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Black history in the United States began in 1619 when a Dutch trading ship brought twenty Africans to Jamestown Virginia These people arrived as slaves or as indentured servants Soon thereafter being of African decent became synonymous with being a slave The southern colonies plantation system was built on slavery Slaves were present in all of the 15 southern states There were 700000 slaves in the United States by 1790 and 4 million before the civil war Although some worked in cities at a variety of trades most slaves labored in the fields often from daybreak until sunset and even longer during the harvest The law allowed owners to impose whatever disciplinary measures they deemed necessary to ensure that slaves labored continuously The law even allowed an owner to kill his slaves in most circumstances without consequence Owners divided slave families at public auctions where human beings were bought and sold as pieces of property Unschooled and dependent on their owners for all their basic needs slaves had little control over their destinies Franklin 1967 Sowell 1981 Some whites prospered as slave traders Traders forcibly transported more than ten million Africans to various countries in the Americas Hundreds of slaves were chained on board small sailing ships as human cargo during a voyage of several weeks across the Atlantic Ocean Filth and disease killed many others were driven to suicide Overall perhaps half died en route Surviving the journey was a mixed blessing bringing a life of servitude as the property of white owners Franklin 1967 Sowell 1981 The foreign slave trade was illegal as of 1808 However due to the rising value of slaves smuggling was common One such case of slave smuggling lead to the supreme court ruling in 1841 establishing that the United States would treat slaves escaping from illegal bondage as free men The following is a summary of that case as it was presented in class Amistad Case
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