You are on page 1of 3

Rachel Caduri Prof.

Wishnoff HIS 103: 91342 2 October 2012 A common argument between historians is whether racism is what brought African American slavery to colonial America, or whether of African American slavery brought about racism. I believe in the latter, that the presence of African American slavery caused the idea of racism to develop. Using the reading Race, Gender, and Servitude in Virginia Law (16611691) from Speaking of America by Laura Belmonte to support my thesis, I will prove that African American slavery did in fact come first. Before African American slavery was used, colonists would hire indentured servants to work for them. Indentured servants were Africans or poor white men, who were practically slaves with the main differences being that indentured servants were treated as people, not property, and indentured servants worked for a certain amount of time until they earned their freedom. The reading says, Although Africans first arrived in 1619, their status was virtually identical to that of indentured servants. This quote clearly shows that before African American slavery was introduced, African Americans were treated as equals. Once slavery came about, they were no longer able to convert to Christianity to earn their freedom, they became lifelong servants, and became property. Had slavery never been introduced, African Americans would have continued to work as indentured servants alongside white folk, with the same rights as the indentured whites and there would never have been any sort of segregation between black and whites.

The text Race, Gender, and Servitude in Virginia Law (1661-1691) lists various Virginian laws relating to fornication and relationships between servants, slaves, and masters of both Caucasian and African American races. In March of 1661 a law stating that the consequences for fornication between a master and an indentured servant were that the master would have to pay a tobacco fine and the servant would have to serve another half year after her term ended. If a child came from these relations the servant would either have to serve an extra two years or pay a tobacco fine to the master. A little over a year later, in December of 1662, another law was passed saying that if the relations are between a white man and an African American and a child is produced, the status of the child will be based upon whether the mother is free or enslaved. By 1691 laws were being passed that made interracial marriage illegal, and if any interracial couple did get married they were banned from their colony within three months. During the 1660s African American slavery had just been starting up, and this is evident based on the laws. There was no extra punishment if the relation was between a white and a black, unless the white man or woman was a Christian. The only mention of race is in law passed in 1662, however it isnt specific to the womans race but to her status as a free African American or enslaved African American. However, a few decades later the law passed in 1691 had strong racist vibes. This change in the ideas strengthens my opinion that African American slavery preceded racism. The documents in Speaking of America say that before slavery, African Americans were able to live in the colonies as equals and work as indentured slaves. Also, the law in 1662 exemplified very few hints of racism, outside of religion, but had statements referring to African American slavery. However, the law in 1691 directly stated a racist idea, that interracial marriage was forbidden. This difference in themes shows that racism followed slavery. Both of these

examples from the text helped me to justify the argument that African American slavery was the cause of racism.