Chronology of Slavery in the United States


From this time onward, England trades aggressively in North American slaves, with New York, Boston and Charleston thriving as home ports for slave vessels.


Georgia is the last of the British North American colonies to legalize slavery.


Founding of the Pennsylvania Society for promoting the abolition of slavery, the world’s first anti-slavery society and the first Quaker anti-slavery society. Benjamin Franklin becomes Honorary President of the Society in 1787.

Writing the Declaration of Independence, by Jean Ferris.

Writing the Declaration of Independence, by Jean Ferris.


Delegates to Continental Congress in Philadelphia adopt the Declaration of Independence, which declares that “All men are created equal.” However, slavery remains a legal institution in all 13 of the newly-established states.


Vermont amends its constitution to ban slavery. Over the next 25 years, other Northern states emancipate their slaves and ban the institution. Some of the state laws stipulate gradual emancipation.


Pennsylvania bans slavery.


Massachusetts and New Hampshire ban slavery.


Connecticut and Rhode Island ban slavery.


Slavery is made illegal in the Northwest Territory, which will eventually become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

The United States draft the U.S. Constitution, which forbids Congress from interfering with the slave trade before 1808. Enslaved persons are counted as three-fifths of a person for the census.

Fugitive Slave, 1845

Fugitive Slave


U.S. Congress enacts the Fugitive Slave Act to protect the rights of slave owners  to retrieve runaways across state lines.

Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin greatly increases the demand for slave labor.


New York bans slavery.


Gabriel Prosser, an enslaved African American blacksmith, organizes a slave revolt intending to march on Richmond, Virginia. The conspiracy is uncovered, and Prosser and a number of the rebels are hanged. Virginia’s slave laws are consequently tightened.


Haitians achieve independence from France after a 13-year rebellion and abolish slavery.


New Jersey bans slavery.


British Parliament votes to abolish the trade in slaves.


In 1807 Congress bans the importation of slaves, effective January 1, 1808. The internal slave trade continues in states where the institution is legal.




Did You Know??….

Prior to the arrival of European slave traders in Africa, slavery had long been a part of life on the continent. The Arab slave trade from East Africa is one of the oldest slave trades, predating the European transatlantic slave trade by 700 years.


In the Missouri Compromise, Congress admits the slave state of Missouri and the free state of Maine into the Union, and bans slavery north of the 36° 30′ line of latitude in the Louisiana Territory.


Denmark Vesey, an enslaved African American carpenter who had purchased his freedom, plans a slave revolt with the intent to lay siege on Charleston, South Carolina. The plot is discovered, and Vesey and 34 co conspirators are hanged.


In Boston, Massachusetts, William Lloyd Garrison founds the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, signaling a dramatic shift in the anti-slavery movement. The abolitionist movement soon becomes the dominant voice among anti-slavery advocates, who demand the immediate end to slavery.

Nat Turner, a literate slave who preacher, instigates a slave revolt in Southampton County, Virginia. He and his followers kill 57 whites, but the revolt is unsuccessful and up to 200 slaves are killed. Afterwards, the Virginia legislature narrowly rejects a bill to emancipate Virginia’s slaves. The widespread fear of slave revolts, compounded by the rise of abolitionism, leads legislatures across the South to increase the harshness of their slave codes.


William Lloyd Garrison, who founded the first abolitionist newspaper, joins with Arthur and Lewis Tappan to establish the American Anti-Slavery Society.

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