Self-Determination Strategies of Free Blacks in the Old Northwest
The Land Act of 1820 made it possible for settlers to begin to populate the West and added to the confiscation of land from Native Americans. Former landowners – a mix of Native American, African and European ancestry – migrated to the northern frontier and founded at least thirty well-defined free black communities between 1820 and 1850 in the Old Northwest, becoming an important safe haven and beacon of freedom.
Its notoriety and size grew as slaves often migrated to these locations after they were granted emancipation in the wills of slave owners who purchased land in the area for them to settle on. The newly free people found sanctuary as these communities were also rumored to shelter runaway slaves in their role as active participants in the Underground Railroad Movement.
However, the prosperity of blacks living in these villages angered some of the local whites – many of whom were migrating at the same time and were connected to local law officials and politicians. Archival documents reveal continued acts of terrorism perpetuated against blacks which heightened the importance of the strength of the communities they founded – specifically schools, churches, businesses, and intergenerational family structures – in providing a unified front that allowed them to bond and thrive in an environment that was not always conducive to their survival.
Invisible in Plain Sight: Self-Determination Strategies of Free Blacks in the Old Northwest provides a rare detailed examination of an often overlooked piece of the American tapestry. It is perfect reading for history classes in high school and college, as well as for history enthusiasts looking for something new.
Chapter 3. Immigration of European Indentured Servants
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IMMIGRATION OF EUROPEAN INDENTURED SERVANTS
European indentured servants were available in large numbers. Beginning in the 1650s, indentured servants from England flooded into the evolving Virginia Colony at a fast rate. Several thousand arrived annually. Many came voluntarily. Most signed indentures while still in their mother country, promising to work for a stated number of years in exchange for the costs of transportation, food, clothes, and shelter in Virginia. According to historians Douglas Deal and David Galenson, the indentured population was comprised of farmers, tradesmen, unskilled laborers, and persons too young to have a trade.1 T.H. Breen described them as young, particularly literate, and of the middling sort.2 Further, the law was frequently changed and clarified regarding the length of service for those entering Virginia as servants but without contract for indenture.3 An act of 1666 provided that if one were older than nineteen years, he or she was to serve an additional five years; if younger, then to age twenty-four. Other servants found themselves in Virginia even though they had little or no desire to be there. David Galenson describes those as the common sort.4 Differing social statuses between those of the middling and common sort led to different motivations for migration. Thusly, they brought diverse skills and social attitudes to the New World. Unscrupulous merchants called spirits took advantage of their naiveté and dumped many English laborers onto the colonial market.5 ← 10 | 11 →
The spirits operated out of...
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