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"Am I not a Man and a Brother?"
Slavery in the future United States began in the early seventeenth century as European trading vessels brought Africans across the northern Atlantic to provide forced labor for the new colonies in places such as Virginia.  Within a century, all of the colonies in British North America had developed forms of African chattel slavery.  After the American Revolution and by the end of the eighteenth century, most northern states initiated plans to abolish slavery.  Some southern states appeared at least on the surface to be moving in that direction until the invention of the cotton gin in the 1790s altered the trajectory of slavery's profitability in the South.  During the first half of the nineteenth century, slavery expanded southwestward with astonishing speed creating what many began to call the "Cotton Kingdom."  American slaves engaged in numerous activities besides cotton picking and experienced a wide array of conditions in their various forms of enslavement, but it was without doubt the vast antebellum cotton plantations that came to embody the great contrast between the South's "peculiar institution" and fast-growing northern factories and marketplaces.  The Civil War ended this growing national division, destroying a great deal of white southern wealth in the process and ultimately leading to the downfall of Amerian slavery in 1865. (By Matthew Pinsker)


How to Cite This Page: "Slavery," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,