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Overview. The Europeans began arriving after 1492 upon the shores of the Americas. They found a land rich in resources and native culture. As news reached Europe it sparked a wave of explorations and ultimately colonization. Many, if not most, of the early colonists America arrived under some version of bound labor, either as a slave or an indentured servant. This was the way many free persons could pay for their passage. Upon arrival they would be sold out to an artisan, gentleman or farmer according to his or her abilities. They would then work for 5-7 years which would repay their passage costs. Slaves obviously had little chance to earn their freedom, though some did.

Labor Related Issues of the Period.

  • Lack of economic opportunity in Old World.
  • Remnants of feudal system in parts of Europe.
  • Rise of non-landed wealth in Europe.
  • Growth of artisans' guilds in Europe.
  • Growth of cities in Europe.
  • Economic opportunity of New World.
  • Building of a stable society in New World by common laborers
  • Development of independent craftsworker in northern colonies.
  • Development of slave system in southern colonies.
  • Growth of political organization and action in later years of period.
  • Beginnings of representative government gives common man a voice
  • Influence of geography on the American economy.
  • Lack of an effective voice by laborers.

Selected Labor Related Events of the Period.

1440s
Opening of the African slave trade.
1619
Slavery introduced into Virginia
Virginia House of Burgesses formed, beginning of representative government in North America.
1620
Mayflower Compact signed creating "just and equal laws."
1620s
Beginning of New England town meetings
1648
Boston shoemakers and coopers form guilds.
1676
Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia, farmers revolt against corrupt government
1683
New York Chapter of Liberties gives freeholders the right to vote
1712
Carolina Slave Code created which regulates slave life.
1724
Carpenter's Company of Philadelphia chartered to assist carpenter's instruction and well-being.
1739
Stono Rebellion of slaves in South Carolina.
1765
The first society of working women is organized as an auxiliary of the Sons of Liberty, called the Daughters of Liberty.
1766
Green Mountain uprising of farmers against landowners over the inequality of political power.

Important Concepts.

slavery, indentured servitude, free labor, mercantilism, profit, imperialism, apprenticeship, guild, colonialism, representative government

Integrating Labor History into Effective Teaching of the Period.

Lesson 1

Objective: To introduce students to the nature of early American labor. Students should note the lack of choice (freedom) many people had. Students are also introduced to analysis of primary resources and are asked to demonstrate evaluation skills.

Procedure: Create small groups of students and distribute the various documents to each group. Have students study the documents and explain what they learn about slavery and indentured servants from them. Wander from group to group and prod students to understand the lifestyle of the slaves and the indentured servants. Students could then report orally or in a more creative way through an editorial, editorial cartoon, newspaper style description, speech or a short essay. It is important that students rely on the evidence to support their opinions. Try having your students adopt roles as colonists and respond in the language and media of the times. Allow 15-25 minutes for the study of the document package.

Documents:
Appraisal of slaves belonging to Robert Carters in 1732.
A familiar advertisement from a Charleston, S.C. newspaper in 1766. Africans of the Windward Coast were known for their knowledge of rice cultivation. The Laurens referred to later became president of the Continental Congress (Henry Laurens).
Advertisement for help finding a runaway slave in the Virginia Gazette in 1767.
Advertisement requesting aid in apprehending three runaway indentured servants.
Official article of indenture from 1768.
Court document from Chester, England that commutes a death sentence to transportation to America and ultimately indentured servitude.

"And I long to see the day when Labor will have the destiny of the nation in her own hands and she will stand as a united force and show the world what the workers can do." --- Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, 1830-1930
 

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