English Across the Curriculum

African Americans

Age of Slavery

European traders brought the first slaves from Africa to the new colonies in the 1600s. After arriving in the New World they were bought by white masters and had to work on large cotton and tobacco farms in the South. They didn't get any money for their work and living conditions were very bad. The economy of the South depended on slaves.

Slave work was very difficult. Most women cooked, cleaned the house and raised the children of their white masters. Men were trained to be carpenters or masons. Most of them, however, were farm labourers. They planted and harvested crops.

Not all Blacks in America were slaves. "Free Blacks" lived and worked in big American cities but they had very few rights. Expressing political views, carrying guns and meeting with white people was forbidden.

Americans in the northern states thought that slavery shouldn't be allowed in a free country. As time went on more and more people joined in the fight to end slavery. These abolitionists helped slaves escape to the North through secret routes. This system was called the Underground Railway.

In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States. He was strongly against slavery. Many southern states withdrew from the union and formed their own country - the Confederate States of America. It was the beginning of the Civil War, which lasted until 1865.

In 1863 Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in the Emancipation Proclamation. The northern states won the Civil War and American slaves were free.

White people help blacks escape to the north
Image: Charles T. Webber, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons