Slavery started in America in 1619, when a Dutch ship transported the first African slaves to Jamestown, Va. The slaves were brought to work the New World's crops.
Because America had no laws to govern slavery, the earliest slaves were treated like indentured servants who could work for several years to earn their freedom. America's first slave laws were passed in 1641, taking away any hope of eventual freedom. Most slaves were purchased by landowners in the Southern colonies where the economy centered around indigo, rice and tobacco crops until the late 1700s. When the cotton gin was invented in 1793, many southern plantation owners switched to growing cotton, becoming even more dependent on inexpensive slave labor.