Slaves are men and women who are somebody else's property. Their owner can buy and sell
them just like any object. There have been slaves in many different parts of the world,
and in many different times in history. There are still slaves today in parts of northern
When Europeans discovered the
Americas, they soon found they could make a lot of money growing sugar in the West Indies
and Brazil. But the wars and diseases they brought with them had killed off most of the
native peoples there, so they needed workers. Growing sugar was hard, hot work, and
Europeans were not prepared to do it themselves. Slaves from Africa solved their problem.
Africans worked long hours cutting tough sugar canes under the blazing sun, and in the hot
sugar-boiling sheds. From the late 17th century, slaves were also working in tobacco and
cotton plantations, in North America.
The owners' comfortable lifestyle depended on the slaves. Slaves worked in their houses,
cooking, cleaning, and caring for their children. Slaves looked after their horses and
carriages and tended their pleasant gardens. Since slaves were so useful, owners sometimes
treated them quite well. But they were harsh and cruel when they feared trouble. Owners
were often afraid. There were soon many more slaves than Europeans.
Slaves did not accept their lives easily. Their gospel songs (spirituals) remind us how
they longed for Africa, and hated their captivity. Sometimes they rebelled.
Slavery was becoming less profitable in the early 19th century and at the same time many
white Americans and Europeans were beginning to realize how wrong it was. The British
parliament passed a law abolishing slavery throughout the empire in 1833. It came into
effect the following year. But some slaves in British colonies were not completely free
In the USA there were few slaves in the Northern states by this time, but Americans in the
southern states fought for the right to own slaves. In 1863, during the American Civil
War, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation for the emancipation of slaves. Two years
later, after the end of the war, the Congress of the USA abolished slavery throughout the
"Oxford Children`s Encyclopedia", OUP 96)