Historically, slavery has appeared in many forms. Slaves have served in capacities as diverse as concubines, warriors, servants, craftsmen, tutors, and victims of ritual sacrifice. In the Americas, however, slavery emerged as a system of forced labour designed to facilitate the building of new economies. The use of African slave labour assumed different roles depending on the natural and economic conditions that varied between colonial regions.
Slavery was a social institution defined by law and custom as the most absolute involuntary form of human servitude. The definitive characteristics of slaves are as follows: their labour or services were obtained through force; their physical beings were regarded as the property of another person, their owner; and they were entirely subject to their owner's will. Since the earliest times, slaves have been legally defined as chattel. Therefore, they could be bought, sold, traded, given as a gift, or pledged for a debt by their owner, usually without any recourse to personal or legal objection or restraint. .
With the development of the plantation system in the southern colonies in the latter half of the 17th century, the number of Africans imported as agricultural slave labourers increased significantly. Generally, slaves were used as domestics and in trade in the northern colonies; in the Middle Atlantic colonies, they were used more in agriculture; and in the southern colonies, where plantation agriculture was the primary occupation, most slaves were used to work the plantations. All the colonies in their early stages shared a common dependence upon the exploitation of subject people to achieve a measure of prosperity. The purpose of this paper is to explore the emergence and growth of slavery in North America. Specifically, I will examine how the occupations, working conditions and status of slaves evolved in various colonies from their arrival in 1619, through the American Revolution, to the new republic.