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part 1 - SLAVERY

( Fabienne BAZZICONI - académie Aix-Marseille )


what is slavery ?

Slavery is a system of labor in which people are forced to work for someone else without pay and without the freedom to leave if they want to. Enslaved people have to work and live as their masters tell them to. They have no freedom to make their own decisions about where they will live, what they will do, or where they will go.

In the United States, slavery began during the early colonial years, in the early 1600s, and lasted until the mid-1860s. It lasted almost two hundred and fifty years. The system of slavery here was particularly harsh. Enslaved persons were considered property, like cows and sheep, or like the furniture in someone's house. They could be bought and sold just like other property. This meant that families could be separated. Children could be sold to one owner while a mother or father, sister or brother could be sold to other owners. The family members might never see each other again.

Slavery inthe U.S.A

From Africa to America

Slavery in America started in the 17th century and was abolished in 1865 when the Civil War was won by the North.

The first Blacks in the USA came from Africa , that's why they are called "African Americans" . They didn't come to the USA as free persons , they were sent to the USA as slaves.
The first slaves in the American colonies arrived on a Dutch ship in Jamestown , Virginia in 1619 .
Over the 200 years , around 600,000 more slaves were brought to America , most of them to work on tobacco and cotton fields.
Slaves were brought over from the continent of Africa.
African families were captured in their villages and chained together .
Then , they were packed into dirty ships and carried like cargo across the Atlantic Ocean . This trip from Africa to America was called "The Middle Passage" .
The conditions on the slave ships were terrible . Slaves were chained up and unable to move . Many slaves died during the trip due to disease and starvation.

In America

The slaves were sold and bought at public auctions like cattle The families often lived together but they could be separated too.

In the South , many slaves worked in their masters' large plantations , in tobacco and cotton fields . In 1860 , there were around 4 million slaves in the Southern states.

Slaves were forced to work from sunrise to sunset

Plantation owners often hired overseers to manage the slaves in the fields . An overseer could whip or beat a slave for many reasons : not working hard enough , showing up late to the fields .

In the North , they usually worked in smaller farms . Some of them were house slaves : they worked inside their masters' houses as servants , or nannies

Slaves didn't have much food and their living quarters were small. A slave family typically lived in a small wood cabin. Most cabins were only one or two rooms , with leaky roofs , drafty walls and dirty floors.
Those cabins were usually set apart from the owners' "Big House".


The colonies established laws regarding slaves called "slave codes". Slave owners had absolute power over their slaves and slaves had no rights. In many places, enslaved people were not allowed to learn to read and write. They were not protected by the laws that protected free citizens. They did not have the rights that other people did.

Some of the laws from the "slave codes" detailed the punishment for slaves who tried to escape . If they were caught , they were mutilated , lynched and even killed.

Escape from Slavery

- the Underground Railroad

In the 19th century , slaves used a secret network to run away to Northern States or Canada . This network was called "The Underground Railroad" . It was not a real railroad : slaves didn't have to take a train . It was a network of routes organized by people who helped slaves escape. The fugitive slaves were called "passengers" and hiding places were called "stations" , "safe houses or depots" . The people operating these places were called "stationmasters". Slaves were helped by "conductors" who guided them to a station that was marked by a candle at the window. Runaways could only travel at night and so they had to find their way by looking at the stars and constellations. Fugitives had to disguise themselves and to use coded messages and songs. They couldn't speak to anyone , they had to be very careful : one word heard by the wrong person could put an end to their journey. As many as 100,000 slaves escaped along " The Underground Railroad" during the 18000's . This network helped open the eyes on the question of slavery.

Although most Underground Railroad workers helped in secret , a few became famous.

Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Maryland in 1822. She was one of the most famous Underground Conductors . After she successfully escaped from her plantation in 1849 to the free state of Pennsylvania thanks to the "Underground Railroad" , she came back to Maryland 19 times to lead family members , friends and other slaves to freedom. She saved hundreds of people . It is said that she never lost a single "passenger" ! Slave owners offered huge rewards for her capture. There is a museum in Macon , Georgia , named after her : the "Tubman African American museum"

HARRIET TUBMAN ( 1822 - 1913 )


After the American Revolution , many Northern states outlawed slavery . By 1840 most slaves who lived north of the Mason-Dixon Line were set free. Many people in the north felt that slavery should be illegal in all the United States . These people were called "abolitionists" because they wanted to "abolish" slavery. So the United States became divided between slave states in the South and free states to the north. When new states were added , one of the major issues was whether the new state would legalize slavery or not.

Map of the United States of America ( 1854 )

THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR ( 1861 - 1865 )

Before the Civil war , America was divided into 2 groups : Slave states in the South ( Mississippi , Alabama , Louisiana ..) and Free states in the North ( Pennsylvania , Massachusetts ,..) . The southern states didn't want the abolition of slavery because their economy relied greatly on this practice . But the new president of the USA , Abraham Lincoln , said that slavery was to be banned . The southern states decided that , in this case , they didn't want to be part of the nation anymore . So , they decided to secede and called themselves " The Confederate States" , "The Confederation". There result fightings and the beginning of the Civil War in April 1861. Over half a million Americans were killed by the end of the war , in 1865 , when the North won and the confederate states were reintegrated. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation Act of 1863 and slavery was abolished with the Thirteen Amendment to the United States Constitution. In 1868 former slaves were given the American nationality.

Abraham Lincoln

was an American statesman, politician, and lawyer who served as the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in April 1865