Berlin’s concept of the Charter & Plantation


Berlin’s concept of the Charter and Plantation generations of the colonial period in American History

There is usually a conventional image that people have when they are thinking about slaves. It is usually an image of many slaves who are picking cotton as an overseer or their master keeps a watchful eye on them. This is the experience that many black people in the South were subjected to many years before the start of the Civil War. However, it could have been misleading if this issue was thought to have begun in the year 1619 when the first blacks appeared in Virginia. Also, it is misleading if one thinks about the 19th century Cotton Kingdom as the reason why slavery began.

A University of Maryland professor of History known as Ira Berlin proved that there were various meanings and forms that vary from place to place and over time concerning slavery. Race and slavery did not in any way have a character that had the ability to endure for many centuries. However, the two were continuously being reconstructed or constructed with the response to the ever-changing circumstances in history. Berlin clearly showed that there was a lot of effectiveness and development among African-Americans during the first two hundred years. Olaudah Equiano is an example of a slave that gave a narration of his life as a slave. He wanted to make known the evils that were brought about by slavery.

Reasons for variations in slavery

One of the reasons for variations in slavery was because of geographical factors as Berlin sort to make known[1]. North America had race-based slavery and this was before the beginning of the antebellum that had four key regional histories. These included; the Mississippi Valley (Louisiana), Carolina low country, Chesapeake (Maryland and Virginia) and the North (New England and the Mid-Atlantic States or colonies). There were different forms of slavery in various areas based on some known factors.

Slavery was differentiated by the race relations that were endangered, the role it had in the society and economy, and its origin. Berlin also went further to give the three main slave experiences that were corresponding with the historical periods. Revolutionary, Plantation, and Charter generations applied in different ways to the key regions. In turn, this provided a device that was integrated and thus a basis for the provision of separate and unique stories.

The 17th century

The account given by Berlin concerning the charter generation is thought to be quite original. People with African origins, arrived in English North America as the 17th century was coming to an end. They were not from the usual African societies that practiced their traditions.  Even before the start of the 1680’s period, the famous Atlantic slave trade focused on ensuring that Brazil and the Caribbean had enough labor to work in the sugar plantations. This means that black people who made their way to North America or were bought to go there were most likely Atlantic Creoles. They were not people who had original African ancestry or culture in them.

Berlin gave a vivid illustration of how various cultures and races of the Atlantic rim of the 17th century mixed quite well. The United States received the first blacks in its territory quite early and they had Portuguese or Spanish surnames. Also, they had been exposed to Christianity and had knowledge of at least one European language. They had even spent quite a considerable amount of time either in Europe or the Caribbean. Equiano was one of the slaves who came from Europe and thus did not suffer as much as those from the African interior. In fact, he believed that he was special because he did not suffer from the same fate as most slaves did[2]. Based on the information provided by Berlin, Equiano’s claims are true because some slaves were treated as free people.

In Chesapeake and the Northern colonies, towards the end of the 17th century, there was a time in the colony of South Carolina, whereby, charter generations lived with slaves in their societies. It should be known that this is quite different than when referring to slave societies. This means that black people were under the ownership of their masters and they had to provide labor for them[3].  The slaves were mistreated quite a lot that some of them wished that they would die.

Equiano even shared the same sentiments when he claimed: “I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief”[4]. Indentures servants did a lot of work and these people were white. It should be made clear that Berlin believed that individuals with African origins, had arrived on a ship meant for slaves and they had to work for life. Other slaves were lucky because the charter generation ensured that they would work for a fixed term and then become free. For example, some of the black slaves in Virginia could work as litigants and even as voters, and even go as far as engaging in mixed-race marriages.

The 18th century

The 18th century led to another series of events in the life of slaves mostly because of the expansion of the Atlantic slave trade. An almost similar account is given by a slave known as Olaudah Equiano. He described the manner which white men came to his village in order to steal children so that they could be sold off into slavery. During the time, the plantation generation slaves were thought to be most likely from the interior parts of Africa[5]. There was a huge demand for captives from Africa as there was a rise of many plantations that produced staple crops for exportation. For example, in the low country, rice was grown and in Chesapeake, tobacco was grown. The regions had expansive slave societies with large planters[6].

The masters were extremely harsh and disciplined the slaves as well as restricted their rights. Also, in the North, during the 18th century, many slaves were imported, but this did not result in making a slave society in the region. There were no crops which could be sown in the plantations and the mixed economy had better use for the slaves. They would be made to work in the industries, households as well as in farms. Most of the slaves who arrived were African males and did not have any immunity to the diseases that existed in the Northern region. There were high unbalanced gender ratios and death rates, and this led to the decline of the black population in the North.

The low country and Chesapeake remained plantation regions, but later on, diverged past the 18th century. It is because the Creoles or the American-born slaves became predominant in the middle of the 18th century.  In fact, there was an influx of about 35000 Africans between the years 1803 up to 1808. This helped slaves from Georgia and South Carolina become closer with their African ancestry roots.  As a result of economic and cultural reasons, low country slaves detached themselves from the world created by the whites. They had a better life as compared to the black people from the upper South. At the same time, Louisiana continued experiencing shifts in its economy because of the American and Spanish rule. The experiences of the free people and slaves started to fluctuate and vary in order to suit their various needs[7].


In conclusion, it is quite evident that slavery has various impacts on those who experienced and were part of it. The account given by Berlin is quite true as it tells of the ongoings in the various regions where slavery took place. The plantation and charter generations were distinct because of the manner, which slaves were treated. The South treated blacks in the most unusual and cruel manner because they were thought not to be human beings.

The account is given by Equiano sort to ensure that the world opened its eyes and know what was being done to innocent human beings. It is quite ironical that whites believed that black people were barbarians, yet the whites were in fact barbaric because of their actions. However, it cannot be disputed that as a result of slavery the economies of many county’s grew. Therefore, I agree with the plantation and charter generation concept provided by Berlin.


Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Gates, Henry. The Classic Slave Narratives. New York: Signet, 2012.

[1] Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2000), 21.

[2] Henry Gates, The Classic Slave Narratives (New York: Signet, 2012), 101-109.

[3] Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2000), 230.

[4] Henry Gates, The Classic Slave Narratives (New York: Signet, 2012), 207.

[5] Henry Gates, The Classic Slave Narratives (New York: Signet, 2012), 15-225.

[6] Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2000), 422.

[7] Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2000), 480.


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