Christopher Columbus believed that Indians would serve as a slave labor force for Europeans, especially on the sugar cane plantations off the western coast of north Africa. Convinced that the Taino Indians of the Caribbean would make ideal slaves, he transported 500 to Spain in 1495. Some 200 died during the overseas voyage. Thus Columbus initiated the African slave trade, which originally moved from the New World to the Old, rather than the reverse.
By the beginning of the sixteenth century, Spain's experiments in enslaving Indians were failing. To meet the mounting demand for labor in mining and agriculture, the Spanish began to exploit a new labor force - slaves from western Africa.
Slavery was a familiar institution to many sixteenth-century Europeans. Although slavery had gradually died out in northwestern Europe, it continued to flourish around the Mediterranean Sea. Ongoing warfare between Christianity and Islam produced thousands of slave laborers, who were put to work in heavy agriculture in Italy, southern France, eastern Spain, Sicily, and eastern Europe near the Black Sea.
Most slaves in this area were "white" -- either Arabs or natives of Russia and eastern Europe. But by the mid-fifteenth century, the expansion of the Ottoman empire cut off the supply of white slaves. It was during the mid-fifteenth century that Portugal established trading relations along the West African coast, and discovered that it was able to purchase huge numbers of black slaves at a low cost - from the Africans themselves, who chose to make a profit off their enemies.
Several factors made African slaves the cheapest and most expedient labor source. The prevailing ocean currents made it relatively easy to transport Africans to the Caribbean. Further, because Africans came from developed agricultural societies, they were already familiar with highly organized tropical agriculture. The first African slaves were brought to the New World by the Spanish as early as 1501, where they would mine precious metals and raise sugar, coffee, and tobacco -- the first goods sold to a mass consumer market.
Thanks to its English-Caribbean colonial roots, South Carolina enslaved many more Africans than did North Carolina. Numbers are not easily obtained prior to 1700, but in a 1708 census there were approximately 3,000 African slaves in South Carolina - it is estimated that there were less than 500 in North Carolina at that same time. At the end of the Lords Proprietor's rule in 1729, South Carolina counted 40,000 African slaves, a full two-thirds of their entire population; North Carolina had 6,000 African slaves out of a total population of 36,000, or, one-sixth. Both colonies increased their numbers each year until slavery was finally abolished in 1865.
From the beginning of the existence of the Carolina colony, slavery was encouraged. Four of the eight Lords Proprietors of the colony were members of the slave trading company, the Royal African Company. In 1663, the Lords Proprietors encouraged settlers to have slaves by promising that they would be given 20 acres of land for every black male slave and 10 acres for every black female slave brought to the colony within the first year. This encouragement worked. By 1683, the black population was equal to the white population.
Like the other slave holding colonies, because of the sizeable slave population, South Carolina was in fear of slave insurrections. In order to help keep slaves from revolting, slave codes prohibited the sale of alcohol to slaves. In addition, to prevent cruelty to slaves, thereby dissuading rebellion, owners were prohibited from working slaves more than 15 hours between March 25 and September 25 and not more than 14 hours between September 25 and March 25.
North Carolina, on the other hand, had a large Quaker population that was opposed to slavery. Even though the slave population was small, Quakers established regular religious meetings for slaves and urged slaveholders to treat them well. In 1770, Quakers sought the prohibition of slavery. Unlike other slaveholding colonies, North Carolina did not have a concern about slave insurrections. There was not a slave rebellion until the 19th century.
From 1700 to the 1865, Charles Town (Charleston) was the primary port-of-call for slave ships, and more slaves passed through Charles Town than any other city in the English Colonies on the North American continent.