What Africans Brought to America

African in American Ironwork
by Rashid Booker
from Noir Tickets

“African men with iron making skills were brought to the Chesapeake region of Maryland and Virginia to work as blacksmiths on plantations and in the developing iron industry of 18th century Colonial America.

“By 1775, the colonies were the world’s third largest producer of iron, a dominance built largely on slave labor. Those in the Chesapeake were the most privileged of African and African American workers. The most skilled worked independently in positions of authority, even paid for work done on their own time.”

Most people think of slaves as mere cheap labor. But the reality is that enslaved Africans included people who were in many cases highly trained and educated. 

They brought their knowledge, skills, and culture to colonial America and it became part of colonial society. The slaveholders had the military and political power to enslave others, but they lacked many practical abilities. These slaveholders were reliant on enslaved Africans in more ways than just manual labor. 

Like ironwork, rice cultivation was developed independently in West Africa. This rice cultivation, unknown to Europeans, involved a particular set of skills and knowledge embedded in a particular cultural social order. Slaveholders incorporated this, among many other things, into the plantation system.

Few Americans today realize how influential slaves were. Colonial America wasn’t just an English society, but a hybrid society.