Slavery in the colonial United States
The origins of slavery in the colonial United States (1600–1776) are complex and there are several theories that have been proposed to explain the trade. It was largely tied to European colonies' need for labor, especially plantation agricultural labor in their Caribbean sugar colonies operated by Great Britain, France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic.
Most slaves who were brought to the Thirteen British colonies which later became the Eastern seaboard of the United States were imported from the Caribbean, not directly from Africa. They arrived in the Caribbean predominantly as a result of the Atlantic slave trade. Although slavery of indigenous peoples also occurred in the North American colonies, by comparison of scale it was less important. Slave status for Africans usually became hereditary.
- 1 Background
- 2 The first enslaved Africans in what later became US territory
- 3 The development of slavery in 17th-century America
- 4 The Atlantic slave trade to North America
- 5 Gender and slavery
- 6 Indentured servitude
- 7 Enslavement of Native Americans
- 8 The beginning of the anti-slavery movement
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Although they knew about Spanish and Portuguese slave trading, the British did not conceive of using slave labor in the Americas until the 17th century. British travelers were fascinated by the dark-skinned people they found in West Africa, and sought to create mythologies that situated these new human beings in their view of the cosmos.
The first Africans to arrive in England came voluntarily with John Lok (an ancestor of the famous philosopher John Locke) in 1555. Lok intended to teach them English in order to facilitate trading of material goods. This model gave way to a slave trade initiated by John Hawkins, who captured 300 Africans and sold them to the Spanish. Blacks in England were subordinate but did not have the legal status of chattel slaves.
In 1607, England established Jamestown as its first permanent colony on the North American continent. Tobacco became the chief crop of the colony, due to the efforts of John Rolfe in 1611. Once it became clear that tobacco was going to drive the Jamestown colony, more labor was needed. The British aristocracy needed to find a labor force to work on its plantations in the Americas. The major possibilities were indentured servants from Britain, Native Americans, and West Africans. During this time in the Caribbean, Barbados became an English Colony in 1624 and Jamaica in 1655. These and other Caribbean colonies became the center of wealth and the focus of the slave trade for the growing English empire.
Towards indigenous Americans, the English entertained two lines of thought simultaneously. Because these people were lighter skinned, they were seen as more European and therefore as candidates for civilization. At the same time, because they were occupying the land desired by the colonial powers, they were from the beginning, targets of a potential military campaign.
At first, indentured servants were used as the needed labor. These servants provided up to seven years of service in exchange for having their trip to Jamestown paid for by someone in Jamestown. Once the seven years was over, the indentured servant was free to live in Jamestown as a regular citizen. However, colonists began to see indentured servants as too costly, and in 1619, Dutch traders brought the first African slaves to Jamestown, who nonetheless were in North America at first generally treated as indentured servants.
The first enslaved Africans in what later became US territory
Early Spanish southeast
The first enslaved Africans arrived in what is now the United States as part of the San Miguel de Gualdape colony (most likely located in the Winyah Bay area of present-day South Carolina), founded by Spanish explorer Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón in 1526. On October 18, 1526, Ayllón died and the colony was almost immediately disrupted by a fight over leadership, during which the slaves revolted and fled the colony to seek refuge among local Native Americans. Many of the colonists died shortly afterwards of an epidemic, and the colony was abandoned, leaving the escaped enslaved Africans behind in what is now South Carolina. In addition to being the first instance of enslaved Africans in the United States, San Miguel de Guadalpe was also the first documented slave rebellion on North American soil.
|British America (minus North America)||18.4%|
|British North America||6.45%|
|Dutch West Indies||2.0%|
|Danish West Indies||0.3%|
In 1565, the colony of Saint Augustine in Florida, founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés became the first permanent European settlement in North America, and included an unknown number of free and enslaved Africans that were part of this colonial expedition.
Until the early 18th century, enslaved Africans were difficult to acquire in the colonies that became the United States, as most were sold in the West Indies. One of the first major establishments of African slavery in these colonies occurred with the founding of Charles Town and the Province of Carolina in 1670. The colony was founded mainly by planters from the overpopulated British sugar island colony of Barbados, who brought relatively large numbers of African slaves from that island.
For several decades it was difficult to acquire African slaves north of the Caribbean. To meet agricultural labor needs, colonists practiced Indian slavery for some time. The Carolinians transformed the Indian slave trade during the late 17th and early 18th centuries by treating slaves as a trade commodity to be exported, mainly to the West Indies. Alan Gallay estimates that between 1670 and 1715, between 24,000 and 51,000 captive Native Americans were exported from South Carolina—much more than the number of Africans imported to the colonies of the future United States during the same period.
The first Africans to be brought to English North America landed in Virginia in 1619. These individuals appear to have been treated as indentured servants, and a significant number of enslaved Africans even won their freedom through fulfilling a work contract or for converting to Christianity. Some successful free people of color, such as Anthony Johnson, acquired slaves or indentured servants themselves. To many historians, notably Edmund Morgan, this evidence suggests that racial attitudes were much more flexible in 17th century Virginia than they would subsequently become. A 1625 census recorded 23 Africans in Virginia. In 1649 there were 300, and in 1690 there were 950.
Midwest, Mississippi River, and Louisiana
The French introduced legalized slavery into their colonies in New France near the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. After the port of New Orleans, to the south, was founded in 1718, more African slaves were imported to the Illinois Country for use as agricultural or mining laborers. By the mid-eighteenth century, slaves accounted for as many as a third of the population in that area. Slavery existed in colonial Louisiana continuously during the French (1699 – 1763, and 1800 – 1803) and Spanish (1763 – 1800) periods of government. The first people enslaved by the French were Native Americans. Africans were brought to the area in the early 18th century, as part of efforts to develop the colony.
Implemented in colonial Louisiana in 1724, Louis XIV of France's Code Noir regulated the slave trade and the institution of slavery in the French colonies. It gave Louisiana a very different pattern of slavery compared to the rest of the United States. As written, the Code Noir gave some rights to slaves, including the right to marry. Although it authorized and codified cruel corporal punishment against slaves under certain conditions, it forbade slave owners to torture them or to separate married couples (or to separate young children from their mothers). It also required the owners to instruct slaves in the Catholic faith, implying that Africans were human beings endowed with a soul, an idea that had not been acknowledged until then.
The Code Noir also forbade interracial marriages, but interracial relationships were formed in New Orleans society. The mulattoes became an intermediate social caste between the whites and the blacks, while in the English colonies the mulattoes and blacks were considered equal and discriminated against equally.
The development of slavery in 17th-century America
The Dutch West India Company introduced slavery in 1625 with the importation of eleven enslaved blacks who worked as farmers, fur traders, and builders to New Amsterdam (present day New York City), capital of the nascent province of New Netherland, which later expanded across the North River (Hudson River) to Bergen (in today's New Jersey). Later slaves were held privately by the settlers to the area. Although enslaved, the Africans had a few basic rights and families were usually kept intact. Admitted to the Dutch Reformed Church and married by its ministers, their children could be baptized. Slaves could testify in court, sign legal documents, and bring civil actions against whites. Some were permitted to work after hours earning wages equal to those paid to white workers. When the colony fell, the company freed all its slaves, establishing early on a nucleus of free negros.
The barriers of slavery hardened in the Second half of the 17th century, and imported Africans' prospects grew increasingly dim. By 1640, the Virginia courts had sentenced at least one black servant, John Punch, to slavery. In 1656 Elizabeth Key won a suit for freedom based on her father's status as a free Englishman, and his having baptized her as Christian in the Church of England. In 1662 the Virginia House of Burgesses passed a law with the doctrine of partus, stating that any child born in the colony would follow the status of its mother, bond or free. This was an overturn of a longheld principle of English Common Law, whereby a child's status followed that of the father. It enabled slaveholders and other white men to hide the mixed-race children born of their rape of slave women and removed their responsibility to acknowledge, support, or emancipate the children.
During the second half of the 17th century, the British economy improved and the supply of British indentured servants declined, as poor Britons had better economic opportunities at home. At the same time, Bacon's Rebellion of 1676 led planters to worry about the prospective dangers of creating a large class of restless, landless, and relatively poor white men (most of them former indentured servants). Wealthy Virginia and Maryland planters began to buy slaves in preference to indentured servants during the 1660s and 1670s, and poorer planters followed suit by c.1700. (Slaves cost more than servants, so initially only the wealthy could invest in slaves.) The first British colonists in Carolina introduced African slavery into the colony in 1670, the year the colony was founded, and slavery spread rapidly throughout the Southern colonies. Northerners also purchased slaves, though on a much smaller scale. Northern slaves typically dwelled in towns and worked as artisans and artisans' assistants, sailors and longshoremen, and domestic servants.
In 1672, the King of England rechartered the Royal African Company (it had initially been set up in 1660), as an English monopoly for the African slave and commodities trade—thereafter in 1698, by statute, the English parliament opened the trade to all English subjects. The slave trade to the mid-Atlantic colonies increased substantially in the 1680s, and by 1710 the African population in Virginia had increased to 23,100 (42% of total); Maryland contained 8,000 Africans (23% of total). In the early 18th century, England passed Spain and Portugal to become the world's leading slave-trader.
The North American royal colonies not only imported Africans but also captured Native Americans, impressing them into slavery. Many Native Americans were shipped as slaves to the Caribbean. Many of these slaves from the British colonies were able to escape by heading south, to the Spanish colony of Florida. There they were given their freedom, if they declared their allegiance to the King of Spain and accepted the Catholic Church. In 1739 Fort Mose was established by African American freedmen and became the northern defense post for St. Augustine. In 1740, English forces attacked and destroyed the fort, which was rebuilt in 1752. Because Fort Mose became a haven for escaped slaves from the English colonies to the north, it is considered a precursor site of the Underground Railroad.
Curiously, chattel slavery developed in British North America before the legal apparatus that supported slavery did. During the late 17th century and early 18th century, harsh new slave codes limited the rights of African slaves and cut off their avenues to freedom. The first full-scale slave code in British North America was South Carolina's (1696), which was modeled on the colonial Barbados slave code of 1661 and was updated and expanded regularly throughout the 18th century.
A 1691 Virginia law prohibited slaveholders from emancipating slaves unless they paid for the freedmen's transportation out of Virginia. Virginia criminalized interracial marriage in 1691, and subsequent laws abolished blacks' rights to vote, hold office, and bear arms. Virginia's House of Burgesses established the basic legal framework for slavery in 1705.
The Atlantic slave trade to North America
Only a fraction of the enslaved Africans brought to the New World ended up in British North America — perhaps 5-7%. The vast majority of slaves transported across the Atlantic Ocean were sent to the Caribbean sugar colonies, Brazil, or Spanish America. Throughout the Americas, but especially in the Caribbean, tropical disease took a large toll on their population and required large numbers of replacements. Many Africans had a limited natural immunity to yellow fever and malaria; but malnutrition, poor housing, inadequate clothing allowances, and overwork contributed to a high mortality rate.
In British North America the slave population rapidly increased via the birth rate, whereas in the Caribbean colonies they did not. The lack of proper nourishment, being suppressed sexually, and poor health are possible reasons. Of the small numbers of babies born to slaves in the Caribbean, only about 1/4 survived the miserable conditions on sugar plantations.
It was not only the major colonial powers of Western Europe such as France, England, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands that were involved. Other countries, including Sweden and Denmark, participated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade through on a much more limited scale.
Gender and slavery
Though slavery was equally as tragic and traumatic for black men and women, the experience of slavery affected them in different ways. "Depending upon their age and gender, slaves were assigned a particular task, or tasks, that had to be completed during the course of the day." In certain settings, men would participate in the hard labor, such as working on the farm, while women would generally work in the household. They would "be sent out on errands, but in most cases their jobs required that they spend much of their time within their owner's household." These gender distinctions were mainly applied in the Northern colonies and on larger plantations. In Southern colonies and smaller farms, however, women and men typically engaged in the same roles, both working in the tobacco crop fields for example.
Although slave women and men in some areas performed the same type of day-to-day work, women were in constant fear of being assaulted by their slave owners. "The female slave...was faced with the prospect of being forced into sexual relationships for the purpose of reproduction." This reproduction would either be forced between one African slave and another, or between the slave woman and the owner. Slave owners saw slave women in terms of prospective fertility. That way, the number of slaves on a plantation could multiply without having to purchase another African. Unlike the patriarchal society of white Anglo-American colonists, "slave families" were more matriarchal in practice. "Masters believed that slave mothers, like white women, had a natural bond with their children that therefore it was their responsibility-more so than that of slave fathers-to care for their offspring." Therefore, women had the extra responsibility, on top of their other day-to-day work, to take care of children. Men, in turn, were often separated from their families. "At the same time that slaveholders promoted a strong bond between slave mother and their children, they denied to slave fathers their paternal rights of ownership and authority..." Biological families were often separated by sale.
Women and men alike struggled from one day to the next to finish the work they were assigned and survived. Even though the work varied vastly between the two genders, it is important to see that neither side had it easy. Men were always forced to embark in long, grueling days in the fields, while women were sometimes forced to do the same, or to take part in domestic duties, as well as care for children.
Some historians, notably Edmund Morgan, have suggested that indentured servitude provided a model for slavery in 17th-century Virginia. In practice, indentured servants were teenagers in England whose father sold their labor voluntarily for a period of time (typically four to seven years), in return for free passage to the colonies, room and board and clothes, and training in an occupation. After that they received cash, clothing, tools, and/or land, and became ordinary settlers.
Enslavement of Native Americans
Pre-contact indigenous peoples in the American southeast had practiced a form of slavery on people captured during warfare. Larger societies structured as chiefdoms kept slaves as unpaid field laborers, while in band societies the ownership of enslaved captives attested to their captor's military prowess. Some war captives were also subjected to ritualized torture and execution. Alan Gallay and other historians emphasize differences between Native American enslavement of war captives and the European slave trading system, into which numerous native peoples were integrated. In North America, among the indigenous people, slavery was more a 'rite of passage' or system of assimilating outside individuals into groups rather than a property or ownership right. Richard White, in The Middle Ground elucidates the complex social relationships between American Indian groups and the early empires, including 'slave' culture and scalping. Robbie Ethridge states, "Let there be no doubt…that the commercial trade in Indian slaves was not a continuation and adaptation of pre-existing captivity patterns. It was a new kind of slaving, requiring a new kind of occupational specialty…organized militaristic slavers." One example of this militaristic slaving can be seen in Nathaniel Bacon's actions in Virginia during the late 1670s. In June of 1676, the Virginia assembly granted Bacon and his men what equated to a slave-hunting license by providing that any enemy Indians caught were to be slaves for life. They also provided soldiers who had captured Indians with the right to "reteyne and keepe all such Indian slaves or other Indian goods as they either have taken or hereafter shall take." By this order, the assembly had made a public decision to enslave Indians. In the years to follow, other laws resulted in Indians being grouped with other non-Christian servants who had imported to the colonies (Negro slaves) as slaves for life.
Puritan New England, Virginia, Spanish Florida, and the Carolina colonies engaged large-scale enslavement of Native Americans, often through the use of Indian proxies to wage war and acquire the slaves. In New England, slave raiding accompanied the Pequot War and King Philip's War, but declined after the latter war ended in 1676. Enslaved Indians were in Jamestown from the early years of the settlement, but large-scale cooperation between English slavers and the Westo and Occaneechi peoples, whom they armed with guns, did not begin until the 1640s. These groups conducted enslaving raids in what is now Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and possible Alabama. The Carolina slave trade, which included both trading and direct raids by colonists, was the largest among the British colonies in North America, estimated at 24,000 to 51,000 Indians by Gallay.
Historian Ulrich Phillips argues that Africans were inculcated as slaves and the best answer to the labor shortage in the New World because American Indian slaves were more familiar with the environment, and would often successfully escape into the wilderness that African slaves had much more difficulty surviving in. Also, early colonial America depended heavily on the sugar trade, which led to malaria, a disease the Africans were far less susceptible to than Native American slaves.
Thomas Greenwich; he is a well made fellow, about 5 feet 4 inches high, wears his own hair..." Most of the Indian slaves were already converted to Christianity, were fluent in English, and took western names. Their original names and homes will never be known, and they have since merged with the black community. Today, descendants of these Indian slaves have a very small pe most of their ancestry is African.
The beginning of the anti-slavery movement
African and African American slaves expressed their opposition to slavery through armed uprisings such as the Stono Rebellion (1739) and the New York Slave Insurrection of 1741, through malingering and tool-breaking, and most commonly, by running away, either for short periods or permanently. Until the Revolutionary era, almost no white American colonists spoke out against slavery. Even the Quakers generally tolerated slaveholding (and slave-trading) until the mid-18th century, although they emerged as vocal opponents of slavery in the Revolutionary era.
In 1688, four German Quakers in Germantown, a town outside Philadelphia, wrote a petition against the use of slaves by the English colonists in the nearby countryside. They presented the petition to their local Quaker Meeting, and the Meeting was sympathetic, but could not decide what the appropriate response should be. The Meeting passed the petition up the chain of authority to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, where it continued to be ignored and was archived and forgotten for 150 years. In 1844 the petition was rediscovered and became a focus of the burgeoning abolitionist movement. It was the first public American document of its kind to protest slavery. It was also one of the first public declarations of universal human rights. Thus although the petition itself was forgotten, the idea that every human has equal rights was discussed in Philadelphia Quaker society over the next century. Slavery was officially sanctioned by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1776. Following the Revolution, the northern states all abolished slavery, with New Jersey acting last in 1804, although some of these laws merely reclassified slaves as indentured servants effectively maintaining slavery by another name. These state jurisdictions enacted the first abolition laws in the entire "New World". By 1808 all states (except South Carolina) had banned the international buying or selling of slaves. Acting on the advice of President Thomas Jefferson, who denounced the international trade as "violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, in which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe" in 1807 Congress banned the international slave trade. However, the domestic slave trade continued.
- Atlantic slave trade
- Colonial history of the United States
- Free negro
- Free people of color
- History of slavery
- History of slavery in Connecticut
- History of slavery in Delaware
- History of slavery in Georgia
- History of slavery in Louisiana
- History of slavery in Maryland
- History of slavery in Massachusetts
- History of slavery in North Carolina
- History of slavery in New Jersey
- History of slavery in New York
- History of slavery in Pennsylvania
- History of slavery in Rhode Island
- History of slavery in South Carolina
- History of slavery in Virginia
- Indentured servants
- Slave ship
- Slave rebellion
- Slave Trade Act
- Slavery among Native Americans in the United States
- Slavery at common law
- Slavery in Africa
- Slavery in Canada
- Slavery in the British and French Caribbean
- Slavery in the Spanish New World colonies
- Slavery in the United States
- Oxford Journals
- Los Angeles Times
- Wood, Origins of American Slavery (1997), p. 21. "Yet those in high places who advocated the overseas expansion of England did not propose that West Africans could, should, or would be enslaved by the English in the Americas. Indeed, West Africans scarcely figured at all in the sixteenth-century English agenda for the New World."
- Wood, Origins of American Slavery (1997), p. 23. "More than anything else it was the blackness of West Africans that at once fascinated and repelled English commentators. The negative connotations that the English had long attached to the color black were to deeply prejudice their assessment of West Africans."
- Wood, Origins of American Slavery (1997), p. 26. "It seems that these men were the first West Africans to set foot in England, and their arrival marked the beginning of a black British population. The men in question had come to England willingly. Lok's sole motive was to facilitate English trading links with West Africa. He intended that these five men should be taught English, and something about English commercial practices, and then returned home to act as intermediaries between the English and their prospective West African trading partners."
- Wood, Origins of American Slavery (1997), p. 27.
- Wood, Origins of American Slavery (1997), p. 28.
- New York Times
- Wood, Origins of American Slavery (1997), p. 18.
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- Stephen D. Behrendt, David Richardson, and David Eltis, W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research, Harvard University. Based on "records for 27,233 voyages that set out to obtain enslaved Africans for the Americas". Stephen Behrendt (1999). "Transatlantic Slave Trade". Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. New York: Basic Civitas Books. ISBN 0-465-00071-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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- Wood, Origins of American Slavery (1997), p. 88.
- Aboard the Underground Railroad - Fort Mose Site
- Alan Taylor, American Colonies (New York: Viking, 2001), p. 213.
- Alan Taylor, American Colonies (New York: Viking, 2001), p. 156.
- America Past and Present Online - The Laws of Virginia (1662, 1691, 1705)
- Wood, Origins of American Slavery (1997), p. 92. "In 1705, almost exactly a century after the first colonists had set foot in Jamestown, the House of Burgesses codified and systematized Virginia's laws of slavery. These laws would be modified and added to over the next century and a half, but the essential legal framework within which the institution of slavery would subsequently operate had been put in place."
- Wood, Betty (January 1, 2005). Slavery in Colonial America. Rowman and Littlefield. p. 33.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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- Gallay, Alan. (2002) The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South 1670–1717. Yale University Press: New York. ISBN 0-300-10193-7, pg. 29
- Gallay, Alan. (2002) The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South 1670–1717. Yale University Press: New York. ISBN 0-300-10193-7, p. 187–90.
- "Europeans did not introduce slavery or the notion of slaves as labourers to the American South but instead were responsible for stimulating a vast trade in humans as commodities." (p. 29) "In Native American societies, ownership of individuals was more a matter of status for the owner and a statement of debasement and "otherness" for the slave than it was a means to obtain economic rewards from unfree labor. … The slave trade was an entirely new enterprise for most people of all three culture groups [Native American, European, and African]." (p. 8) Gallay, Alan. (2002) The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South 1670–1717. Yale University Press: New York. ISBN 0-300-10193-7, pg. 29
- White, Richard. (1991) The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-42460-7
- Ethridge, From Chicaza to Chickasaw (2010), p. 93.
- Morgan, Edmund (1975). American Slavery, American Freedom. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. pp. 328–329. ISBN 978-0-393-32494-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Ethridge, From Chicaza to Chickasaw (2010), pp. 97–98.
- Ethridge, From Chicaza to Chickasaw (2010), p. 109.
- Ethridge, From Chicaza to Chickasaw (2010), p. 65.
- Figures cited in Ethridge, From Chicaza to Chickasaw (2010), p. 237.
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- Dumas Malone, Jefferson and the President: Second Term, 1805-1809 (1974) pp. 543-4
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- Wood, Betty. The Origins of American Slavery. New York: Hill and Wang, 1997. ISBN 978-0-8090-1608-2.
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- McManus, Edgar J. A History of Negro Slavery in New York, Syracuse University Press, 1966
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- Olwell, Robert. Masters, Slaves, & Subjects: The Culture of Power in the South Carolina Low Country, 1740–1790 (1998).
- Schwalm, Leslie A. A Hard Fight for We: Women's Transition from Slavery to Freedom in South Carolina. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
- White, Deborah Gray. Ar'n't I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South. New York: Norton, 1985.
- Williams, Eric, Capitalism and Slavery. 4th edition, 1975.
- Wood, Betty. Slavery in Colonial America, 1619-1776 (2005)
- Wood, Betty. Slavery In Colonial Georgia, 1730-1775 (2007)
- Wood, Peter H. Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (1974).