Timeline: Slavery in The U.S.
Prepared by Kim Euell
Between 1650 and 1860, approximately 10 to 15 million enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas. Most were sent to Brazil and The West Indies. Approximately half a million arrived in what is now the United States.
1619 The first enslaved Africans arrive at the Jamestown Colony in Virginia aboard a Dutch ship.
1627 A small group (11) of enslaved men of African descent arrive in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (present day New York.) Previously prisoners of war, they are now “owned” by The Dutch East India Company. They soon become integral to the colony’s survival.
1640 John Punch, a black indentured servant runs away to Maryland with two white co-workers to escape oppressive conditions at his post in Virginia. His companions are sentenced to having their terms extended, while Punch is sentenced to life long servitude. This is the first recorded instance of a black receiving harsher treatment in the colonies (now the U.S.).
1645 First African slave ship, the “Rainbow” sets sail.
1655 First large scale slave auction in New Amsterdam.
1663 First major African revolt against slavery in Gloucester, Virginia
1676-77 The Bacon Rebellion in Jamestown, VA becomes the first large scale rebellion in which blacks and whites, indentured and enslaved people join together in rebelling against The Planter Class. The Planter’s response was to create a race based caste system to prevent future alliances between blacks and whites.
1688 Quakers in Philadelphia make first protest against slavery
1705 The Passage of Virginia Slave Codes partly in response to The Bacon Rebellion.
1712 Enslaved Africans rebel against slavery in New York
1712 Pennsylvania passes law preventing importation of enslaved Africans
1739 Major African revolt in Stono, S. Carolina results in laws outlawing African drumming and assembly.
1741 African revolt in New York City
1775 African American soldiers fight in battles of Bunker Hill, Concord and Lexington.
1777 Vermont becomes the first state to abolish slavery.
1787 The Northwest Ordinance prohibits slavery in Northwest Territories.
1788 U.S. Constitution is ratified, thus extending slavery.
1793 Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin greatly increases demand for slave labor.
1793 A federal Fugitive Slave Law is enacted requiring return of escapees across state lines.
1800 African Americans in Philadelphia petition Congress to end slavery.
1808 U.S. law prohibits importation of Africans for enslavement. 1811 Slave uprising in Louisiana.
1820 The Missouri Compromise bans slavery north of the southern boundary of Missouri.
1822 Denmark Vesey, an enslaved carpenter who purchased his freedom, plans a major rebellion in Charleston, S.C. The plan is leaked and Vesey and 34 co-conspirators are hanged.
1827 The majority of enslaved people in New York State are freed as a result of gradual emancipation laws. Previously, in the mid-1700s South Carolina is the only state with a larger population of enslaved people than New York.
1839 Cinque leads revolt aboard the “Amistad.”
1849 Harriet Tubman escapes and becomes a leader (conductor) on the Underground Railroad.
1850 The Compromise of 1850 includes: a much stiffer version of the Fugitive Slave Act, slave trade in Washington, D.C. is prohibited, California is admitted to Union as a free state, Utah and New Mexico are territories left to decide for themselves to be slave or free states.
1852 Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is published. The first novel by a white writer that depicts enslaved people as normal human beings, it becomes an immediate international best-seller and greatly impacts popular opinion regarding slavery. It is also adapted for the stage and eventually becomes the most produced American play of all time. Abraham Lincoln, upon meeting Stowe credits her novel with helping to start the Civil War, acknowledging the power of art to foment social change.
1854 Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act which repeals the Missouri Compromise and increases tensions with pro-slavery factions. Violence subsequently erupts in Kansas.
1857 The Dred Scott case holds that Congress does not have the power to ban slavery in states and that enslaved people are not U.S. citizens and therefore do not have legal rights.
1858 Archy Lee, an enslaved man who was brought to California from Mississippi by his “owner” runs away to Sacramento to avoid returning to Mississippi. He wins his freedom in the courts, only to have the decision overturned by pro-slavery factions in the California Supreme Court. He is kidnapped and rescued before finally winning his freedom with the help of African Americans statewide, when the Supreme Court’s decision is overturned by a Federal Court.
1859 John Brown and 21 followers attempt an unsuccessful slave revolt by capturing a federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.
1861 Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated. The Confederates attack Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Civil War breaks out. By the war’s end, 180,000 African American men served in the Union Army and 19,000 served in the Navy. Twenty five earned the Medal of Honor.
Timeline Sources: Slavery in New York Fact Sheet, History of Slavery in America Timeline, Slavery in The Making of America PBS Series, “Slavery in Sacramento” (Midtown Monthly)