What are some examples of slave societies in the year 1720?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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By the year 1720, several slave societies had emerged in the Atlantic World. A "slave society," incidentally, is a term historians use to describe a society where slave labor is central to economic production as well as social organization. Many societies, such as French Canada and New England, were "societies with slaves," where slavery was less pivotal (if no less brutal.) I will discuss three examples of slave societies in 1720.

  • Brazil: In this colony, hundreds of thousands of slaves, first Native, then African, labored in several key commercial pursuits. These included coffee and sugar plantations not unlike those in other colonies, but also mines in the province of Minas Gerais, where gold and other precious metals were central to the economy. Indeed, the 1720s marked one of the largest increases in slave population in Brazil, coinciding with a gold rush. 
  • Barbados: A tiny Caribbean island, Barbados was one of the richest possessions in the British Empire in the eighteenth century. The reason was sugar. This cash crop had an enormous market in Europe, and so increasingly more land and labor were put toward its production on Barbados, where the climate was ideal. Sugar production was hard work, and combined with the climate (which was not ideal for people) it took a brutal toll on the people who worked to produce it. Life expectancies for slaves in Barbados were very short, and as a result the colony constantly imported slaves from Africa.
  • Virginia: Colonial Virginia's economy was different from that of Barbados, or even the South Carolina Low Country, whose rice producers emulated the Barbadian planters. It was focused on tobacco, but even by the 1720s some attempts toward diversification were afoot. Still, slavery was essential to the economy. Two aspects most distinguished Virginia, though. One was that its slave population achieved a rate of natural increase, because men and women lived long enough to reproduce. This was very much unlike Barbados, and even South Carolina in the early years. The second was that Virginia's white population grew alongside the enslaved black population. Barbados, on the other hand, had a very small white population. But slavery was as well established, both legally and socially, in Virginia as anywhere else in the Atlantic World in 1720.