The Terrible Transformation
Orlando Bagwell and Susan Bellows
The Terrible Transformation tells of the largest forced migration in recorded history and how this mass movement of people was instrumental in the creation of America. After establishing settlements in North America, England joins in the international trade of human beings. Millions of Africans are abducted from their homelands to labor in the North American colonies. So horrific is their "middle passage" across the Atlantic that almost a quarter of them die during the crossing. Slavery's inhumane codes and punishments foment African resistance and escape, bringing more brutality from slave holders. The nightmare has begun in the colonies.
1607 - Three small sailing vessels carrying some 120 colonists land at Jamestown, at the edge of a wilderness they call Virginia.
1619 - A mystery ship drops anchor at Jamestown. Somewhere on the high seas the crew had robbed a Spanish vessel of a cargo of Africans whom they sell to the Virginia colonists in exchange for food. It is one of the first recorded arrivals of Africans in British North America.
1640 - Three servants -- a Scotsman, a Dutchman, and an African -- run away from a Virginia plantation. Captured and returned to Virginia, they are tried for breaking their contract. Virginia courts sentence the three men to be whipped and add a year to the indentures of the Scotsman and the Dutchman. The African, named John Punch, is sentenced to "serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life."
1641 - Massachusetts becomes the first English colony to legalize slavery. Connecticut and Virginia soon follow.
1705 - The position of African slaves in Virginia is formalized with "An Act Concerning Servants and Slaves." The new slave code rationalizes, codifies, and judicially affirms Virginia's exclusion of blacks from any basic concept of human rights under the law, increases masters' control over their slaves, and relegates all slaves to the status of property.
1738 - Blacks comprise a majority in the Carolina colony, outnumbering whites by two to one.
1739 - In South Carolina, a group of slaves led by an Angolan named Jemmy, flee their plantations in hopes of reaching St. Augustine, Florida where the Spanish have offered freedom to runaway slaves. In what becomes known as the Stono Rebellion, the rebels kill all whites they encounter along the way, until they are eventually surrounded and massacred. Before the insurrection ends, twenty-one whites and forty-four blacks are killed.
1741 - Amidst rising fears of slave insurrection and a growing slave population, 160 slaves are accused of conspiracy against the city of New York, based on coerced testimony. Of these, thirteen are burned alive at the stake and eighteen are hanged.
1750 - Georgia legalizes slavery. After only 100 years, there is no place within British North America where slavery does not exist.
Key Interviews (In Alphabetical Order)
Chinua Achebe, Professor of Languages and Literature, Bard College
T. H. Breen, Professor of American History, Northwestern University
Thomas J. Davis, Professor of History, Arizona State University
Thelma Foote, Professor, Department of History and African American Studies, University of California, Irvine
Norrece T. Jones, Jr., Associate Professor of History, Virginia Commonwealth University
Charles Joyner, Professor of Southern History and Culture and director of the Waccamaw Center for Cultural and Historical Studies, Coastal Carolina University
Frances Latimer, local historian, Eastern Shore of Virginia. Editor of The Register of Free Negroes: Northampton County, Virginia 1853 to 1861
Barry Unsworth, author of The Sacred Hunger
Margaret Washington, Associate Professor of History, Cornell University
Peter Wood, Professor of History, Duke University
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