In historical time, slavery in Africa had various forms which sometimes did not correspond to the concept of slavery adopted in the rest of the world. However, in the middle of the 15th century, Europeans began to establish trade for African captives. Such a stage was devastating for Africa but significantly contributed to the economic development of Europe. In the given paper, differences between the practices of slavery in Africa and Europe are discussed, as well as some aspects of the slavery experience in Europe.
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Contrary to European slavery, in Africa, slavery had a complex structure that included the rights and freedoms of slaves. In Africa, slavery was a result of deft or war crime, whereas, in Europe, it was a result of trade. Slaves in the Songhai Empire were mainly used in agriculture, where they were obliged to work for the owner with a few limitations. In many cases, slaves were not proprietary and did not remain servants for life.
In Europe, though, slaves were treated as property and were discouraged from getting married, whereas African forms of slavery included the establishment of family ties. In many communities that did not assume ownership of the land, slavery was used to increase influence and expand ties. In this case, slaves became part of the family of their masters (Loverjoy, 2012). Children of servants could achieve a high position in such a community and even become leaders. But more often, there was a strict border between free and non-free people.
In 1642, servants brought into the colony without indentures had to serve one year if they were above 20 years old; 5 years if they were from 12 to 20; and seven years if they were under 12 (The slave experience: Legal rights & Government, n.d.).
In 1657, servants over 26 years old were obliged to serve four years, and servants under 15 years old had to serve till they were 21. In 1666, according to the Virginia Commonwealth act, if a person was 19 years old or above, he had to serve five years; if a person was younger, he had to serve until the age of 21. Since 1705, slaves who were brought without indenture and were above 19 years old had to serve until they were 24 (The slave experience: Legal rights & Government, n.d.). Therefore, the length of service of slaves without indentures gradually increased.
It was in 1662 that black servants faced the possibility of servitude. According to the General Assembly of Virginia, a child who was born to a black mother was declared enslaved or free depending on the condition of the mother (The slave experience: Legal rights & Government, n.d.). Therefore, even if a child was born to a black woman by an Englishman, he or she might become a slave.
European traders treated African slaves as their property which was expressed in many ways. For example, according to the act of “casual killing,” it was legal for masters to kill servants resisting them (The slave experience: Living, n.d.). It should be mentioned that in this act, slaves are referred to as a master’s “own estate.” Moreover, in 1705, the General Assembly of Virginia proclaimed all black slaves to be real property (The slave experience: Legal rights & Government, n.d.). Contrary to free white people, free black people could not buy servants of the white race. Black people were also restricted in their personal rights in that they could be punished for leaving a plantation, causing damage to the property of a white person, and trying to run away.
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To sum up, one may assume that the position of slaves in Africa was significantly different from that of African slaves in Europe. In Africa, slaves were given certain rights and freedoms, whereas, in Europe, African servants were treated as property with no rights at all. Brought without indentures or covenants, African servants were doomed to several years of slavery. Moreover, the position of African servants in Europe was gradually becoming worse between 1642 and 1705.
Lovejoy, P. (2012). Transformations of slavery: A history of slavery in Africa. London: Cambridge University Press.
The slave experience: Legal rights & Government. (n.d.). Web.
The slave experience: Living. (n.d.). Web.