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Congress during the Jefferson administration prohibited the importation of slaves, effective 1808, although smuggling (illegal importing) was not unusual.Domestic slave trading, however, continued at a rapid pace, driven by labor demands from the development of cotton plantations in the Deep South.The Body of Liberties used the word "strangers" to refer to people bought and sold as slaves; they were generally not English subjects.Colonists came to equate this term with Native Americans and Africans.For modern-day slavery, see Human trafficking in the United States.Slavery in the United States was the legal institution of human chattel enslavement, primarily of Africans and African Americans, that existed in the United States of America in the 18th and 19th centuries after it gained independence and before the end of the American Civil War.The first six states to secede held the greatest number of slaves in the South.

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The new territories acquired from Britain, France, and Mexico were the subject of major political compromises.They were descendants of African women and Portuguese or Spanish men who worked in African ports as traders or facilitators in the slave trade.For example, Anthony Johnson arrived in Virginia in 1621 from Angola as an indentured servant; he became free and a property owner, eventually buying and owning slaves himself.Slavery had been practiced in British America from early colonial days, and was legal in all Thirteen Colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

By the time of the American Revolution (1775–1783), the status of slave had been institutionalized as a racial caste associated with African ancestry.

The transformation of the social status of Africans, from indentured servitude to slaves in a racial caste which they could not leave or escape, happened gradually.