James Armistead Lafayette and Slavery

James Armistead Lafayette and Slavery

Last week, we shared the story about James Armistead, born into slavery, who voluntarily served as a counter spy for the Patriot cause during the Revolution.   Here’s the rest of the story:
James Armistead Lafayette,  counterspy extraordinaire,  credited with having a major part in ending the American Revolution and now a free man after his service to his country, became a wealthy farmer WHO OWNED SLAVES!  WHAT!!!???  (Betcha didn’t see that coming!)  I can see mouths drop open from here . . . What’s up with that, you may ask???
Well, there have been many books and research papers written on the phenomina  of how someone who lived as a slave could turn around and own other human beings when given the chance.  Our focus in these blogs, however, is history’s story, so we will pull that thread and see where it takes us.
If you go back to explore the history of slavery, you will find that it began centuries before Jesus walked among us, and it was BLACK cultures who created the institution of slavery – mostly as a spoils-of-war kind of thing, and because blacks were building the world’s first cities, so they had a great need for slave labor.   (www.realhistoryww.com)     How’s that for irony in today’s Black Lives Matter climate?
In our country, per 1830 census records – the most reliable data we have – there were about 3,776 free Negroes who owned 12,907 slaves.  The percentage of free blacks who owned slaves was actually quite high in the deep South:  South Carolina (43%), Louisiana (40%), Mississippi 26%), Georgia (20%)and Alabama (25.  (Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
Free black people even owned the services of white indentured servants for a while in Virginia, home of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  Who knew, right?  You won’t find this in any modern school textbooks . . .  In fact, at the time the Declaration of Independence was written in 1776, slavery was legal in all 13 colonies.
It wasn’t until 1793, with Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin  that the demand for slaves increased  dramatically.  The land used to grow tobacco was exhausted (which, if you will recall the story of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, he foresaw and began to diversify the crops he grew well before the problem developed) and the South was facing a major economic crisis.  Picking cotton up to that point was a very tedious and time consuming practice, so even though there was a huge demand for cotton in England, there were only so many hours in the day to pick the cotton and remove the seeds.  The cotton gin was one of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution and greatly speeded up the process, thereby increasing  the demand for labor to pick the  cotton bolls to process through the machine.
As the new nation evolved, many people coming here from all over the world would “sell themselves” as indentured servants to pay their fare for the ships that brought them.  They would be indentured for a certain amount of time, usually about 7 years.  This was a common practice in other countries such as Australia as well.  Records indicate that more than half of all white immigrants to America during this time period came as indentured servants and included mostly German, Scots-Irish and Irish people.
The first few Africans to hit the American shore in 1619 were brought by Dutch traders who had seized them from a Spanish ship they captured – the spoils of war concept.  The Spanish baptized their slaves in Africa before transporting them, because they knew that according to English law, baptized Christians were exempt from slavery, so the colonists treated these blacks as indentured servants, not slaves,  who joined about 1,000 English indentured servants already here.  Once the contracts were completed in a prescribed period of time, the Africans were freed and given the use of land and supplies from their former master/employers.    (en.wikipedia.org)
As these 7-year contracts came to an end and these people were freed from  their bondage, that left a gaping hole in the workforce needed to build the budding  nation.  At that point,  there were no laws regarding slavery in Virginia up to 1640, because there was no slavery to speak of.
Interestingly, the first slaves in the colonies were Native Americans, sold to the colonists by other rival  Native American tribes or captured by Europeans from village raids during expansion drives.  Most  Northern slaves served as house servants, artisans and craftsmen.   Many worked on the docks.  In 1703, more than 42% of New York City households had slaves, so all of the colonies participated in slavery.  (en.wikipedia.org)
Two things changed the face of the needed American workforce:  economic conditions in England improved to such a degree that fewer people chose to take their chances getting to the colonies as indentured servants, and contracts for the indentured servants already here were expiring.  That left the south in dire straits as their entire economic base was agricultural and totally dependent on  their cotton commodity crop.
That allowed the supply-and-demand economic model to kick in, African nations sold their own people into slavery for the financial gain and we were off to the races.  African states have always played a major role in the slave trade and was a common practice in their culture.  There were 3 types of slaves:  those caught through conquest, those who had unpaid debts or those whose parents gave them up to slave traders.
 It’s telling to report, however, that of the estimated 12 million people brought from Africa during this time frame, our country imported less than 5% of that total, or about 350,000 into the 13 colonies.  The great majority of enslaved Africans were transported to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and other countries, where their life expectancy was quite short, creating a constant need to refill the ranks.  Life expectancy in the colonies  was much higher and the slaves were able to reproduce successfully, so their numbers grew rapidly, reaching 4 million according to the 1860 census.
By the 1860’s, the Civil War era began and slavery was abolished.  However, it’s interesting to note that according to government statistics as of September, 2016, almost 40% (or 27 million) of all Americans currently on welfare (not including Medicaid) are black, meaning  that basic housing, food  and medical care is freely provided to them.  (www.statisticbrain.com)  Anyone want to share this with the rampaging Black Lives Matter  despots who are still screaming oppression and demanding reparations?