Up until the 1670s, almost all Chesapeake colonists were white people from England. By 1700, 1 out of 8 people in the colony was a black person from Africa.
The black population grew 5x between 1670 and 1700 as tobacco planters shifted from indentured servant to slave labor.
Why the switch?
- Slaves cost 3-5x more than indentured servants - but because they never gained freedom, it was a ONE TIME cost instead of a recurring cost.
- mortality rates among slaves had declined - so slaves were living longer.
- slaves were a PERPETUAL labor force since the Slave Codes made slave status inheritable. So you were able to purchase a slave, but his/ her children and their children would also belong to you.
- political control - slaves would not rebel or revolt (Bacon's Rebellion)
Slavery polarized Chesapeake society along the lines of race and status: all slaves were black and nearly all blacks were slaves. All free people were white, and almost all white people were free or only temporarily bound to the term of indenture. The slave labor system thus received tensions between the poor and rich and provided a common privilege of freedom that all white people shared - regardless of their social/ economic status.
Life for Slaves in the Chesapeake:
- most slaves had frequent and close contact with white people
- white indentured servants and black slaves would perform the same tasks and work side by side
- slaves were able to build communities with other slaves - including families and marriage
- some slaves ran away (or tried to) but were usually captured and returned.
- very few slave rebellions/ insurrections.