AP US History: Indentured Servitude to Racial Slavery in Colonial America

No consideration of U.S. History would be complete without tackling the issue of slavery.  On the AP US History exam, you’ll need to know not only that the institution of slavery existed, but how it came to be.

During the earliest colonial times, Africans served as indentured servants on par with members of the English working class.  For a time, the only distinction between them was physical appearance.  Unfortunately for Africans, their equality would be short-lived as Slave Codes, laws governing Africans alone, were passed one at a time.

Virginia became the first colony to enact Slave Codes and changed the trajectory of US History for centuries.  Though the original colonies imposed different laws on people within their borders, other colonies followed Virginia.

The road from indentured servitude to slavery was for the African less like a deluge and more like the steady dripping of a leaky faucet.  The gradual erosion of rights resulted in the chattel-like status of Africans.

Slave Codes:

1. Established lifelong servitude for Africans and their descendants. In a reversal of established English law, children of Englishmen and African women would be slaves too.
2. Allowed masters to use corporal punishment to punish slaves while slaves were not allowed to defend themselves.
3. Protected masters who killed slaves from prosecution of a felony since no man would intentionally destroy his own property.
4. Made it illegal for slaves to be literate, own property, or testify in court against whites.
5. Failed to recognize slave families - slaves could not be married and family members could be sold to other masters.

By 1705, Virginia's General Assembly declared that "All Negro slaves within this dominion shall be held to be real estate."  The dehumanization of Africans was now complete.

On the multiple choice part of the AP US History exam, 20% of the questions will be about the time period before 1789 and 40% of the questions will involve social change and cultural development.  With these odds, you can expect a question about the progression from indentured servitude to racial slavery on the exam.