Thursday, May 23, 2013

Slavery at Shirley

The original settlers at Jamestown were employees of the Virginia Company. Once it had been determined that the real wealth in the new colony was to be made in tobacco, a labor-intensive crop, the company was faced with a labor shortage. To fill the need, the colony began a headright system, granting fifty acres of land for each person brought to Virginia, to be awarded to the person paying the transportation costs of the immigrant. Since few people could afford as much as six pounds for passage, land soon became concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few who could finance the importation of a number of people, who would then pay off their debt with service of five to seven years.

These indentured servants formed the labor force in Virginia for much of the seventeenth century. They were initially white Europeans. The first Africans in Virginia arrived in Jamestown in 1619.

Until 1699, headrights were also given for importing slaves, resulting in large tracts of land being claimed by individuals who imported numbers of slaves, and became more profitable than expending the cost of transporting temporary labor. The participation in the Bacon's Rebellion uprising in 1676 by current and former indentures also made slavery more appealing. Indentured servitude soon faded as a viable labor solution.

The cook room in the kitchen at Shirley Plantation houses an exhibit detailing the lives of slaves at Shirley Plantation. Click on the first photo to read the text in a larger view.

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