How did slavery evolve in different regions of British America, and what liberties were extended to slaves?

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During the colonial period, slavery existed in every part of the British colonies. Its development and conditions varied by region.

The first slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619. However, it was not until the end of that century that significant numbers of slaves arrived. Before then, hard labor in the Chesapeake region was typically performed by indentured servants. After a while, though, it became difficult to find people willing to sign up for indentured servitude. More and more African slaves were brought to fill in this labor shortage. In the middle and Chesapeake colonies, most slaves worked in tobacco fields. There was a very high population of slaves in this region. By the time of the American Revolution, enslaved people constituted about one-third of this region's population. Slaves in this region had very limited liberties. For instance, the Virginia Slave Codes, passed in 1705, allowed slave owners total control over their slaves. They could even kill them without legal punishment.

Rice farming in Georgia and South Carolina required a very large workforce of slaves. Large plantations meant that many slaves lived together in slave communities. Their proximity resulted in the development of distinct slave culture. However, having so many slaves around caused many white Southerners to fear the possibility of slave revolts. Therefore, slaves in this region were given very few liberties. It was forbidden to teach them to read or allow them to travel and congregate freely.

There were always some slaves in the North. However, their small numbers meant that there were there was little fear of a slave revolt. Slaves in this region were granted more liberties. Many slave-holding households had just one or a few slaves. This meant that no real slave culture developed in this region. They were given more freedom to travel and interact with the white community. Furthermore, Northern slaves were usually trained in a particular skill. A slave in this area might work as a blacksmith, carpenter, or personal secretary. These jobs often required training, so a certain degree of education was permitted to these slaves.

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