Slavery in Urban Areas Research Paper

Pages: 7 (2224 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History

U.S. Urban History

Slavery in Urban Areas

The role of Slavery in urban areas from the colonial period through the Civil War.

During the colonial period, slaves provided the most common source of manual labor in America ((Chudacoff and Smith at 20). In fact, the numbers of slaves were quite high in all early in both the North and South (Ibid. At 17). Colonial slavery in the north was almost entirely urban as one third or more of most northern colonies' slave populations were located in the colonies important cities, such as New York City, Boston, Portsmouth and Newport (Ibid. At 21).

In the cities, slaves performed heavy labor, and in port cities, slaves often served as seaman, longshoreman, sail and makers (Ibid.). Many slaves worked in their masters shops, some apprenticed as skilled laborers and many served as domestic servants. Slave holding was a very consistent hallmark among the wealthy elite (Ibid.).

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Everyone in early American urban areas lived in high density areas and in close proximity to each other. Slaves were no exception to this. As a result, slaves lived in very close proximity to their masters, often in rooms attached to the back of the shops. Because there was a minimal amount of space available and work needed, most urban slave owners held only one or two slaves and slaves were discouraged from having families (Ibid.). These were two of the main differences between urban and plantation slavery, which required large number sof slaves to work huge tracts of land. During the 18th century, many urban slaves socialized with lower class whites and enjoyed a number of rights not associated with the plantation slavery of the 19th century such as holding property and living with their families (Ibid.).

Research Paper on Slavery in Urban Areas Assignment

West African culture became a staple of urban slave society, though it was more accepted by white culture in north than in the south (Ibid. At 22). The reason is because the African culture, especially the churches, created a sense of independence among the slaves and this was feared in southern cities where the slave populations equaled or exceed the populations of the slaveholders. In both the north and south, the urban slaves enjoyed a degree of independence and acceptance by whites that did not exist in plantation slavery. In New Orleans, slaves served in the military in the 1730s, and were given the right to purchase their freedom in 1769(Ibid.). Also, the freedoms were very restricted, more so in the southern cities (for the reason stated above) and more so after slave revolts in both in the northern and southern cities, such as New York and Charleston (Ibid. At 23).

Urban slaves had the right to travel about the cities, but it was regulated and a curfew was imposed; they had to limited right to purchase goods, they were allowed to work for hire, earn a wage and open a shop. These privileges were ironically more prevalent in southern cities, though they did exist in the northern cities as well (Ibid.).

In the years leading up to the Civil War, slavery was, of course, much more common in the south. Urban slavery provided up to 50-60% of the workforce in many southern cities. Unlike the colonial and post-colonial years, urban slaves did mainly manual labor and very little artisanal work, with Charleston providing the lone exception (Ibid. At 72). The urban slaves of the ante-bellum south continued to enjoy more freedoms than their plantation and were able to partake of more of the offerings such as food, entertainment and accumulating and saving money (Ibid. At 73).


Slavery in New York City from the Dutch period through emancipation.

New York City was founded in 1625, by a group of colonists from the Dutch West India Company, which at the time was a leading international supplier of African slaves. They set about to establish a trading center (under the New York's original name of New Amsterdam) (Ibid. At 5). This not only created a viable commercial hub with a need for slaves, the notion of the slave trade within the states took root. Under English colonial rule, nearly one-third of all households in New York City owned at least one slave (Ibid. At 20). Although the slaves in English New York City did enjoy a fair amount of independence as discussed in question #1 above, there were frequent major hostilities between slaves and whites in the city which proves an undercurrent of mistrust between the two groups (Ibid. At 23).

Slavery was abolished in New York in 1827, so after this period, slavery in New York City was more about freed slaves, of which there were many (Ibid. At 69). Many freed slaves in New York were skilled labor, more than were found in other cities, and their skills and the churches they established helped African-American culture to thrive (Ibid. At 70).

There was however, still a legacy left behind by slavery in middle 19th century New York City. White New Yorkers' remembered their affinity for slavery, even if the historians since have completely ignored it. In fact, 19th centuries of Manhattan exalt the Dutch, English and French settlers and paid practically no homage to thousands of enslaved Africans upon whose labour the colonial city's financial success was in large part based.


Industrialization and transportation in the spread of urban growth.

An explosion of people, supplies, trade and goods produced a steady push westward from the Atlantic seaboard after the Revolutionary War. Industrialization and transportation made this possible and necessary. Commerce and manufacturing were already ingrained tenets of American society by this time (Ibid. At 41). Finished products made of glass, textiles and iron became the hub around which many of the western cities developed. The need to transport these goods also led to the development of new cities, which in the south was centered around the many navigable rivers where the hinterlands could then be reached (Ibid. At 42).

The building of canals, turnpikes and railroads also provided a great boost to emerging cities. These innovations allowed settlers to populate the city and also residents to export and import goods to other cities and ports so that they could sustain their own economies (Ibid. At 44). The building of transportation system was often competitive, as cities vied to be the home to a railroad or canal terminus. Those cities that lost out, often determined to construct an alternative mode of transportation that could still bring that city commercial prominence (Baltimore, for instance, built the B & O. Railroad when it was by passed as terminus for a canal ((Ibid. At 45).

Not all cities could recover from losing the battle for a commercial resource. Often the difference between a city thriving and a city stagnating was the determined by whether it was became a terminus or a county seat or the location of a college etc.… ((Ibid. At 44). The cities of Cleveland and Sandusky, Ohio, for instance, vied for the western terminus of the Erie Canal. The terminus was built in Cleveland, more for political reasons as Sandusky was actually better situated. Subsequently, railroads chose to use Cleveland as their transfer point because of its greater commercial potential as the canal city. Hence, Cleveland rose as one of the larger cities in the nation and a hub of Midwestern commerce.


The expansion of the walking city and suburbanization

The single most important factor in stretching the walking city was the development of suitable transportation that could allow residents to work downtown and live on the outskirts of town. The first option was the omnibus, a carriage fitting usually twelve people and drawn by usually two horses. These primitive coaches were very popular and provided those that could afford the 12 1/2 cents ride reliable commuter transportation (Ibid. At 88). This was followed shortly by trains making commuter stops within 15 miles of its city of a downtown in the course of its longer route in between bigger cities. However, the commuter railroad was expensive and very few average workers could afford the price. Finally, the horse-drawn street-railway ran cars over rails instead of cobblestone, making for a more comfortable ride and increasing the load that a horse could draw (ibid.).

The suburbs themselves made suburbs possible and attracted more residents. Living in a single family home, in a green neighborhood, with a front and back yard came to be identified as the American dream. The suburbs were built near transit lines and offered afforadable and modern homes far removed from the growing wretchedness of the cities red light districts and vice zones ((Ibid. At 101).


Characteristics of social classes among free whites

As urban economies expanded, the division between the wealthy and the poor grew greater. In most cities the richest 5% owned 60% of all the wealth. The lower classes in the cities lived in conditions that were as squalid as the wealthy were opulent. Wages did not support the cost of living… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Slavery in Urban Areas.  (2010, October 20).  Retrieved October 30, 2020, from

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"Slavery in Urban Areas."  20 October 2010.  Web.  30 October 2020. <>.

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"Slavery in Urban Areas."  October 20, 2010.  Accessed October 30, 2020.