How do you define middle class Americans
is Professor of North American Cultural History, Empirical Cultural Research and Cultural Anthropology at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. His research focus is the history of the United States in the antebellum and civil war era. [email protected]
Contract servants, prisoners of war and slavesIt all began in the 1610s in the English plantation colonies around Chesapeake Bay, today's states of Maryland and Virginia. Since there were no gold and silver deposits in North America whose exploitation would have been worthwhile, there were so-called fur trade alongside the profitable fur trade cash crops ("Cash plants") at the center of the colonial economy, which were produced for the imperial market of the motherland.  The main focus was on tobacco, indigo, rice and especially from the 1790s on cotton, which became the export hit of the US South.
Because of the subtropical climate and the shortage of labor, but also to keep production costs as low as possible, the planters initially resorted to Indian slaves. A model that did not work, however: The local Indians disappeared almost as quickly as they were captured. That is why the system of indentured servitude (Contract bondage).  Farm workers and domestic workers were paid for the passage to the New World by the landowners and worked there as unfree forced laborers for five to seven years. Often poor English and Welsh people came, but many Irish also used this opportunity to escape the misery of the Emerald Isle - after all, after the service they had the right to their own land. Since the planters were happy to save themselves these late costs, they treated the serfs particularly badly in the last year of service in order to hasten their inexpensive death. In parallel with the white serfs, black plantation workers were introduced from 1619, first as indentured servantswho, after their release, then became landowners themselves and finally employers for others indentured servants After that, from around 1630, an increasing number of West African slaves, mostly prisoners of war from intra-African territorial conflicts.
Slaves had less rights and were cheaper than temporary serfs. Soon the Anglo-British slave trade became an established part of the triangular trade between Europe, Africa and America.  Between 1619 and 1850 a total of 388,747 black Africans were abducted alive as slaves in the North American colonies of Great Britain, admittedly only a fraction of the total of 10,702,656 Africans who reached America alive. Over 2.3 million slaves came to the British Caribbean alone, and over four million to Brazil.  In contrast to the Caribbean or Brazil, fewer large plantations with 100, 500 and more slaves dominated the scene on the North American mainland, but small and medium-sized businesses with two to ten, sometimes up to 50 slaves. This deployment prevented, on the one hand, the many slave revolts that were characteristic of the central areas of American slavery; on the other hand, it provided the framework for the only New World slave population that reproduced itself.
Although the discussion about the economic efficiency of slave-owning economies is by no means over, it must be noted that in the early 19th century the North American slave-owners were among the richest people in the world, as the cotton they produced had meanwhile dominated the world market.  Also under discussion is the question of whether the North American-Anglo-Saxon or the Ibero-American or Caribbean variant of slavery was "more human". The first thesis is supported by the higher life expectancy and higher reproductive rate of North American slaves - which, however, may have been the mere consequence of healthier living conditions and not that specifically paternalistic approach that North American slave owners approved of themselves when, for example, they thought of slaves as members of their "family black and white." "spoke.  For the second thesis, which the American historian Frank Tannenbaum formulated for the first time,  speaks in particular the significantly higher release rate especially in Catholic planter colonies, where church brotherhoods laid the financial and institutional foundations for ransom.
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