamestown in 1619, which eventually led to the growth and development of slavery throughout the British colonies in North America.

Another important event that occurred in 1619 was the creation of the Virginia House of Burgesses. This body was the first elected lawmaking branch in the land controlled by Great Britain in North America. The Virginia House of Burgesses met for the first time on July 30. The first law it passed dealt with the sale of tobacco. As time passed, other colonies were created, and they established their lawmaking bodies, too. These lawmaking bodies gave the colonists some say in how the colonies were run. 

Another event that occurred in 1619 was the decision by the Virginia Company to send unmarried, white women to Virginia. The colony was made up of mainly single men who didn’t want to remain single. Thus, women began to arrive in Virginia. These women married the men and began to raise families.

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