by Tamera Lynn Kraft
Most people think abolitionism didn’t really come to be until the early 1800, but abolitionist views in America started almost as early as slavery in America.
The first Africans that came to America, according to some historians, were sold to Jamestown colonists in 1619 as indentured servants although some say there were already Africans there. The twenty men had been stolen from a Portuguese slave ship and were allowed land and freedom when there period of service was done, but by the 1630s, some colonists were keeping African servants for life. John Punch, in 1640, was the first documented indentured for life servant. In 1662, the law recognized slavery and instituted statutes that any children born would follow the status of their mother making it so children could be born slaves.
The first dispute against this practice was that Christians could not own their brothers in Christ. If a slave was baptized in the faith, he had to be freed. In 1667, the General Assembly outlawed freedom by baptism. By 1705, an array of slave codes were enacted, and half of the labor force in Virginia. In the 1620s, the Dutch West India Company introduced slavery to New England, and be 1700, slavery was established as an institution there as well.
Even though slavery was being established in the colonies, there was a movement growing to end the practice. Throughout the 17th century, many evangelicals and Quakers came out against slavery. As early as 1688, four Quakers in Germantown signed a protest against the practice of slavery and made their case that the practice was not Christian and against Biblical precepts. In the 1730s and 1740s, during the Great Awakening, preachers decried owning slaves as sin.
During the American Revolution, Moravian and Quaker preachers convinced over a thousand slave owners to free their slaves. The newly formed states debated whether to allow slavery to continue. It was finally decided to outlaw the slave trade within twenty years and allow each state to decide for itself. The economy in the South was also encouraging freedom for slaves. Planters were shifting from labor-intensive tobacco to mixed-crop cultivation and needed fewer workers.
After the American Revolution, northern states gradually outlawed slavery. In 1808, the United States criminalized the slave trade and outlawed any new slaves being brought to America. If it hadn’t been for Eli Whitney’s cotton gin patent in 1794, slavery may have only been a footnote in history. The cotton gin overnight made the practice of slavery profitable. We’ll never know if the invention had been delayed twenty years, if that would have ended slavery. Either way, it didn’t end abolitionism. The abolitionist movement that started in Colonial times would continue to grow until a war forced the end of slavery in the United States.