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Turns of the Centuries Exhibit > African Americans 1780-1820
This theme in other eras: 1680-1720 | 1780-1820 | 1880-1920

African Americans 1780-1820

1780-1820African Americans

The American Revolution led Americans to view servitude of all sorts, and especially slavery, in a new light. Slavery as an institution fell increasingly out of step with the ideals of a new American society based on belief in the essential equality of all men. Many people increasingly viewed slavery as an inherently evil system that endangered the republican experiment itself. Antislavery societies sprang up in every state. In Massachusetts, a series of court cases put slavery on the defensive by challenging its legality under the state constitution's declaration that "All men are born free and equal." Despite these challenges, slavery disappeared only slowly in the north. Gradual emancipation laws in states such as New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut kept many African American men and women in bondage well into the 1800s. Tragically, slavery in these same years became ever more entrenched in the society and economy of the South, while northern factories turned slave-grown cotton into cloth and profited from producing the tools, shoes and clothing for the slaves who grew it. By the early 1800s it was becoming clear that slavery would not die out as the nation's founders had anticipated but was in fact flourishing and expanding. Debates over slavery grew increasingly contentious. In the decades preceding the Civil War, orators and writers publicized the injustice and horrid conditions of slavery. Free African Americans played an essential role in galvanizing the public conscience by speaking out against the evils of slavery and its consequences.

Explore these subthemes to better understand African Americans at this time.

Struggle for Freedom

Struggle for Freedom : A Peculiar Institution

In the years following the Revolution, slavery became a "Peculiar Institution" out of step with the ideals of a new American society.


Working : "Where art and strength combine"

The career of Cesor Chelor provides a glimpse of the life of an African American woodworker in early New England.

African Americans

African Americans : Revolution

Crispus Attucks was a black maritime worker whose name became a household name when he died in the Boston Massacre.


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