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African Slavery in Colonial British North America

Directly or indirectly, the economies of all 13 British colonies in North America depended on slavery. By the 1620s, the labor-intensive cultivation of tobacco for European markets was established in Virginia, with white indentured servants performing most of the heavy labor. Before 1660 only a fraction of Virginia planters held slaves. By 1675 slavery was well established, and by 1700 slaves had almost entirely replaced indentured servants. With plentiful land and slave labor available to grow a lucrative crop, southern planters prospered, and family-based tobacco plantations became the economic and social norm.


In 1619, the first Africans arrived in British North America as captives.  They worked alongside indentured servants. It is unclear if they were considered slaves.

Jefferson’s father was among the early Virginians who left coastal plains to settle west near the Blue Ridge.

Jefferson’s parents were loyal citizens of the British Empire and members of an elite colonial society.

The colonial Chesapeake economy was based on growing tobacco with slave labor.


Slavery made the world Thomas Jefferson knew. The colonial society into which he was born would not have existed without it and education and livelihood depended upon it.

Does this change the way you think about Thomas Jefferson?


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