The African American Population in the Colonies

In 1750, there were roughly 1,076,000 Africans or African-Americans living in North America. Three-quarters resided on Caribbean islands where most had been brought to grow sugar, while the rest were on the mainland. Half of all North American blacks lived in British colonies, about a third in French colonies, and just over ten percent in Spanish colonies. Most were enslaved, except in the Spanish colonies, where free persons of color outnumbered slaves by almost two to one, because manumissions were much more common there than in northern European colonies.

The high mortality prevailing in the sugar islands required the continual importation of new slaves just to maintain numbers, so the black population of the British, French, and Dutch Caribbean remained overwhelmingly African throughout the eighteenth century. The combination of high mortality, low fertility, and continued importation of new forced migrants created populations with unusually high proportions of men and women aged 20 to 40, with unusually small proportions of older people and children; however on older settled islands like Barbados, there was also a growing minority of native born blacks.

Blacks on the British mainland also grew rapidly by 1750. Natural increase accounted for most of this, although there were pronounced regional differences. Imports of new Africans had peaked in the Chesapeake by 1740, and within a decade or so later perhaps three-quarters of blacks in Virginia were native-born. In South Carolina, where the slave trade continued unabated, blacks were more evenly split between Africans and creoles at mid-century.

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