Images of America

A Social and Historical Look
at America Through the Movies

Slavery in America Timeline

  • 1502 First African slaves come to Spanish America.
  • 1619 Slaves in Virginia Africans brought to Jamestown are the first slaves imported into Britain’s North American colonies. Like indentured servants, they were probably freed after a fixed period of service.
  • 1662 Hereditary Slavery Virginia law decrees that children of black mothers “shall be bond or free according to the condition of the mother.”
  • 1705 Virginia lawmakers allow owners to bequeath their slaves. The same law allowed masters to “kill and destroy” runaways.
  • 1775 Abolitionist Society Anthony Benezet of Philadelphia founds the world’s first abolitionist society. Benjamin Franklin becomes its president in 1787.
  • 1777 Vermont abolishes slavery
  • 1780 Massachusetts abolishes slavery
  • 1790 First United States Census Nearly 700,000 slaves live and toil in a nation of 3.9 million people.
  • 1794 Cotton Gin Eli Whitney patents his device for pulling seeds from cotton. The invention turns cotton into the cash crop of the American South—and creates a huge demand for slave labor.
  • 1794 Connecticut frees, at age 28, all future children born to slaves.
  • 1806 England bans the African Slave Trade.
  • 1808 United States Bans Slave Trade Importing African slaves is outlawed, but smuggling continues.
  • 1857 Dred Scott Decision The United States Supreme Court decides, seven to two, that blacks can never be citizens and that Congress has no authority to outlaw slavery in any territory.
  • 1863 Emancipation Proclamation President Abraham Lincoln decrees that all slaves in Rebel territory are free on January 1, 1863.
  • 1865 The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution outlaws slavery.

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