Timeline from 1619 to 1971
First Africans arrive in Virginia.
Beginning of large-scale introduction of African slave labor in the
British Caribbean for sugar production.
Connecticut and Rhode Island prohibit further importation of slaves
(although Rhode Island merchants remain in slave trade to other
Society of Friends (Quakers) abolishes slavery among members.
Vermont Constitution prohibits slavery.
Massachusetts Constitution adopted with freedom clause interpreted as
Pennsylvania adopts gradual emancipation, freeing slaves born after
1780 upon their 28th birthday.
Connecticut and Rhode Island pass gradual emancipation laws.
Connecticut prohibits residents from participating in slave trade.
U.S. Constitution ratified with clause equating slaves to 3/5ths of a
white citizen and provision that slave trade would end within 20 years.
Eli Whitney’s invention of cotton gin sets stage for expansion of
slavery in American South as short-staple cotton becomes economical
Decade of greatest importation of African slaves into U.S., totaling
New York passes gradual emancipation law.
U.S. citizens prohibited from exporting slaves.
Gabriel’s conspiracy in Richmond, Virginia, seeks to overthrow slavery
Slave boatmen plot rebellion along Roanoke River in Virginia.
New Jersey passes gradual emancipation law.
Great Britain abolishes slave trade.
The American Colonization Society is founded, espousing the return of
African Americans to Africa.
U.S. law equates slave trading with piracy, punishable by death.
The Missouri Crisis paralyzes national politics, as southerners and
northerners argue over the admission of new slave states to the Union.
Eventually, Missouri is admitted as a slave state, balanced by the
admission of Maine as a free state. The Missouri Compromise also
includes an agreement to bar slavery from northern federal territories
-- a compromise that holds until 1854.
President James Monroe orders first U.S. Navy patrol against slave
ships on West African coast
The first settlers found the colony of Liberia, for freed African
American slaves returning to Africa. Over the 1820s, some 1,400 blacks
immigrate from the U.S. to the colony.
Denmark Vesey slave revolt plot uncovered in Charleston, South
Carolina, and conspirators executed.
South Carolina passes Negro Seamen Acts requiring imprisonment of black
sailors while in port to prevent their inciting slave revolts. Similar
acts later passed in Alabama, Louisiana, and Cuba.
Pedro Blanco, former Spanish slave-ship captain, establishes slave
factory at Lomboko on the Gallinas River in present Sierra Leone
The Antelope Case: The U.S. Revenue Cutter Dallas seizes a slave ship,
the Antelope, sailing under a Venezualan flag, with a cargo of 281
Africans, claimed by Portuguese and Spanish owners, in international
waters. The U.S. Supreme Court hears five days of arguments before
March 16: John Marshall delivers a unaminous opinion declaring the
slave trade a violation of natural law, meaning it can be upheld only
by positive law.
But the ruling sets only 80% of the Africans free. U.S. law by this
point defined the slave trade as piracy, but the court held that U.S.
could not prescribe law for other nations -- and noted that the slave
trade was legal as far as Spain, Portugal, Venezuela were concerned.
Vessel was restored. Those Africans designated as Spanish property
(numbering 39) the court recognized as property and sold into slavery
on behalf of claimants. Portuguese claims the court found shakier,
setting those Africans free.
Jim Pembroke, a slave in Maryland, escapes and begins making his way
northward, where he will rename himself James W.C. Pennington and rise
to prominence within the African-American abolition movement.
David Walker, a free African-American, publishes Appeal to the Coloured
Citizens of the World, a radical pamphlet attacking slavery and the
colonization movement. The Appeal invokes the rhetoric and spirit of
the American Revolution, demanding: "See your Declaration, Americans!!!
Do you understand your own language?"
Copies of the Appeal soon begin turning up in Southern ports, probably
secretly distributed by free African-American seamen.
A year later, Walker is found dead near the doorway of his shop in
The first annual Convention of the People of Colour assembles in
Philadelphia to organize African-American opposition to slavery and to
discrimination in the free states.
January 1: William Lloyd Garrison begins publishing the Liberator.
August 22: In Southhampton County, Virginia, Nathaniel Turner leads a
small slave uprising that quickly spreads to neighboring plantations
and within a few days kills some 60 whites before local militia contain
the revolt. In reprisal, scores of slaves are interrogated, tortured,
and killed by panicked slaveholders. Turner himself eludes captures for
a few months, but is eventually jailed and executed.
December: The Virginia legislature begins debating emancipation -- the
last viable movement for abolition coming from within a southern state
until the Civil War.
William Lloyd Garrison and others found the American Anti-Slavery
Connecticut passes the “Black Law,” barring blacks from attending
private schools outside their resident towns without permission from
town leaders. In Canterbury, CT, Prudence Crandell, a white school
teacher, is prosecuted several times under this law.
An anti-abolitionist mob sacks the home of prominent New York
abolitionist Lewis Tappan, part of a savage riot that also destroys the
home and church of African-American Episcopal Reverend Peter Williams.
May 25: in response to petitions calling on Congress to abolish slavery
in the District of Columbia, the House of Representatives implements
the “gag rule,” automatically tabling abolitionist petitions. The
policy is repeatedly renewed over the coming years.
Abolitionist and editor Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy is murdered by an
anti-abolitionist mob in Alton, Illinois.
An Antislavery Convention of American Women meets in New York City with
both black and white women participating.
African-Americans lose the right to vote in Pennsylvania (by amendment
to the State Constitution) and Michigan (by state law). In New York,
African-Americans petition the state legislature for voting rights.
August 18: The U.S. Exploring Expedition sails from Hampton Roads,
September: Frederick Baily escapes slavery, making his way from
Baltimore to New York City, and from there to New Bedford, where he
takes on a new name, Frederick Douglass.
A Philadelphia mob destroys the Pennsylvania Hall, where abolitionists
have held meetings, then goes on a rampage burning and terrorizing
African-American neighborhoods. Municipal authorities do nothing to
halt the carnage.
Joshua R. Giddings of Ohio is elected to the U.S. House of
Representatives, the first avowed abolitionist Congressman.
Rev. James W.C. Pennington, who would minister to the Amistad Africans,
pastors an African Congregational Church at Newtown, Connecticut. In
1840 he moves to a new congregation in Hartford. In 1841 he publishes A
Textbook of the Origin and History of the Colored People, the first
history of its kind.
June 12: HMS Buzzard escorts two American slave ships into New York,
the brig Eagle and the schooner Clara, to be tried by American courts.
Two weeks later, several more slavers arrive in New York, the Butterfly
and the Catharine, manned by British naval officers as prizes of
another royal ship on the Africa squadron. The British had already
attempted to try the vessels in Sierra Leone before a mixed
Anglo-Spanish commission adjudicating alleged slaving, but that
commission had refused to try the vessels on the grounds they sailed
under the American flag. At this point the British had escorted their
prizes to New York, trying to force the Americans to enforce their laws
against slave trading.
August 27: The Amistad is taken into New London.
November 13: The Liberty Party holds its first national convention in
Warsaw, New York, proclaiming its anti-slavery program and nominating
James C. Birney for President.
Among the Liberty Party's leading supporters is African-American
abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet.
Theodore Dwight Weld publishes American Slavery as it is, a powerful
indictment of slavery.
Garrisonians take control of the American Anti-Slavery Society and
radicalize its platform, demanding the immediate abolition of slavery.
President Martin Van Buren orders U.S. Navy to resume West African
January 19: The Wilkes Expedition claims part of Antarctica for the U.S.
Richard Henry Dana, Jr. publishes Two Years Before the Mast.
The Amistad Africans spend the year in jail.
Division in American Anti-Slavery Society over role of women weakens
March 9: The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the freedom of the Amistad
November 7: African American slaves aboard the brig Creole revolt en
route from Virginia to New Orleans. The rebels force the captain and
crew to sail them to Nassau in the Bahamas. There British authorities
take nineteen of the rebels into custody but free the remainder,
England having abolished slavery in the British West Indies in 1833.
Frederick Douglass is hired by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society
as a full-time lecturer.
January 18: Senator John C. Calhoun proposes a resolution calling on
President Tyler to protest the British handling of theCreole incident.
January 29: U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster issues a dispatch to
the ambassador to Great Britain demanding indemnification for the freed
August 9: The U.S. and Great Britian sign the Webster-Ashburn Treaty,
adjusting boundaries between the U.S. and Canada, and agreeing to
cooperate on suppressing the slave trade.
In Boston, escaped slave George Lattimore is captured by bounty hunters
-- the first in a series of confrontational fugitive slave cases.
Abolitionists raise funds to purchase Lattimore's freedom.
In Philadelphia, a parade commemorating the abolition of slavery in the
British West Indies is attacked by a proslavery mob.
Sojourner Truth, an African-American woman who escaped from slavery,
begins lecturing for abolitionism.
Rev. Henry Highland Garnet delivers a "Call to Rebellion" at the
National Negro Convention in Buffalo, New York, exhorting
African-Americans to resist slavery by means of armed rebellion (and
holding up Cinque, among others, as heroes in the cause).
At the party convention for the Liberty Party in Buffalo,
African-Americans participate directly for the first time, with Henry
Highland Garnet serving on the nominating committee and two other black
clergymen, Rev. Charles B. Ray and Rev. Samuel Ringgold, also playing
Slavery entirely prohibited in Connecticut by state law.
Compromise of 1850 admits California as free state, eliminates slave
trade in District of Columbia, establishes Utah and New Mexico without
restrictions on slavery, and requires return of fugitive slaves.
Kansas-Nebraska Act repeals Missouri Compromise, allowing popular
sovereignty to determine slave- or free-state status of territories
seeking statehood, which increases sectional division within the U.S.
and breaks down traditional two-party system, giving rise to Republican
Dred Scott decision by Supreme Court denies any possibility of
citizenship for African Americans, imperils fugitive slaves, and sets
back cause of abolition.
John Brown’s unsuccessful Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, raid to incite
slave rebellion heightens tension over slavery.
20 December, South Carolina secedes from the Union after Abraham
Lincoln’s election as president, followed by 10 other states through
February, seceding states establish government of the Confederate
States of America and create constitution endorsing slavery but
prohibiting slave trade.
April, When Confederate forces fire on U.S. troops at Fort Sumter in
Charleston Harbor, President Lincoln calls for troops to put down
“insurrection” in the South, beginning the Civil War.
September 22: President Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation,
granting freedom to slaves in areas of the South in active rebellion on
1 January 1863.
Slavery abolished in the U.S. by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
14th Amendment to the Constitution defines a citizen as anyone born in
the U.S. (except Native Americans) or naturalized, thereby extending
all rights of citizenship to African Americans.
American Missionary Association founds Fisk University, among other
black colleges established by this successor of the Amistad incident.
Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on juries and in public
accommodations, except schools.
Blanche Kelso Bruce of Mississippi elected as first black U.S. Senator.
Supreme Court Civil Rights Cases overturns Civil Rights Act and rules
that 14th Amendment does not apply to privately owned facilities,
including hotels, restaurants, and railroads, leading to segregated
“Jim Crow” laws, especially in the South.
As part of his Universal Negro Improvement Association, Marcus Garvey
establishes Black Star shipping line J.H. Rainey and former sailor and
Civil War hero Robert Smalls of South Carolina are among first African
Americans elected to U.S. Congress.
First black officers commissioned in U.S. Navy.
Congress passes Civil Rights Act.
Thurgood Marshall appointed as first African-American Supreme Court
Captain Samuel L. Gravely, Jr., promoted to become first
African-American rear admiral in the U.S. Navy.