Working the Diaspora: The Impact of African Labor on the Anglo-American World, 1650-1850

Working the Diaspora: The Impact of African Labor on the Anglo-American World, 1650-1850

Working the Diaspora: The Impact of African Labor on the Anglo-American World, 1650-1850

Working the Diaspora: The Impact of African Labor on the Anglo-American World, 1650-1850

Excerpt

For every European who crossed the Atlantic from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century, four times as many Africans made the journey. This mass, forced migration of people from Africa shaped the historical development of the New World in profound ways. Along with small farming, mining, artisan labor, cattle ranching, and fur trading, plantation agriculture stood at the core of colonial American material life and was the basis of competing European claims on the Western Hemisphere. Throughout the Anglo-American plantation-based colonies, English indentured servants and Native American workers were the first to raise crops for export. Yet for a number of reasons the British turned to black labor in their American possessions, particularly when other labor pools faltered. Colonial elites started with small numbers of black workers who toiled next to Indian and English laborers in the Chesapeake region and the Caribbean islands, and over time slavery spread like a virus over the Anglo-American colonial landscape. While slaves engaged in a wide range of work, the bulk of their labor was geared toward cultivating cash crops for European markets. Envisioning the profits to be gained from large-scale agricultural production, the English Company of Royal Adventures, which formed in 1660 and was the parent of the Royal African Company, proclaimed in 1662 “that the English Plantations in America should have a competent and a constant supply of Negro-servants for their own use of Planting.” Looking increasingly to forced African labor, British American plantations yielded profits from export crops that enabled them to buy more people, a cyclical process that resulted in “the Africanization of the Americas,” as the historian Ronald Bailey terms it. This book explores the Africanization of the Americas by focusing specifically on the role of Africans in agricultural and craft production in the Anglo-American colonies and early United States.

Under the watchful eye and avaricious demands of the colonial elite toiled a force of unfree laborers, particularly from West or West Central . . .

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