Africans represent many different people, each with distinct cultures, religions, and languages. The first Africans arrived in America to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, just as indentured servants arrived in America from Europe, when a Dutch ship brought the first slaves from Africa to the shores of North America against their will.
At first, indentured servants were poor Europeans who wanted to escape harsh conditions and take advantage of opportunities in America. The Africans were brought to America’s developing colonies at a time when workers were needed to keep the economy running. The entire southern American economy and the states needed laborers to work on the plantations where they grew tobacco, cotton, and other crops. These plantations required large numbers of laborers. Slavery was less profitable in the North where economic activity centered on small farms. Therefore, few people in the North owned slaves. Most indentured servants had a contract to work without wages for four to seven years, after which they became free. Blacks brought in as slaves however had no right to eventual freedom.
Slavery spread quickly in the American colonies. At first the legal status of Africans in America was poorly defined, and some, like European indentured servants, managed to become free after several years of service. From 1619 to about 1640, Africans could earn their freedom working as laborers for the European settlers. In 1630, English colonists began to make a sharper distinction between the status of white servants and black slaves. Discrimination against black slaves began to increase. By 1640, Maryland became the first colony to institutionalize slavery. They became slaves who could be bought, sold, and solely owned by their masters.
During the mid-1600s, the colonies began to pass laws called slave codes. These codes prohibited slaves from owning weapons, receiving an education, and testifying against white...