Timelines: Timeline of African Slavery in the United States of America 1497 – Present

Shalom, everyone! The following is a timeline of African slavery in the former United States of America from 1497 to the present. Please note that this post is a work-in-progress. As more information becomes available, this timeline will be updated:

Year Historical Event
1497 John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), an Italian explorer sponsored by King Henry VII of England, makes landfall on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland (modern Canada), serving as the basis of subsequent English claims to North America.
1513 Juan Ponce de León becomes the first European to land in Florida.
1519 Alonso Álvarez de Pineda sailed along the northern coastline of the Gulf of Mexico.
1524 The Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano landed in the neighborhood of Chesapeake Bay and explored the Atlantic coast of North America from Florida to New Brunswick including New York Bay and Narragansett Bay.
1532 William Hawkins of Plymouth becomes the first English mariner to visit the coast of West Africa, although he does not take part in slave trading.
1555 Queen Mary of England bans English involvement in Guinea, most likely due to pressure from Spain.
1555 John Lok brings a small group of African slaves from Shama (modern-day Ghana) in an effort to capitalize on the African slave trade.
1562 John Hawkins of Plymouth becomes the first English sailor to obtain African slaves for sale in the Spanish West Indies. About 300 of these poor souls were captured from modern-day Sierra Leone and sold. Hawkins‘ ship, the “Jesus,” departs from Deptford in October 1562.
1577 Sir Francis Drake, a pirate sponsored by the English government, sets sail form Plymouth, England to circumnavigate the globe. Returns to England in September 1580.
1581 Spanish residents in St. Augustine, Florida import enslaved Africans.
1585 Sir Francis Drake successfully attacks Spanish slave-trading interests in the Cape Verde islands. This attack and others following lead to the Anglo-Spanish War, 1585 – 1604.
1586 Sir Francis Drake attacks Spanish colonies in Santo Domingo and Cartegena.
1588 The Spanish Armada destroyed by storms at sea gives a boost to English maritime power and colonial ambitions.
1596 (July 11) Queen Elizabeth I of England writes a letter complaining that “too many “Blackamoors (Africans) are being brought into the realme.” The queen tasks German slave trader Caspar van Senden with the round-up and removal of all Africans from England.
1607 Jamestown, the first permanent British colony in North America, is founded in modern Virginia.
1609 1610 English violence alienated natives and these laid siege to the Jamestown fort for several months. Unable to secure more food supplies, many colonists died during the “starving time” of 1609–10.
  • Hampton, Virginia was settled.
  • Kecoughtan, Virginia was settled by the English by luring them out of their village with a tambourine player, then attacking them.
  • The London Company instructed Thomas Gates, the newly appointed colonial governor, to Christianize the natives and absorb them into the colony.
  • Lord de la Warre sent governor Thomas Gates against the Kecoughtan. “Gates lured the Indians into the open by means of a music-and-dance act by his drummer, and then slaughtered them.”
1610 – 1614 The First Anglo–Powhatan War, between the Powhatan and the English colonists, lasted from 1610 to 1614.
  • The Dutch laid claim to the territories of New Netherland.
  • Slavery was introduced to the Colony of Virginia.
1619 The first African slaves are brought to North America, on a Portuguese slave-trading ship, the San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist), in the British colony of JamestownVirginia. The ship, originating from Luanda and en route to Mexico, was captured by British pirates and redirected to Jamestown.
1620 The Mayflower, bearing some one hundred Brownist religious refugees, the Pilgrim Fathers, dropped anchor at Provincetown Harbor, north of the territory around the mouth of the Hudson River for which they had been granted a land patent. Its male passengers drafted the Mayflower Compact, a contract establishing democratic government for the Plymouth Colony and appointing John Carver (Plymouth Colony governor) its first governor.
1622 The Indian massacre of 1622 happened.
1626 The Dutch West India Company imports enslaved Africans into the Dutch colony of New Netherlands (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware).
1636 Colonial North America‘s slave trade begins when the first American slave carrier, Desire, is built and launched in Massachusetts.
1641 New Netherlands law forbids residents from harboring or feeding runaway slaves. Massachusetts is the first colony to legalize slavery.
1643 The New England Confederation of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven adopts a fugitive slave law.
1644 (February 25A group of 11 enslaved Africans New Amsterdam (modern-day New York) successfully petition the government there in what is the first group manumission in a North American colony.
1650 Connecticut legalizes slavery.
1652 Rhode Island passes laws restricting slavery and forbidding enslavement for more than 10 years. Massachusetts requires all African and Native American servants to receive military training.
1654 A Virginia court grants blacks the right to hold slaves
1657 Virginia passes a fugitive slave law.
1660 The newly restored King Charles II of England charters the “Royal Adventurers into Africa,” the first English state-sponsored slave trading company. King Charles II also orders the Council of Foreign Plantations to devise strategies for converting slaves and servants to Christianity.
1662 Hereditary Slavery Virginia law decrees that children of black mothers “shall be bond or free according to the condition of the mother.” Massachusetts reverses a ruling dating back to 1652, which allowed blacks to train in arms. New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire pass similar laws restricting the bearing of arms.
  • In Gloucester County, Virginia the first documented slave rebellion in the colonies takes place. 
  • Maryland legalizes slavery.
  • King Charles II of England, gives the Carolinas to proprietors. Until the 1680s, most settlers in the region are small landowners from Barbados.
1664 New York and New Jersey legalize slavery. The State of Maryland mandates lifelong servitude for all black slaves. New York, New Jersey, the Carolinas, and Virginia all pass similar laws.
1666 Maryland passes a fugitive slave law.
1667 Virginia declares that Christian baptism will not alter a person’s status as a slave. 
1668 New Jersey passes a fugitive slave law.
1670 Virginia prohibits free blacks and Indians from keeping Christian (i.e. white) servants.
1672 The financially troubled “Royal Adventurers into Africa” is restructured and given a new charter as The Royal African Company. The company remains England’s major slave-trading organization into the 1730s.
1673 The Puritan Richard Baxter publishes antislavery material in “A Christian directory, or, a summ of practical theologie, and cases of conscience.”
1674 New York declares that blacks who convert to Christianity after their enslavement will not be freed.
1675 – 1676 King Philip’s War: A band of Pokanoket raided the outskirts of Swansea, Massachusetts.
1676 In Virginia, black slaves and black and white indentured servants band together to participate in Bacon’s Rebellion.  The Quaker George Fox publishes “Gospel Family-Order, being a short discourse concerning the Ordering of Families, both of Whites, Blacks and Indians,” which urged Quakers in America to treat their slaves humanely.
1680 Virginia forbids blacks and slaves from bearing arms, prohibits blacks from congregating in large numbers, and mandates harsh punishment for slaves who assault
Christians or attempt to escape.
1681 (March 4Pennsylvania Colony, later to become a center of antislavery thought, was founded by a grant to William Penn by King Charles II.
1682 Virginia declares that all imported black servants are slaves for life.
1684 New York makes it illegal for slaves to sell goods.
1688 (February 18The Germantown Protest, sometimes also referred to as The German Mennonite Resolution against Slavery, the first formal protest against slavery to be made in the British American colonies, is delivered in Germantown, Pennsylvania.
1689 John Locke publishes “Two Treatises of Government” an essay offering a justification for aristocracy, slavery and serfdom.
  • Virginia passes the first anti-miscegenation law, forbidding marriages between whites and blacks or whites and Native Americans.
  • Virginia prohibits the manumission of slaves within its borders. Manumitted slaves are forced to leave the colony. 
  • South Carolina passes the first comprehensive slave codes.
1693 The anonymous “An Exhortation and Caution to Friends Concerning Buying or Keeping of Negroes” becomes the first printed pamphlet explicitly denouncing slavery and the slave trade, and is directed towards Quakers in Philadelphia.
1694 Rice cultivation is introduced into Carolina. Slave importation increases dramatically.
  • The Royal African Trade Company loses its monopoly and New England colonists enter the slave trade.
  • (October 23Philadelphia Quakers rule that “Friends be Careful not to Encourage the bringing in of any more Negroes, & that such that have Negroes be Careful of them, bring them to Meetings, or have Meetings with them in their Families, & Restrain them from Loose, & Lewd Living.” This is probably the first institutional attempt to limit slave trading in America.
1700 Pennsylvania legalizes slavery.
1702 New York passes An Act for Regulating Slaves. Among the prohibitions of this act are meetings of more than three slaves, trading by slaves, and testimony by slaves in court.
  • Massachusetts requires those masters who liberate slaves to provide a bond of 50 pounds or more in the event that the freedman becomes a public charge. 
  • Connecticut assigns the punishment of whipping to any slaves who disturb the peace or assault whites. 
  • Rhode Island makes it illegal for blacks and Indians to walk at night without passes.
  • Slaves declared property like real estate, Virginia lawmakers allow owners to bequeath their slaves. The same law allowed masters to “kill and destroy” runaways.
  • Virginia Slave Code codifies slave status, declaring all non- Christian servants entering the colony to be slaves. It defines all slaves as real estate, acquits masters who kill slaves during punishment, forbids slaves and free colored peoples from physically assaulting white persons, and denies slaves the right to bear arms or move abroad without written permission. 
  • New York declares that punishment by execution will be applied to certain runaway slaves.
1706 New York declares blacks, Indians, and slaves who kill white people to be subject to the death penalty. Connecticut requires that Indians, mulattos, and black servants gain permission from their masters to engage in trade.
  • The Southern colonies require militia captains to enlist and train one slave for every white soldier.
  • Rhode Island requires that slaves be accompanied by their masters when visiting the homes of free persons.
  • Blacks outnumber whites in South Carolina.
1710 New York forbids blacks, Native Americans, and mulattos from walking at night without lighted lanterns.
1711 Rhode Island prohibits the clandestine importation of black and Indian slaves.
  • New York Slave Revolt of 1712. Slaves in New York City kill whites during an uprising, later squelched by the militia. Nineteen rebels are executed.
  • New York declares it illegal for blacks, Indians, and slaves to murder other blacks, Native Americans, and slaves.
  • New York forbids freed blacks, Indians, and mulatto slaves from owning real estate and holding property.
  • In Charleston, South Carolina slaves are forbidden from hiring themselves out.
1715 Rhode Island legalizes slavery. Maryland declares all slaves entering the province and their descendants to be slaves for life.
1717 New York enacts a fugitive slave law.
1723 Virginia abolishes manumissions.
1724 French Louisiana prohibits slaves from marrying without the permission of their owners.
1730 – 1750 The number of male and female slaves imported to the North American British colonies balances out for the first time.
1731 The Spanish reverse a 1730 decision and declare that slaves fleeing to Florida from Carolina will not be sold or returned.
1732 Slaves aboard the ship of New Hampshire Captain John Major kill both captain and crew, seizing the vessel and its cargo.
1733 Quaker Elihu Coleman’s A Testimony against That Anti-Christian Practice of MAKING SLAVES OF MEN is published.
  • Under an English law Georgia prohibits the importation and use of black slaves. Georgia petitions Britain for the legalization of slavery.
  • Louis XV, King of France, declares that when an enslaved woman gives birth to the child of a free man, neither mother nor child can be sold. Further, after a certain time, mother and child will be freed.
  • Georgia‘s trustees permit the importation of black slaves.
  • Spanish Florida promises freedom and land to runaway slaves.
1739 Stono Rebellion in South Carolina led by Jemmy/Cato.
  • South Carolina passes the comprehensive Negro Act, making it illegal for slaves to move abroad, assemble in groups, raise food, earn money, and learn to read English. Owners are permitted to kill rebellious slaves if necessary.
  • Georgia and Carolina attempt to invade Florida in retaliation for the territory’s policy toward runaways.
1749 Georgia repeals its prohibition and permits the importation of black slaves.
1751 George II repeals the 1705 act, making slaves real estate in Virginia.
1760 New Jersey prohibits the enlistment of slaves in the militia without their master’s permission.
1767 The Virginia House of Burgess boycotts the British slave trade in protest of the Townsend Acts. Georgia and the Carolinas follow suit.
1770 Escaped slave, Crispus Attucks, is killed by British forces in Boston, Massachusetts. He is one of the first colonists to die in the war for independence.
1773 The first separate black church in America is founded in South Carolina. Slaves in Massachusetts unsuccessfully petition the government for their freedom.
1774 The First Continental Congress bans trade with Britain and vows to discontinue the slave trade after the 1st of December. Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Georgia prohibit the importation of slaves. Virginia takes action against slave importation.
  • The slave population in the colonies is nearly 500,000. In Virginia, the ratio of free colonists to slaves is nearly 1:1. In South Carolina it is approximately 1:2.
  • Georgia takes action against slave importation.
  • Abolitionist Society Anthony Benezet of Philadelphia founds the world’s first abolitionist society. Benjamin Franklin becomes its president in 1787.
  • In April, the first battles of the Revolutionary war are waged between the British and Colonial armies at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. Black Minutemen participate in the fighting.
  • In July 1775, George Washington announces a ban on the enlistment of free blacks and slaves in the colonial army. By the end of the year, he reverses the ban, ordering the Continental Army to accept the service of free blacks.
  • In November 1775, Virginia Governor John Murray, Lord Dunmore, issues a proclamation announcing that any slave fighting on the side of the British will be liberated.
  • The United States of America declares its independence from Great Britain. Slavery continues unabated in the newly independent state.
  • In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers, forbids its members from holding slaves.
  • Delaware prohibits the importation of African slaves.
  • Vermont is the first of the thirteen colonies to abolish slavery and enfranchise all adult males.
  • New York enfranchises all free propertied men regardless of color or prior servitude.
  • Rhode Island forbids the removal of slaves from the state.
  • Virginia prohibits the importation of slaves.
  • Delaware makes it illegal to enslave imported Africans.
  • Pennsylvania begins gradual emancipation.
  • A freedom clause in the Massachusetts constitution is interpreted as an abolishment of slavery. Massachusetts enfranchises all men regardless of race.
1783 American Revolution Ends. Britain and the infant United States sign the Peace of Paris treaty.
1784 Congress narrowly defeats Thomas Jefferson’s proposal to ban slavery in new territories after 1800.1790—First United States Census Nearly 700,000 slaves live and toil in a nation of 3.9 million people.
1793 Fugitive Slave Act. The United States outlaws any efforts to impede the capture of runaway slaves.
1794 Eli Whitney invents and patents the cotton gin, 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.
1800 American citizens banned from investment and employment in the international slave trade in an additional Slave Trade Act.
1802 Ohio state constitution abolishes slavery.
1804 All the Northern states abolished slavery; New Jersey in 1804 was the last to act. None of the Southern or border states abolished slavery before the American Civil War.
1806 In a message to Congress, Thomas Jefferson calls for criminalizing the international slave trade, asking Congress to “withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights … which the morality, the reputation, and the best of our country have long been eager to proscribe.”
1807 International slave trade made a felony in Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves; this act takes effect on 1 January 1808, the earliest date permitted under the Constitution. Judge Augustus Woodward denies the return of two slaves owned by a man in Windsor, Upper Canada. Woodward declares that any man “coming into this Territory is by law of the land a freeman.
1808 Importation and exportation of slaves made a crime but smuggling continues.
1812 British withdrawing after the War of 1812 leave a fully armed fort in the hands of maroons, escaped slaves and their descendents, and their Seminole allies. Becomes known as Negro Fort.
1817 New York4 July 1827 set as the date to free all ex-slaves from indenture.
1820 The Compromise of 1820 bans slavery north of the 36º 30′ line; the Act to Protect the Commerce of the United States and Punish the Crime of Piracy is amended to consider the maritime slave trade as piracy, making it punishable with death. Indiana supreme court orders almost all slaves in the state to be freed in Polly v. Lasselle.
1821 In accordance with Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819, Florida becomes a territory of the United States. The main reason was Spain’s inability or unwillingness to capture and return escaped slaves.
  • Liberia founded by the American Colonization Society as a colony for emancipated slaves.
  • Slave Revolt: South Carolina freed slave Denmark Vesey attempts a rebellion in Charleston. Thirty-five participants in the ill-fated uprising are hanged
1827 New York – Last vestiges of slavery abolished. Children born between 1799 and 1827 are indentured until age 25 (females) or age 28 (males).
1828 In Phoebe v. Jay, the Illinois Supreme Court rules that indentured servants in Illinois cannot be treated as chattel and bequeathing them by will is illegal.
1831 Slave Revolt: Virginia Slave preacher Nat Turner leads a two-day uprising against whites, killing about 60. Militiamen crush the revolt then spend two months searching for Turner, who is eventually caught and hanged. Enraged Southerners impose harsher restrictions on their slaves.
1835 Censorship Southern states expel abolitionists and forbid the mailing of antislavery propaganda.
1841 United States v. The Amistad finds that the slaves of La Amistad were illegally enslaved and were legally allowed, as free men, to fight their captors by any means necessary.
1845 In Jarrot v. Jarrot, the Illinois Supreme Court frees the last indentured ex-slaves in the state who were born after the Northwest Ordinance.
1846 – 1848 Mexican-American War. Defeated Mexico yields an enormous amount of territory to the United States. Americans then wrestle with a controversial topic: Is slavery permitted in the new lands?
1847 Escaped slave Frederick Douglass begins publishing the North Star newspaper in Rochester, New York.
1849 Harriet Tubman escapes slavery. After fleeing slavery, Tubman returns south at least 15 times to help rescue several hundred others.
1850 The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 requires the return of escaped slaves to their owners regardless of the state they are in. In exchange for California’s entering the Union as a free state, northern congressmen accept a harsher Fugitive Slave Act.
1852 Uncle Tom’s Cabin Published Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel about the horrors of slavery sells 300,000 copies within a year of publication.
1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act Setting aside the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Congress allows these two new territories to choose whether to allow slavery. Violent clashes erupt.
1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford rules that black slaves and their descendants can’t gain American citizenship and that slaves aren’t entitled to freedom even if they live in a free state for years.
1859 The Wyandotte Constitution establishes the future state of Kansas as a free state, after four years of armed conflict between pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups in the territory. Southern dominance in the Senate of the United States delays the admission of Kansas as a state until 1861.
1860 Last slave ship to unload illegally on U.S. territory, the Clotilda.
1861 The election of Abraham Lincoln leads to the attempted secession of several slaveholding states and the American Civil War.
1861 – 1865 United States Civil War. Four years of brutal conflict claim 623,000 lives.
1862 Bilateral treaty abolishing the slave trade (African Slave Trade Treaty Act). Nathaniel Gordon becomes the only person hanged in U.S. history “for being engaged in the slave trade”.
1863 1 January 1863 – Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in Confederate-controlled areas. Most slaves in “border states” are freed by state action, and a separate law frees the slaves in Washington, D.C.
1865 Slavery abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment, excluding convicted criminals. It affects 40,000 remaining slaves. Ratified at the end of the Civil War, the amendment abolished slavery, with one critical exception: Slavery and involuntary servitude actually remain lawful “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
1865 – 1965 Jim Crow Era – State and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States.
1866 Slavery abolished in Indian (Native American) Territory.
1926 1926 League of Nations Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery.
1954 Unites States ratifies 1926 League of Nations Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery.
1964 The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It prohibits unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations.
1964 – Present Involuntarily servitude continues under the guise of mass incarceration and private prison systems.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.