This week in our series, we we tell about slavery, and how it affected the history of the United States.
Slavery is the custom of one person controlling or owning another. Some history experts say it began following the development of farming about ten thousand years ago. People forced prisoners of war to work for them. Other slaves were criminals, or people who could not re-pay money they owed.
It is said the first known slaves lived more than five thousand years ago in the Sumerian society of what is now Iraq. Slavery also existed among people in China, India, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas. It expanded as trade and industry increased. This increase created a demand for a labor force to produce goods for export. Slaves did most of the work. Most ancient people thought of slavery as a natural condition that could happen to anyone at any time. Few saw it as evil or unfair. In most cities, slaves could be freed by their owners and become citizens.
In later times, slaves provided the labor needed to produce products that were in demand. Sugar was one of these products. Italians established large sugar farms beginning around the twelfth century. They used slaves from Russia and other parts of Europe to do the work. By the year thirteen hundred, African blacks had begun to replace the Russian slaves. They were bought or captured from North African Arabs, who used them as slaves for years.
|A slave sale advertisement from 1769|
By the fifteen hundreds, Spain and Portugal had American colonies. The Europeans forced native Indians to work in large farms and mines in the colonies. Most of the Indians died from European diseases and poor treatment. So the Spanish and Portuguese began to bring in people from West Africa as slaves. France, Britain and the Netherlands did the same in their American colonies.
England's southern colonies in North America developed a farm economy that could not survive without slave labor.
Many slaves lived on large farms called plantations. These plantations produced important crops traded by the colony, crops such as cotton and tobacco. Each plantation was like a small village owned by one family. That family lived in a large house, usually facing a river. Many separate buildings were needed on a plantation. For example, a building was needed for cooking. And buildings were needed for workers to produce goods such as furniture that were used on the plantation.
The business of the plantation was farming. So there also were barns for animals and buildings for storing and drying crops. There was a house to smoke meat so it could be kept safely. And there was a place on the river from which goods were sent by ship to England.
The plantation owner controlled the farm and saw that it earned money. He supervised, fed and clothed the people living on the property, including the slaves.
Larger plantations might have two hundred slaves. They worked in the fields on crops that would be sold or eaten by the people who lived on the plantation. They also raised animals for meat and milk.
Field slaves worked very long and hard. They worked each day from the time the sun rose until it set. Many of these slaves lived in extreme poverty in small houses with no heat or furniture. Sometimes, five or ten people lived together in one room.
House slaves usually lived in the home of the plantation owner. They did the cooking and cleaning in the house. House slaves worked fewer hours than field slaves, but were more closely supervised by the owner and his family.
Laws approved in the southern colonies made it illegal for slaves to marry, own property, or earn their freedom. These laws also barred slaves from receiving an education, or even learning to read. But some owners permitted their slaves to earn their freedom, or gave them money for good work.
Other owners punished slaves to get them to work. The punishments included beatings, withholding food and threatening to sell members of a slave's family. Some plantation owners executed slaves suspected of serious crimes by hanging them or burning them alive.
Historians say that people who were rich enough to own many slaves became leaders in their local areas. They were members of the local governments. They attended meetings of the legislatures in the capitals of their colonies, usually two times a year. Slave owners had the time and the education to greatly influence political life in the southern colonies...because the hard work on their farms was done by slaves.
Today, most people in the world condemn slavery. That was not true in the early years of the American nation. Many Americans thought slavery was evil, but necessary. Yet owning slaves was common among the richer people in the early seventeen hundreds. Many of the leaders in the colonies who fought for American independence owned slaves. This was true in the Northern colonies as well as the Southern ones.
One example is the famous American diplomat, inventor and businessman Benjamin Franklin. He owned slaves for thirty years and sold them at his general store. But his ideas about slavery changed during his long life. Benjamin Franklin started the first schools to teach blacks and later argued for their freedom.
Slavery did not become a force in the northern colonies mainly because of economic reasons. Cold weather and poor soil could not support such a farm economy as was found in the South. As a result, the North came to depend on manufacturing and trade.
Trade was the way colonists got the English goods they needed. It was also the way to earn money by selling products found in the New World. New England became a center for such trade across the seas. The people who lived there became shipbuilders so they could send the products to England. They used local wood to build the ships. They also sold wood and wood products. They became businessmen carrying goods around the world.
The New England shipbuilding towns near the Atlantic Ocean grew quickly as a result. The largest of these towns was Boston, Massachusetts. By seventeen twenty, it had more than ten thousand people. Only two towns in England were larger: London and Bristol.
More than twenty-five percent of the men in Boston had invested in shipping or worked in it. Ship captains and businessmen held most of the public offices.
The American colonies traded goods such as whale oil, ginger, iron, wood, and rum, an alcoholic drink made from sugarcane. Ships carried these goods from the New England colonies to Africa. There, they were traded for black Africans who became slaves in the American colonies.
The Africans had been captured by enemy tribesmen and sold to African slave traders. The New England boat captains would buy as many as they could put on their ships. Conditions on these ships were cruel. The Africans were crowded together and forced to travel in areas so small they could hardly move. Some were kept in chains. Many killed themselves rather than live under such conditions.
Others died of health disorders they caught on the ship. Yet many did survive the trip, and became slaves in the southern colonies, or in the Caribbean islands. Black slaves were needed to work on Caribbean sugar plantations. The southern American colonies needed them to work on the tobacco and rice plantations.
By seventeen fifty, almost twenty-five percent of the total number of people in the American colonies were black slaves. From the fifteen hundreds to the eighteen hundreds, Europeans sent about twelve million black slaves from Africa to America. Almost two million people died on those slave ships.
Historians say English ships carried the greatest number of Africans into slavery. One slave ship captain came to hate what he was doing, and turned to religion. His name was John Newton. He stopped taking part in the slave trade and became a leader in the Anglican Church. He is famous for having written the song, "Amazing Grace".
You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.voanews.cn. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I’m Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.
奴隶制度是一个人对另一个人的控制和占有。有历史学家认为，奴隶制是一万年前农业发展的产物，战俘、罪犯、和欠债不还的人沦为奴隶。有关专家说，目前已知的 最早的奴隶出现在五千多年前的苏美尔社会中，也就是今天的伊拉克一带。此外，中国、印度、非洲、中东和美洲地区也都出现过奴隶制。贸易和工业的发展增加了 对劳动力的需求，从而进一步带动了奴隶制的膨胀。古代很多文化都认为，奴隶制是一种很自然的状况，可能发生在任何人身上，没有人觉得奴隶制是邪恶和不公正 的。在大多数城市里，奴隶主可以给奴隶自由，让他们成为公民。
奴隶为生产需要的商品提供了必要的劳动力。蔗糖就是一个例子。意大利人在12世纪前后建立了种植蔗糖的大农场，使用来自俄罗斯和欧洲其他地方的奴隶。到 1300年的时候，来自非洲的黑奴逐渐取代俄罗斯奴隶。到十六世纪的时候，西班牙和葡萄牙人已经在美洲建立了殖民地。欧洲人让印第安土著人在殖民地的农场 和矿场里做工，大多数印第安人都死于虐待和欧洲疾病。西班牙人和葡萄牙人因此开始从西非进口奴隶。法国、英国和荷兰在美洲殖民地的做法大同小异。
北美南部的英国殖民地形成的农场经济完全依靠奴隶。农场上住着很多奴隶，种植棉花和烟草等作物，用于殖民地的对外贸易。每个农场归一个家庭所有，他们往往 住在一栋面对河流的大房子里。农场里还有很多不同用途的房子，比如厨房、家具作坊、牲畜圈、谷物晾晒场、以及熏肉的地方，还有就是设在河边的码头，货物装 船运往英国前就存放在那里。
农场主负责农场的经营，并且管理农场里包括奴隶在内的所有人，给他们提供食宿和衣服。大农场里的奴隶有时会多达两百人，他们种植作物，用于出售和农场的消 耗，他们还要养殖牲畜以此得到肉和奶。在地里干活的奴隶非常辛苦，他们日出而做，日落而息。很多奴隶都住在没有家具和供暖的小房子里，条件极其恶劣，有时 候，一个房间里要挤五个，甚至是十个人。家宅奴隶通常住在主人的房子里，负责煮饭和打扫房间，他们工作的时间相对较短，但是无时无刻不在主人的监督之下。
美洲南部殖民地通过法律，不允许奴隶结婚、拥有财物或是获得自由，也不允许奴隶接受教育，甚至读书认字。但是有些奴隶主却让表现出色的奴隶获得自由，或是 用金钱的方式奖励他们。另外一些奴隶主则用殴打、不让吃饭、或是威胁把其家庭成员卖掉的方式来惩罚不听话的奴隶。有些农场主还会用绞刑或是活活烧死的办法 处决那些被怀疑犯有严重罪行的奴隶。
今天，世界上大多数人都不认同奴隶制度，然而在那个年代，很多人觉得奴隶制度虽然邪恶，但却十分必要。十八世纪早期，有钱人拥有奴隶是司空见惯的事情，北 部和南部的殖民地都是这样。很多为美国独立而战的殖民地领袖们也是奴隶主。大家都知道美国著名的外交家、发明家和商人本杰明·富兰克林。他对奴隶制度的看 法就经历了巨大的变化。他一生中当了三十年的奴隶主，还在自己开的商店里出售奴隶，但后来，他却率先开办了教黑人读书的学校，并为黑人争取自由。
奴隶制度在北部殖民地之所以没有形成气候，主要是经济方面的原因。北方寒冷的气候和贫瘠的土壤排除了南方农场经济出现的可能性。因此，北方殖民地主要依靠 制造业和贸易。通过贸易，殖民者可以得到自己需要的英国产品，也能通过销售新大陆的产品赚钱，新英格兰成了海路贸易的中心。那里的人从事船舶建造，用船把 产品运往英国。他们用本地的木材造船，同时也出售木材和木制产品，把产品销往世界各地。因此，大西洋沿岸的新英格兰建筑船舶的小镇迅速成长，其中最大的一 个是麻萨诸塞的波士顿。到1720年，波士顿的人口已经超过了一万人，仅次于英国本土的伦敦和布里斯托。波士顿四分之一以上的人口投资或是从事航运业，政 府大多数官员都由船长和商人来担任。
美洲殖民地把鲸鱼油、姜、钢铁、木材、和用蔗糖酿制的朗姆酒运往非洲，换取非洲人。这些人都是在敌对部落的战争中被俘后卖给奴隶贩子的。新英格兰殖民地的 船长们尽可能多地换取奴隶，用船运回去。船上的条件极其恶劣。这些非洲人一个挨一个地挤在一起，几乎无法移动，有些人还被锁链拴着，很多人因为无法忍受非 人的条件而自尽，还有人病死在船上。剩下的人抵达美洲南部殖民地或是加勒比海的岛屿后，成为奴隶。
到1750年的时候，美洲殖民地将近四分之一的人口都是黑奴。在十六世纪到十九世纪期间，欧洲人总共将1200万黑奴从非洲运到美洲，其中有将近两百万人 死在途中。历史学家说，把非洲人送进奴隶制深渊最多的，是英国船只。在美国历史上，有一个运送奴隶的船长最后因为厌倦了自己的所作所为而转向宗教。他的名 字叫约翰·牛顿，他放弃了奴隶交易，成为圣公会的领袖。他还谱写了著名的歌曲“奇异的恩典”(Amazing Grace)。