Slavery Essay

The Chesapeake region refers to the English colonies of Virginia and Maryland, both founded early in the seventeenth century (1607 and 1632, respectively). Virginia as the first successful English settlement of what would become the continental colonies established important precedence followed by late colonies and therefore what happened in Virginia in the early 1600s can tell us about all of the colonies.

Our subject is slavery and the question is: was slavery motivated by racism, economics, or both? There are numerous books, articles, and documentaries on this subject but rather than reading what someone else has written, you can examine the evidence for yourself and come to a conclusion.

What is the evidence?

First, there is a series of laws passed in the Chesapeake colonies of Virginia and Maryland between 1619 and 1680, that you will cite in text by referring to an individual laws law (ex: “the 1664 law outlawed ….” ) and then use parenthetical documentation (Chesapeake Laws).

Second, there are two sets of images. The first are drawings by John White who established the failed colony at Roanoke in 1585 that were later engraved and published by Theodore de Bry, thereby disseminating or sharing the images with a larger audience. White traveled to North America but sailed to England to get more supplies and, of course when he finally returned to Roanoke the inhabitants, including his daughter and granddaughter, were gone.

The second set of drawings are by John Barbot. Barbot was French (his first name is actually Jean but the English tended to anglicize names). Barbot worked for the French Royal African Company and sailed to the West Coast of Africa in 1678 and again in 1682 before publishing an illustrated account of his trip in 1682; it was later translated into English. These men provided us with an idea of how Europeans saw Native Americans (White) and Africans (Barbot). Did they view them as similar? Or different?

Third, there are descriptions of Africans and Native Americans. George Best, an Englishman who was part of Martin Frobisher’s 1576 expedition in search of the Northwest Passage, provides us with his speculations on people’s ability to live in the world’s different climactic zones. This discussion led him to conjecture (speculate) as to why Africans (who he refers to as Ethiopians) were black.

While he doesn’t speak for all Englishmen, other sources indicate that his views were not unusual. Unfortunately, his writing is a very strong demonstration as to why proper spelling and good grammar are important! He takes the reader through his thought process in which he raises an idea and then rejects it. His ultimate explanation comes from the Judeo-Christian biblical story of Noah’s ark and the actions of one of Noah’s sons, Ham.

Fourth, there are numbers. There are a series of charts that present information on longevity, on the contracted years of service for an indentured servant, and the costs of an indentured servant or a slave. In addition, there is a chart that demonstrates the economic and demographic problems in seventeenth-century England.

Attached files:

AMH 2010 Chesapeake Labor documents.pdf



The historian Winthrop Jordan called Virginia’s move into slavery an “unthinking decision;” yet was it?[1] Did race-based slavery simply happen to Virginia, or did slavery emerge in Virginia when and how it did for very specific reasons? Slavery was not part of the England that established Virginia.

As an institution, slavery had vanished from English law and custom hundreds of years earlier. In addition, most English settlers of the seventeenth century found Africans revolting, frightening, or both.So why did Virginia create a system of slavery? After years of employing indentured servants to grow tobacco, what convinced Virginians that slaves were necessary?

And why enslave Africans when Native Americans were both closer and more familiar? Use and cite evidence from the documents to support your analysis of Jordan’s statement. References to ALL of the documents must be incorporated into your essay. Do not use outside sources.


The question may seem broad but it is intended for students to incorporate the variety of documents you are reading. The documents are intended to introduce complexity with which students must come to terms.


Length: There is a two-page minimum length requirement for this essay. IncorporatingALL of the sources into a thorough analysis of the question may require more than two pages.


Formatting: Compose your answer in a word processing file and follow the basic guidelines for a college paper: 12-point Times New Roman Font, double-spaced, 1” margin. Save the file in an appropriate format (doc, docx, pdf, or rtf). Upload the digital version of the essay to Canvas. All students must upload their essay. Hand the professor a paper copy. Both forms of the essay are necessary for grading.


Citing Your Sources: For purposes of this assignment, please cite your sources by referring to the short-hand version of the document name that is used on the documents. You must cite your sources either parenthetically or in text: For example:


The English thought of the natives of Virginia as tall and physically strong but few in number (Smith).


Smith published account of his explorations in Virginia described the natives as tall and physically strong but few in number.





Some of the documents that you are reading and analyzing can be found online at Digital History Reader website. You may visit this website when reading the documents.


Checklist of documents to use when answering the question of whether the emergence of slavery was an unthinking decision:


  • Best
  • Smith
  • Barbot
  • DeBry (White)
  • Chesapeake laws
  • Charts on life expectancy, labor prices, terms of service, etc.




[1]Winthrop D. Jordan, The White Man’s Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974).

Last Updated on September 20, 2019

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