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On this day in 1619 the first black slaves in North America were brought by Dutch colonists to Jamestown, Virginia. Slave labour was to become a basic fact in the Southern states for the next 250 years until slavery was outlawed by the 13th amendment in 1865. In total, about 600,000 slaves were imported into the 13 colonies of the United States, constituting five percent of the 12 million slaves brought from Africa to the Americas. The great majority of African slaves were transported to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and to Brazil. As life expectancy was short, their numbers had to be continually replenished. It was much higher in the U.S. and the slave population began to reproduce; enslaved peoples’ numbers grew rapidly, reaching 4 million by the 1860 census. From 1770 until 1860, the rate of natural growth of North American enslaved people was much greater than for the population of any nation in Europe, and was nearly twice as rapid as that of England. Phillis Wheatley was the first published African-American woman. Born in West Africa in 1753, she was sold into slavery at the age of seven and transported to North America. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston who taught her to read and write, and encouraged her poetry. She gained emancipation but died aged 31. George Washington liked her poetry. See what you think – this is the start of her best-known poem, On Being Brought From Africa To America:
T’was mercy brought me from my Pagan land
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.
Today I ask help for all those suffering as slaves in the world today.