If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:12:20
KC‑2.2.II.A (KC)
Unit 2: Learning Objective F
WXT (Theme)

Video transcript

so in the last video we were talking about the system of labour in the Chesapeake area surrounding the Chesapeake Bay in the early english colonies in America and one thing that seemed a little bit strange there was that even though the first ship with enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619 slavery wasn't actually the dominant form of labor in Virginia until much later in the late 1600s in fact the vast majority of laborers in Virginia were in fact white indentured servants and these indentured servants would come from England and the planter that they proposed to work for would pay their passage across the Atlantic and in exchange this servant would agree to work for that planter for a period of three to seven years this is an example of what one of these indentures might have looked like it's an old-timey writing so it's a little hard to see but here you can see that there's three years is the amount of time that this person promises and this is from Pennsylvania kind of gives you a good sense of how someone would say alright I'm going to work for this person for this long in exchange for my passage and it's a contract and this was a pretty good deal for planters because for every person that they brought over from England they got another 50 acres of land meaning that if you had the money to bring over quite a few servants you could expand your land holdings very fast and the other good thing about this at least in in terms of the planters was that these indentured servants had a pretty high rate of death it was not healthy to live in this swampy area of Virginia so quite frequently planters didn't actually have to make good on their promise to set these indentured servants up with some land of their some tools to work it because they didn't survive through their indenture so if this system of indentured servitude and the head right system that gave planters more land for bringing over more servants was working out so well for them why did African slavery become the dominant form of labor in Virginia starting about 1700 now when we think about tobacco cultivation and later cotton cultivation in the American South before the Civil War what we think of is enslaved African laborers and indeed by the Year 1700 about 15% of the population living in Virginia was enslaved Africans going from just a handful at the beginning of the century so what caused this incredible transition in not only labor but also racism to happen in early America well there's one major event that historians tend to point to as a turning point in American slavery and that is the rebellion led by Nathaniel bacon in 1676 so let's talk a little bit more about that so to understand Bacon's Rebellion we have to backtrack a little bit and talk about the development of political power and tobacco in Virginia so in 1619 the Virginia Company established the first government in Virginia it was called the House of Burgesses and this is really important because it is in effect the first at least semi democratic form of government in the new world I mean in a way it's kind of like a parliament that was set up for Virginia so that they could debate local issues and it's going to be the house of burgesses and it's later Virginia House of Delegates that ends up leading the charge for the American Revolution more than a century later than this but as we think about the way that political power was distributed in virgin yeah you can guess who might have a lot of say in the House of Burgesses and these are the tobacco planters so the government of Virginia although it is a democracy of these land owning men is still got most of the power at the very top because as we talked about in the last video the power system in Virginia looks like a handful of planters at the top a very small number of free white farmers who had their own land but nothing like the gigantic tracts of tobacco plantations that the planters had then a whole lot of white indentured servants who have very little political power since they are at basically the mercy of the planters and then just a tiny handful of black slaves and in this time period you know white indentured servants and black slaves black free people also a tiny number didn't have that much difference when it came to political rights in fact white indentured servants frequently complained that they felt that slaves were treated better than them which may have been the case because they were worth more remember they were worth hundreds of pounds whereas white indentured servants cost just a couple of pounds to come over frequently dyed so they were less of an investment than slaves the other important factor here is just what it takes to grow tobacco tobacco is a labor-intensive crop we know but it's also kind of a crop that is extremely hard on the soil it depletes the soil fast which means that there is a constant need for new soil and when you're coming from the coast here's our Atlantic Ocean over here this is Virginia and our Jamestown Colony along the river James more and more planters as they come / remember we have this head right system we have a system that says that if indentured servants finish out the terms of their indenture they get land of their own means there is constant pressure to add more and more land so you can farm more and more tobacco you start going farther and farther into the interior so what does this mean it means that land becomes relatively scarce pretty fast and it also means that as white settlers continue to move west toward the Appalachian Mountains which are over here I hope you enjoy this beautiful map certainly a work of art they are running up against more and more anger and conflict with Native Americans who are living in between the coast and the Appalachian Mountains and now it's definitely in the interest of the House of Burgesses the government here at Jamestown to make sure that there's as little conflict with Native Americans as possible remember we had these Wars of extinction with the Powhatan 's that wasn't a fun time for anyone and so the House of Burgesses which is now somewhat responsible to the king of England since he acquired it from the Virginia company as a royal colony in 1624 they have a relatively friendly attitude toward the Native Americans they're hoping to avoid conflict and so their governor governor William Barkley spelled Berkley but pronounced Barkley I don't know why he refuses to take on another war of extinction against the Native Americans which makes a lot of white servants and white Freeman pretty angry it's the late 1600s now and more and more of these indentured servants are living to finish out their terms of indenture they have now built up some immunity to these diseases that have killed so many other people in Virginia and they're finding it really hard to make a living because the planters don't want to give quite so many rights quite so many perks to people who live out there in dentures remember this was a this was a good deal for planters when these white servants never actually survived to make good on the promises of land and now that they are planters don't want to extend them things like a promise of land because land is already scarce so when servants are finishing up their indentures they're finding it difficult to make a living they often have to continue to work for the planter they had been indentured to for very small wages they don't have land of their own they can't get started and this is a world composed almost entirely of men so they can't even find women to marry and I think if there's anything we've learned from US history it's that you never want a whole lot of unemployed angry young men hanging about because young men with a lot of time on their hands get up to trouble and one young man in particular was this fellow here Nathaniel bacon who was incensed at governor Barclays refusal to take a harsher stance against the Native Americans on the west where all of these white farmers wish that they could settle and so he gets up a militia full of young white men and also African American men to actually go after the Native Americans so this is a biracial raid force for Native Americans and they raid Native American villages and kill many Native Americans living in the area and governor Barkley wants them to stop and instead of stopping they marched to Jamestown the capital of Virginia and set it on fire so this is a group of landless white men landless african-american men who have rebelled against the government of Virginia these are my my flames the House of Burgesses they run Berkeley out of town and it's hard to know where this would have ended because Nathaniel bacon himself died and he died of illness like many other Virginians in this time period so the rebellion kind of petered out without his leadership but clearly this is a really scary moment for the House of Burgesses and for the leaders and planters in Virginia and they started to think all right well maybe this indentured servitude thing isn't working out so well because once these indentures are up we've got this whole set of landless free whites who technically have the rights of Englishmen but we have little work for them we have little land for them and it's going to end up with constant rebellion so maybe we should think about a different source of labor one that will never get its freedom and it just so happened that there were many such laborers for sale on the coast of West Africa and we'll talk more about that in the next video