Religion and American Slavery

Lesson I. Religion's Impact on Shaping Colonial American Slavery

Step 1. American Slavery



American Slavery

In this video, you’ll learn about how slavery is an ancient institution and how American colonists added their own innovation to this ancient institution.

Slavery is an Ancient Institution, Few Questioned It

Slavery is America’s original sin. This means that America allowed this wrong to happen from its very beginning when we were still a colony and before we were a nation. At the time American colonists started enslaving fellow humans, slavery was deeply rooted in the history and economy of most countries. In fact, every ancient civilization practiced slavery. Slavery has even been detected among prehistoric hunting societies. Both Christians and Muslims enslaved one another during the Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe. From the 7th century to the 20th century, Islamic slavery spanned Western and Central Asia, Northern and Eastern Africa, India and Europe.

Then, in the 16th century, European merchants began purchasing enslaved Africans from West African kingdoms and transporting them to European colonies in the Americas. So when Europeans began colonizing America, they brought with them the belief that slavery was acceptable and normal. They did not question it.

The British established 26 colonies in what they called the New World. Their Caribbean colonies were the most important New World colonies to the British Crown because these colonies produced sugar and sugar brought in a tremendous amount of money to the Royal Treasury. Producing sugar was labor intensive and the British colonizers relied on the labor of enslaved Africans to produce it. This led to a new system of slavery in the Atlantic World, which covered the British American colonies in North America, the Caribbean, and Spanish colonies in South America.

American Innovation on the Ancient Institution of Slavery

While human beings have been enslaved for thousands of years, American slavery made one significant innovation on the ancient institution. American colonists tried enslaving Native Americans, but they often escaped. Over time, planters found it easier to enslave people of African descent. Africans were captured and transported over a long distance, so it made it difficult for them to escape home. They usually did not practice the religion of those in power, which was Christianity. Most significantly, Africans looked different from those in power. It was easier to extract labor from those who looked “other.” As a result of these dynamics, over time in the American colonies, black skin came to mean slave. 

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Questions: Check for Understanding

Answer these questions below on your own paper.
  1. Who practiced slavery anciently? (Anciently means in the distant past.)
  2. Why did American colonists not question the morality of slavery when it began in the American colonies? 
  3. Why was it easier to enslave Africans in America than other groups, like the Indigenous peoples?  
Lesson I. Step 1 of 5


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