They had the right to earn and keep their wages. Slavery had no legal structure in the colonies. Slaves had legitimate marriages, adopted Christianity and were part of the military. These slaves negotiated for greater freedom. The Dutch West India Company gave them ‘half freedom,’ under which they could live on ‘free negro lots,’ farm their own land and pay a tribute to the company. The company retained the right to their services when necessary. Africans in New Amsterdam were now a mixture of slaves, half-free and free men.
Slavery now developed in the British colonies. The tobacco country in Chesapeake, Virginia and Maryland was in need of cheap labor in the early 1600’s. This led the British in these colonies to adopt the indentured labor system. Indentured labor made tobacco the colonys most profitable export. Both white and African indentured labor were hired for a prescribed period, had no rights, were treated badly and could become free at the end of the indenture. Initially, they were treated equally. 1640 was a turning point at which indentured Africans began to be treated worse than indentured whites. Race began to assume increased significance. Indentured African slaves who attain freedom were not treated on par with free whites. The nonracial-specific system of indentured servitude that defined colonial labor in its earliest years came to an end.
By 1665, Virginia, New York and Maryland legalized slavery by law and custom. All the British colonies became slave societies. All children of indentured women became slaves by law. As Virginia planters perceived the advantages of race slavery in expanding their tobacco holdings, they introduced laws in 1691 forbidding free blacks from living in certain counties. African-Americans were denied education, freedom of movement and the right to hold property.