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Changes in the Character of Slavery in North America


Slavery is a controversial page in human history, and various changes in social life have influenced this phenomenon. Colonial North America became the first continent on which the slave system took root and developed on a colossal scale. The period from 1619 to 1739 saw the beginning of the mass transit of slaves to the continent, and the Stono Rebellion was the result of the increasing import of free labor from Africa.

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Prerequisites for the Rebellion

From the beginning of the 17th century, colonists transported the first shipments of slaves from Africa to North America. According to Shefveland (2019), in 1619, the first representatives of free labor were brought to Virginia, and from that point on, the flow of slaves increased steadily. Initially, Africans did not have an unequivocal legal status in the North American colonies. As Parish (2018) notes, at the legislative level, they were neither hired servants nor slaves at first. However, subsequently, a number of states took appropriate measures and promoted legislative initiatives aimed to legalize slavery. Shefveland (2019) discusses the hereditary nature of the slave system and argues that while some slaves could free themselves and their families and receive formal freedom, such cases were the exception to the rule. By the mid-17th century, a significant number of colonies had adopted legislative procedures that formalized slavery and made the status of dependence on white colonists hereditary.

The constant flow of slave power to the North American continent became a significant part of the trade relationships. Parish (2018) mentions a steady increase in the number of Africans in local colonies over several decades and explains this phenomenon for specific practical reasons. Many colonists were given a monopoly on the trade in human power, and the influx of slaves was one of the ways to make real money. As a result, at the beginning of the 18th century, the development of individual colonies largely depended on the number of people in legal slavery, and infrastructural development was conditioned by the share of free human force.

The Stono Rebellion

The Stono Rebellion was the result of more than a century of the slave trade that flourished in the colonies of North America. According to Parish (2018), by 1739, African American population slaves exceeded the continent’s white population twice. Human trafficking on this scale resulted in a massive uprising organized by a number of disaffected slaves. As Shefveland (2019) states, the uprising that broke out in South Carolina was the first attempt to change the established order, and one of the catalysts was information about upcoming bills. The legislation was supposed to toughen living conditions for people from Africa in the colonies. Constant torture and inhuman colonists’ attitude prompted slaves to engage in real fighting, which, however, did not have a significant effect. At the same time, the wave of discontent raised by individual initiators became one of the drivers to resist slavery as an unacceptable social phenomenon.


Since 1619, the massive influx of slaves from Africa to the colonies of North America became one of the key directions for the development of trade relations on the continent. Free labor was supplied in great numbers, and by 1739, when the Stono Rebellion erupted, slaves had outnumbered the white population by half. Despite the lack of relief after the uprising, the event reflected widespread disaffection among oppressed African Americans over more than a century of social inequality.


Parish, P. J. (2018). Slavery: History and historians. Routledge.

Shefveland, K. M. (2019). American slavery, American state: Rethinking slavery and the creation of British North America. Reviews in American History, 47(4), 534-543. Web.

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