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Early rebellions

Leisler's Rebellion (1689) was an uprising in colonial New York City in which militia captain Jacob Leisler seized control of lower New York from 1689 to 1691. The uprising, which occurred in the midst of Britain's Glorious Revolution (see the earlier section "The Navigation and Molasses Acts"), reflected colonial resentment of the policies of King James II. British troops sent by James' successor William III restored royal authority in 1691.

In Virginia, its governor, William Berkeley, was doing well with the Indians. To keep his personally profitable fur-trade monopoly with the local Indians flowing, he looked the other way when American Indians killed settlers on the frontier. In Bacon's Rebellion (1676), a group of about 1,000 planters took on the American Indians; they then drove Berkeley from his capital at Jamestown and burned the place. After Bacon died of dysentery, a common disease of the time, Berkeley defeated the rebellion and hanged the surviving leaders. This small rebellion sent a wake-up call to the big planters; they needed to find workers who lived longer and couldn't fight back. The answer was slaves.

Slavery before the Revolution

Only about 5 percent of the 8 million human beings stolen from Africa to be enslaved in the New World during the 1600s and 1700s went to the colonies in America (or, later, the United States itself). One-third of the slaves went to Brazil; most of the rest worked the sugar plantations of the Caribbean.

As late as 1670, slaves made up less than 10 percent of the population of Southern plantations, a situation that started to change as indentured servants died off. By 1750, half the population of Virginia was African. Many slaves in the Deep South died from hard work in the rice and indigo fields (cotton came a century later) and had to be replaced with new workers. In the Chesapeake Bay, the very place that killed so many white indentured servants, slaves lived much longer. By the mid-1700s, the slave population of this area was capable of sustaining itself without importing more human beings.

Slaves brought more than just labor to the New World. Without call-and-response singing, the rhythmic ring shout dance, hand drums, and the banjo, all of which came from Africa, America may still be doing the minuet. With African influence, the United States started jazz, blues, and rock-and-roll. Much of the early U.S. economic system was based directly or indirectly on the unpaid labor of slaves. They provided much of the hard work and often the know-how to grow crops that aided the development of and enriched the United States.

Slaves fought back when they could. A revolt in New York City in 1712 cost the lives of a dozen whites and 21 Africans. The Stono Revolt (1739) saw 50 self-liberated slaves marching toward Florida to be free, only to be stopped by the militia.

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