Why Was There Slavery in the Southern Colonies?

Throughout the 17th century, there were slaves found in every colony of what is now the United States. The Southern colonies held the most slaves due to the economic situation of the period that was based upon agriculture. Until the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the southern colonies relied on the cash crops of tobacco, cotton, corn and rice.

Between the years of 1670 and 1750, the enslaved population in the Northern colonies remained at a steady number. In the Southern colonies, the population of enslaved Africans and African Americans increased from 15 percent of the total population to almost 40 percent of the total population. The climate and geography of the Southern colonies were perfect for agriculture. Abundant rainfall and warmer weather for most of the year made it possible to produce very large crops to be sold. Cotton and tobacco became the largest, most harvested crops.

Slave labor allowed Southern farmers to plant and harvest more crops without having to pay for labor, leading to the emergence of the wealthy planter-class that defines the antebellum South. Without the labor of enslaved people, this planter class would not have amassed exorbitant sums of wealth. Having slaves allowed these families to become even wealthier, helping them to buy more slaves. Some crops, such as rice, proved difficult to grow, and the planter class lacked the skill. Plantation owners would purchase slaves from the region of West Africa that had experience growing rice to work on their farms.