Slavery in South Carolina and Chesapeake Colonies

Slavery in South Carolina and Chesapeake Colonies

Slavery began arriving in the New World as early as the 15th Century. The bulk of the slaves came from Africa, especially West Africa. Slavery existed in Africa long before the arrival of the Europeans. Slaves in Africa pre-European arrival tended to be criminals, debtors, or prisoners of war. The arrival of the Portuguese and later other European merchants accelerated the buying and selling of slaves (Foner, 2019). The Transatlantic slave trade accelerated the bringing of slaves into the New World. Slaves in the new world were mainly for economic reasons; many worked in sugar, rice, coffee, and tobacco plantations. As more colonies and empires grew in the New World, more slaves were brought in to work in the farms. More than half of the estimated 7.7 million slaves transported to the New World from 1492 arrived between 1700-1800. The different colonies and empires treated slaves in different ways, especially on issues regarding freedoms and liberties. The slavery systems of South Carolina and Chesapeake colonies were greatly influenced by plantation farming. Economic interests in these colonies superseded the freedoms and liberties of the slaves in these two colonies.

Both the slavery systems in Chesapeake and Carolina colonies were influenced by plantation farming. Chesapeake colonies grew tobacco, while the South Carolina cultivated rice. Initially, the Chesapeake colonies, which comprised of Virginia and Maryland, had embraced indentured servitude. In the 18th Century, however, there was a rise in the global demand for tobacco leading to an explosion of tobacco plantation farming (Foner, 2019, p. 294). Consequently, there was a demand for more slaves, a development that led to the shift from indentured servitude to outright slavery. Unlike in Chesapeake colonies, the settlers of South Carolina initially enslaved natives of the land, mainly The Creek Indians, who were sold by other Creek Indians elite. The sold slaves were mostly war prisoners from other Indian native tribes. However, the growth of South Carolina rice plantation led to a demand for more slaves hence the importation of African Slaves to South Carolina.

Initially,  the South Carolina colony and Chesapeake colonies of Virginia allowed some form of freedom to their African born slaves. They were allocated small farms where they farmed, reared livestock, and also served in the early militia groups that fought the Indians and Spaniards. However, the growth and expansion of plantation farming led to the importation of more slaves to be used in the farms. The freedoms the slaves enjoyed diminished as focus shifted to extensive plantation farming. This development led to a growing divide between white and black people (Foner, 2019, p. 297).

Unlike in the tobacco plantations of Chesapeake, it was the African slaves who taught the settlers how to cultivate rice as they had learned and perfected it in Africa. In the tobacco plantations of Chesapeake, the slaves worked in groups under supervision while in South Carolina, each slave was allocated a daily task under the task system, which became more profound in the mid 18th Century (Foner, 2019, p. 299). After completion of the task, the slave was allowed time for leisure or individual farming in the small portions of land allocated.

Both the slavery systems of South Carolina and Virginia faced rebellions. In South Carolina, the major rebellion occasioned by slavery was the September 1739 Stono rebellion. Slaves believed to have recently arrived from Congo started a  march to Florida. In their wake, they destroyed houses and rice barns and killed several white people. By the end of the rebellion, over 200 slaves and two dozen whites died (Class Ppt, Slave Rebellion). The overall result of the rebellion was the tightening of the South Carolina slave code.

The major rebellion in the Chesapeake colonies was Bacon’s rebellion. This rebellion was not caused by the slaves but rather by the settlers against the governor of Virginia. The settlers felt that the governor eas not protecting them enough from Indian raids. The settlers also wanted Indians removed from their lands to free up more land for the settlers’ lucrative tobacco plantations (Class Ppt, The Chesapeake).

The slavery system of Chesapeake colonies and South Carolina was mainly influenced by the type of crop and plantation farming. In both colonies, there appears to be diminishing freedom for slaves as plantation farming expanded and progressed.




Foner, E. (2019). Give Me Liberty. New York: W W Norton & Company.


Class PPt.Creating Anglo America (1660-1750).The Chesapeake

Class PPt.Slavery, Freedom and the Struggle for Empire, to 1763.Slave Rebellion.

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