Freedom: A History of US.
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Webisode 5: A Fatal Contradiction
Introduction Segment 1 Segment 2 Segment 3 Segment 4 Segment 5 Segment 6 Segment 7 Segment 8

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Slaves on the Wildfire
Segment 2
Early American slaves The Slave Trade

Slavery first came to America with some of the earliest settlers See It Now - Slaves at Jamestown, Virginia. But they weren't the first people to own human beings. Slavery was an evil found around the world. There were jobs no one wanted to do, and, in the days before machinery, slaves seemed an answer. If you were on the losing side of a war, or were kidnapped by a rival tribe or a thief, you might end up a slave. Some Native Americans owned slaves. It was an ancient practice in Africa. But slavery in Africa was a domestic institution. In America it would go way beyond that, developing into a system of enforced labor on vast plantations. And while in Africa blacks were owned by other blacks, in America blacks were always owned by whites. In America it would always be racial slavery.

By the eighteenth century there had developed a special pattern to the American slave trade. New England Yankees often started it by taking their salted cod to the Caribbean island of Barbados-just north of Venezuela. There they traded the fish for cane sugar. Then they headed back north to Virginia where they loaded tobacco before sailing east across the Atlantic to England. In England the cargo was exchanged for guns and cloth and trinkets—all of which could be used to buy human beings in Africa. Then the slave ships sailed south from England to Africa to fill their holds with African men, women, and children—who were the most valuable cargo of all See It Now - A British Slave Ship. Those people sailed west—against their wishes—and were usually taken to a Caribbean island or a southern port where the sea captains sold them for cash or more sugar. Finally, the crisscrossed triangular journey ended in Massachusetts or New York or Annapolis. Robert Walsh was an eyewitness of a slave ship in action. He wrote Hear It Now - Robert Walsh: "The slaves were all enclosed under grated hatchways, between decks. The space was so low they sat between each other's legs ... [and] there was no possibility of lying down, or at all changing their position, by night or day. Over the hatchway stood a ferocious-looking fellow with a scourge of many twisted thongs in his hand, who was the slavedriver of the ship.... The last parting sounds we heard from the unhallowed ship were the cries and shrieks of the slaves, suffering under some bodily affliction See It Now - Slaves on the WildfireCheck The Source - "Aboard a Slave Ship"."

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On board the slave ships many slaves got sick: cleanliness was almost impossible, the food was scanty and bad, and they were often beaten. Many sickened from depression and terror or from being kept locked up below decks. Slavers forced them to dance to keep their muscles in shape. It was another form of horrible humiliation.

Did you know that Freedom is adapted from the award-winning Oxford University Press multi-volume book series, A History of US by Joy Hakim?

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