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Slave Importation Banned - History

Slave Importation Banned - History

In March 1807, the Congress passed a law prohibiting the importation of slaves into the United States. The law carried a fine of $800 for knowingly buying an illegally imported slave to $20,000 for equipping a slave ship. The law was poorly enforced and often violated.

Congress votes to ban slave importation, March 2, 1807

On this day in 1807, Congress enacted a law to “prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States . from any foreign kingdom, place or country.” The ban took effect on Jan. 1, 1808. By the time the lawmakers acted, every state except South Carolina had already abolished the slave trade.

The legislation was promoted by President Thomas Jefferson, who called for its enactment in his 1806 State of the Union address and who had favored acting on the issue since the 1770s. His views reflected the trend toward abolishing the international slave trade, which Virginia, followed by all the other states, had banned, or restricted, since the prior decade. (South Carolina, however, had reopened its trade.)

With a self-sustaining population of more than 4 million slaves already living in slave-owning states, some Southern congressmen joined with Northerners to enact the ban. However, internal slave trading throughout the South remained unimpeded by the legislation. Children of slaves also became slaves, ensuring a growing slave population.
Moreover, historians estimate that up to 50,000 slaves were illegally brought into the United States after 1808, mostly through Spanish Florida and Texas, before those states were admitted to the Union.

In 1820, slave-trading became a capital offense with an amendment to the 1819 Act to Protect the Commerce of the United States and Punish the Crime of Piracy. A total of 74 cases of slaving were brought in the United States from 1837 to 1860, but few ship captains were convicted, and those who were usually received trifling sentences, which they often could avoid.

In 1619, the first African slave ships had arrived in Jamestown, Virginia. In appealing to basic human liberty, the American Revolution against Britain’s King George III, which began in 1776, put the institution of slavery into sharp focus. Many of the Founding Fathers assailed slavery, singling out the slave trade from Africa for condemnation. Several of the founders, however, including Jefferson, George Washington and George Mason, were slave owners.

At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the slave trade emerged as an acrimonious issue. Finally, a compromise was reached with the Southern states that guaranteed the continuance of the slave trade for 20 years after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. That deal set the earliest possible expiration date as 1808 — one which Congress met.

Great Britain also banned the African slave trade in 1807. But the trade of African slaves to Brazil and Cuba continued until the 1860s. By 1865, some 12 million Africans had been shipped across the Atlantic to the Americas. More than 1 million of them had died from disease and mistreatment during the cruel “Middle Passage” voyage from West Africa. In addition, more many Africans died in periodic slave revolts and in forced marches.


Related Primary Sources

Sherman, Isaac v. Charming Sally, Schooner, 1803

A warrant was issued for the ship Charming Sally in 1803. It ordered the marshal and deputies of the Massachusetts district to arrest and take into custody the ship Charming Sally and her appurtenances (equipment and cargo). A libel had been filed by Isaac Sherman of Boston. A libel is an accusation brought against someone or something claiming property ought to be seized, in this case the ship and its cargo for "transportation of slaves contrary to law." Court documents include depositions from Lewis Ferris, a boatswain in charge of the equipment and crew on the Charming Sally and Phineas Dean, who described mistreatment of the enslaved people on the ship, including kicking and shackling.

The Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves, 1808

Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution stated that Congress could not prohibit the "importation" of persons prior to 1808. Twenty years later, the Act "to prohibit the importation of slaves in any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States, from and after the first day of January [1808.]" was passed. The 1808 Act imposed heavy penalties on international traders, but did not end slavery itself nor the domestic sale of slaves. Not only did it drive trade underground, but ships caught illegally trading were often brought into the United States and its passengers sold into slavery.

U.S. vs Schooners Constitution, Merino, Louisa and 84 Slaves, 1825

This case from 1825 tells the story of the illegal importation of slaves. A ship captain was convicted and the ship's cargo, including the enslaved people on board, was sold, with the proceeds of the sale turned over to the court. The account of the sale of "Fifteen African Slaves" sold on April 19, 1825 lists the enslaved people and their sale price.

Manifest for the Ohio, 1821

This manifest (a list of passengers or cargo aboard a ship) shows two enslaved women named Betsey and Harriet who were being transported aboard the ship Ohio from New Orleans to Philadelphia in 1821. It includes the sworn statement of the ship captain that he was not engaged in the transatlantic slave trade. Though the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves had been enacted in 1807, the interstate sale of slaves remained legal.

Thomas R. Gedney v. Schooner Amistad, 1840

In 1839, Portuguese slave hunters abducted a large group of Africans from Sierra Leone and shipped them to Havana, Cuba, a center for the slave trade. Two Spanish plantation owners purchased 53 Africans and put them aboard the Cuban schooner Amistad to ship them to a Caribbean plantation. The Africans aboard killed the captain and cook and took over the Amistad, sailing north. The U.S. brig Washington captured the Amistad off the coast of Long Island, NY. Murder charges against the Africans were dropped, but the commander of the Washington submitted a libel – an accusation claiming the Amistad and its cargo ought to be seized for violating the law forbidding the slave trade – in order to receive compensation or "salvage rights" for apprehending the ship. Abolitionists hired attorneys to serve as proctors for, or represent, the Africans. The case ultimately went to the Supreme Court in 1841, when former President John Quincy Adams defended the right of the accused Africans to fight to regain their freedom. The Court decided in favor of the Africans.

Manifest for the Brig Alo, 1844

After Congress prohibited the foreign importation of slaves into the United States in 1808, slaves were still sold and transported within the boundaries of the United States. In order to document the movement of this human cargo from port to port, and to verify that they hadn't been imported, the Customs Service created specific manifests. This is a list of 48 enslaved people who were transported to Mobile, Alabama, aboard the Brig Alo in 1844.

United States v. Nathaniel T. Davist, 1846

The Schooner Patuxent left the port of New York for the coast of Africa. While off Cape Mount, she was seized by the U.S.S. Yorktown. The Yorktown was part of the "African Squadron" commissioned to help curtail the slave trade.

The crew of the Patuxent was arrested for participating in the illegal slave trade. Captain Nathaniel T. Davis was ordered to appear in court in the case United States v. Nathaniel T. Davis.

The Patuxent was found to be carrying supplies of rice and water large enough to feed approximately 250 slaves. The ship also contained a large quantity of pre-cut planking, which could possibly have been used to build a temporary slave deck. In the court case, the prosecution's other main piece of evidence was that Davis had taken on a short-term passenger named Captain Theodore Canot, who held a reputation as a slave trader.

The defense attorney claimed that Davis's rice cargo was for trading up and down the African Coast and that the planking was to be delivered for a building project. Davis admitted to transporting Captain Canot, but many people testified that it was general knowledge Canot had given up the slave trade. The defense had several people testify on Davis's behalf as to the quality of his character and the legitimacy of his cargo. The jury returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty.

United States vs. Mary, 1864

Even though Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, slaves were still being bought and sold in the south. Multiple bills of sale for slaves in Georgia were recovered when the U.S. Navy intercepted the southern ship Mary during the Civil War and claimed both the ship and its contents as a prize.

These receipts were confiscated from the Mary when it was captured. They belong to Captain George A. Johnson. One is in the amount of $4,300 for the purchase of an enslaved woman named Jane, aged 18 years old. The other is in the amount of $7,500 for the purchase of a woman named Susannah and two children.

The African Slave Trade

The United States government has had a complicated, and often troubling, relationship with the institution of slavery. Though allowed to survive and even thrive long after the nation was established, federal laws were enacted which prevented the importation of new slaves from Africa and inflicted stiff penalties on those who attempted to do so. Many federal statutes regarding slavery focused mainly on the issue of new slaves brought into the country.

In March of 1794, Congress passed an act prohibiting the transport of slaves from the U.S. to any foreign country as well as making it illegal for American citizens to outfit a ship for purposes of importing slaves. The act did not, however, affect foreign nations and their importation of slaves. In addition, the penalties for Americans convicted under this law were fines and did not include incarceration.

An act passed in 1800 built on the 1794 law by increasing the fines for importation of slaves, as well as making it illegal for American citizens to engage in the slave trade between any nations, regardless if the ship originated in the U.S. or was owned by a U.S. citizen. It also gave U.S. authorities the right to seize slave ships which were caught transporting slaves and confiscate their cargo. Laws like these were not unheard of, even in the Colonial period. The Continental Congress had, in fact, passed a resolution in 1774 to ban slave importation and prohibit Americans from engaging in the trade. It was not until after the turn of the century, however, that Congress began to increase the penalties for violating these laws.

An 1803 act established a penalty of one thousand dollars for each person brought to the U.S. on a ship with the intention of selling them as a slave. This act also placed responsibility on the captain of any vessel transporting slaves. It charged customs and revenue officials in the government with enforcing this law, an indirect warning to those who might be in the best position for aiding illegal slave traders.

The Constitution itself established a way which Congress could ban the importation of slaves, but not until 1808. Congress did exercise this power at its earliest opportunity and as of January 1, 1808 the importation of slaves into the U.S. or its territories was banned. Penalties now included a fine, ranging from five to twenty-thousand dollars, forfeiture of ship and equipment, and imprisonment from five to ten years. The act specifically excluded transportation of slaves within the U.S., since the interstate sale of slaves remained legal.

Over a decade later, Congress would pass legislation in 1819 which considered intercontinental slave trading as piracy, punishable by death. Previously, U.S. ships only held a mandate to patrol the eastern seaboard of North America. Now they would extend their activities as far as the West African coast in order to enforce the law. This enforcement was given an additional boost by the Webster-Asburton Treaty signed with Great Britain in 1842. The treaty established a permanent fleet on the West African coast in the hopes of completely suppressing slave trafficking. Ironically this coincides with the period in which the illegal slave trade reached its height, between 1840 and 1860.

In 1861 President Lincoln signed an executive order turning over all responsibility for enforcing slave trade laws to the Secretary of the Interior. By stringently enforcing existing laws, Lincoln’s order spelled the end for the slave trade. The Secretary’s office believed that by 1865 it had effectively ended any attempt to outfit a slave ship in any U.S. port. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 and the 13th amendment passed in 1865 effectively ended any reason for transporting slaves to the U.S. No longer could any ship use the defense of originating in the U.S. while bound for a U.S. port.
It is estimated that the total number of slaves brought into the U.S. illegally during the first half the 19th century is approximately 1.2 million.

Given this figure, it is hard to determine the effect of laws banning importation after 1808. As laws were strengthened and enforcement increased, so did attempts to subvert them.

Source: National Archives and Records Administration Southeast Region, Atlanta


A few weeks after Congress's 1807 act, Great Britain also prohibited the slave trade in the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, March 25, 1807. The British act, the culmination of decades of effort by British abolitionists, became effective in 1808. Great Britain freed its slaves in 1834 by paying compensation to slave owners. British enforcement efforts against slavery and the slave trade in the Atlantic were more vigorous and effective, including boarding apparently neutral vessels in violation of international law and strong-arming many nations into signing antislavery treaties. During the Civil War, the United States finally accepted an antislave trading treaty with Great Britain, signed in April 1862.

Slavery was legally abolished in the United States by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865, although legal segregation and discrimination persisted for a century thereafter.

See also: Fugitive Slave Acts Missouri Compromise Compromise of 1850 Nonintercourse Act.

Atlantic Slave Trade to Savannah

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870 (1896 reprint, Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 1999).

David Eltis, Stephen D. Behrendt, David Richardson, and Herbert S. Klein, The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: A Database on CD-ROM (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Richard McMillan, "Savannah's Coastal Slave Trade: A Quantitative Analysis of Ship Manifests, 1840-1850," Georgia Historical Quarterly 78 (summer 1994).

David Northrup, ed., The Atlantic Slave Trade (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1994).

Julia Floyd Smith, Slavery and Rice Culture in Low Country Georgia, 1750-1860 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1985).

Betty Wood, Slavery in Colonial Georgia, 1730-1775 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984).

Slavery, by the Numbers

For those who are wondering about the retro title of this black-history series, please take a moment to learn about historian Joel A. Rogers , author of the 1934 book 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro With Complete Proof

Amazing Fact About the Negro No. 67: What are the most important facts to know about American slavery?

In honor of Black History Month, I’ve assembled a list of statistics on slavery that every parent and child in America should know. There are 28 entries in all, one for each day in February, covering such broad topics as the first and second Middle Passages, emancipation, genealogy and the geographical diversity among enslaved and free black people in the United States and throughout the Caribbean and South America. Politicians and academics love quoting facts—what they call their “elevator speech”—to their various audiences at public events. So, here are some facts for you to memorize and quote, as you sort through the meaning of this marvelous month when we commemorate the sacrifices and achievements of our ancestors in your own lives. You can keep these facts in mind if you decide to search for your family’s roots or seek a deeper understanding of the many rivers our ancestors—and we, as a people—have crossed to get to where we are 149 years after the abolition of slavery.

Here is The Root's Black History Month Challenge: If you’re a parent, I ask you to share one of these “amazing facts” each morning or perhaps over dinner with your children (you’ll need to catch up by doing the first 10 today). If you’re a teacher, think about highlighting one each day after your students “pledge allegiance to the flag,” if your school still observes this time-honored tradition. And, if you work in an office, labor outside or are mobile on a daily route, try passing one of these around each day to your co-workers or customers, regardless of their ethnicity, at the water cooler, over a coffee break, at lunch, or, yes, even in the elevator!

To become a fundamental part of the genuine “conversation about race” that our country so urgently needs, black history must be allowed to live and breathe through sharing rituals such as these, and not remain buried in scholarly studies and textbooks, which all too often simply serve as doorstops or accumulate dust!

“Fellow Americans, let the nation and the world know the meaning of our numbers,” the great African-American labor leader, A. Philip Randolph, declared at that most historical of settings, the Lincoln Memorial, during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. “Our ancestors were transformed from human personalities into private property,” he continued. “At the banquet table of nature, there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take and keep what you can hold.”

Dear readers of The Root, my hope is that the 28 facts assembled here give you something to hold onto you as you make your journey through Black History Month, this life and the larger American story.

The Middle Passage

1. In the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade (1525-1866), 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. Of them, 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America. Only about 388,000 were transported directly from Africa to North America, as David Eltis, David Richardson and their colleagues have definitively established in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database .

2. Children typically comprised 26 percent or more of a slave ship’s human cargo, David Eltis writes in his “Brief Overview of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.” On average, the voyage took “just over two months,” and because of “filthy conditions,” “a range of epidemic pathogens” and “periodic breakouts of violent resistance,” “between 12 and 13 percent of those embarked did not survive the voyage.”

American-Style Slavery

3. The importation of slaves into the United States was banned by Congress (under Constitutional command) in 1808, yet by 1860, the nation’s black population had jumped from 400,000 to 4.4 million, of which 3.9 million were slaves. The primary reason was natural increase, a distinguishing feature of American-style slavery. Between 1790 and 1860, reports Ronald Bailey, author of “The Other Side of Slavery: Black Labor, Cotton, and Textile Industrialization in Great Britain and the United States,” in the spring 1994 issue of Agricultural History, the U.S. slave population increased between 25 percent and 33 percent per year—an average of 28.7 percent over the period.

4. In the U.S., on average, a slave mother gave birth to between nine and 10 children, “twice as many in the West Indies,” according to the Gilder Institute of American History. Yet, in 1860, “less than 10 percent of the slave population was over 50 and only 3.5 percent was over 60.

5. Speaking of “natural increase,” in that same year, 1860, the venerable historian Ira Berlin writes in his classic text, Slaves Without Masters , “fully 40 percent of the Southern free Negro population were classified as mulattoes, while only one slave in ten had some white ancestry.” The obvious reason: Masters were more likely to free slaves who looked like—and, in many cases, descended from—them. And sometimes—not often enough—these slaves were able to earn enough money working on their own to purchase their freedom and that of their wife and children. The average African American today, according to Joanna Mountain at the genetics company 23andMe, “is 73.4 percent African, 24.1 percent European, and only 0.7 percent Native American” in their genetic makeup.

6. Largely as a result of natural increase, the United States went from being a country that accounted for 6 percent of slaves imported to the New World to one that in 1860 held more than 60 percent of the hemisphere’s slave population, according to Steven Mintz, author of “American Slavery in Comparative Perspective,” for the Gilder Lehrman Institute. (It’s worth noting that Stanley Engerman, Richard Sutch and Gavin Wright put that number closer to 50 percent in their March 2003 report on “Slavery” (pdf) for the University of California Project on the Historical Statistics of the United States.)

The Second Middle Passage

7. The Middle Passage refers to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. A second Middle Passage followed within the U.S. between the end of the Revolutionary War and the start of the Civil War. In all, my colleague Walter Johnson estimates in his book Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market , “approximately one million enslaved people were relocated from the upper South to the lower South … two thirds of these through … the domestic slave trade.” In other words, two and a half times more African Americans were directly affected by the second Middle Passage than the first one.

8. The reason was business—specifically, the cotton trade. Where it flourished, in the states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, the slave population increased by an average of 27.5 percent per decade, demanding that entire families be relocated from plantations in the East and Upper South. In turn, Steven Deyle points out in his 2005 book, Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life , “Southern slave prices more than tripled,” rising from $500 in New Orleans in 1800, to $1,800 by 1860 (the equivalent of $30,000 in 2005). Of the 3.2 million slaves working in the 15 slave states in 1850, 1.8 million worked in cotton.

Who Owned Slaves and Where Did They Live?

9. In 1860, according to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 75 percent of white families in the United States owned not a single slave, while 1 percent of families owned 40 or more. Just a tenth of 1 percent of Americans owned 100 or more slaves.

10. That same year, 1860, 31 percent of all slaves in the U.S. were held on plantations of 40 or more slaves, while a majority (53 percent) were held on farms of between 7 and 39 slaves, says the institute.

11. Also, according to the Gilder Lehrman Institute, of the total African-American population in 1860, nearly 90 percent were slaves. And, while blacks made up only 13 percent of the entire country, in the South one in three people was black.

12. How about a state-by-state comparison ? In 1860, slaves made up 57 percent of the population in South Carolina, the highest of any state in the union. Coming in second was Mississippi at 55 percent, followed by Louisiana at 47 percent, Alabama at 45 percent, and Florida and Georgia, both at 44 percent. Perhaps not surprisingly, these were the first six states to secede from the Union following Lincoln’s election. While Southern sympathizers denied that slavery was the cause of the Civil War, Lincoln knew better, and in a map prepared by the United States Coast Survey in 1861, he could see the obvious correlation between where Southern resolve was strongest and where the country’s slave population was greatest. For this reason, Lincoln could rightly say that issuing the Emancipation Proclamation—by executive order—in 1863 was closely tied to his military strategy for winning the war. (For more, see Susan Schulten’s article “Visualizing Slavery” in the New York Times on Dec. 9, 2010.)

13. In terms of absolute numbers, Virginia had the highest slave population of any state in the country in 1860: 490,865. A year later, it also was home to the Confederate capitol, Richmond.

14. Here’s one that may shock you: As late as 1850, the state of New Jersey , as a result of its gradual emancipation policies, still reported some 236 slaves in the Federal Census. New York also adopted a gradual emancipation policy, in 1799, but it didn’t achieve its full goal until the late 1820s. Well before then, New York City was a major hub of the slave trade. “Between 1732 and 1754, black slaves accounted for more than 35 percent of the total immigration through the port of New York,” according to the website SlaveryNorth.com. “In 1756,” it adds, “slaves made up about 25 percent of the populations of Kings, Queens, Richmond, New York, and Westchester counties.”

The Slave Labor Force

15. As for the slave labor force, the Gilder Lehrman Institute indicates almost “a third of slave laborers were children and an eighth were elderly or crippled.”

16. Slaves didn’t just work on farms, to be sure. They were hired out in the trades, worked in factories and on piers, and manned sailing vessels. They also built between 9,000 and 10,000 miles of railroad tracks by the time the Civil War broke out, representing “a third of the nation’s total and more than the mileage of Britain, France, and Germany,” says the institute.

European and Native American Slaves

17. Here’s an interesting one: “Over a million Europeans were held as slaves from the 1530s through the 1780s in Africa, and hundreds of thousands were kept as slaves by the Ottomans in eastern Europe and Asia,” writes Alan Gallay in his essay “Indian Slavery in the Americas” for the Gilder Lehrman Institute. “In 1650,” Gallay adds, “more English were enslaved in Africa than Africans enslaved in English colonies.”

18. Did Americans enslave Native Americans? You bet. “North American Europeans did enslave Indians during wars, especially in New England (the Pequot War, King Philip’s War) and the Southeast (the Tuscarora War, the Yamasee War, the Natchez War, just to name a few),” Gallay explains. “In South Carolina, and to a lesser extent in North Carolina, Virginia, and Louisiana, Indian slavery was a central means by which early colonists funded economic expansion.” Remarkably, in the Southwest, “large-scale enslavement of American Indians persisted well into the nineteenth century.” In fact, “[a]fter the Civil War,” Gallay writes, “President Andrew Johnson sent federal troops into the West to put an end to Indian slavery, but it continued to proliferate in California.”

19. At the same time, Native Americans owned and traded in slaves. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society website, from the late 18th century on, Native Americans in the South, like whites, owned slaves. And, when the U.S. government “removed” the five nations to “Indian Territory” (now the state of Oklahoma) in the 1830s, they took their slaves with them, so that “[b]y the time the Civil War broke out more than eight thousand blacks were enslaved in Indian Territory.” Overall, enslaved people accounted for “14 percent of the population” of the Indian Territory, and it wasn’t until after the Civil War that emancipation arrived for some of the slaves. In fact, as late as 1885, the governor of the Chickasaw was still protesting demands that they free their black slaves.

Free Blacks in the South

20. On the eve of the Civil War in 1860, Ira Berlin writes in Slaves Without Masters, there were a total of 488,070 free blacks living in the United States, about 10 percent of the entire black population. Of those, 226,152 lived in the North and 261,918 in the South, in 15 states (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas) plus the District of Columbia. Thus, surprisingly, there were 35,766 more free black people living in the slave-owning South than in the North. And they stayed there during the Civil War.

21. Maryland was the state with the largest population of free blacks in 1860—83,942—and the highest proportion of free versus enslaved blacks, with 49.1 percent free.

22. In 1860, free black people composed 18 percent of the population in Delaware, the highest percentage of any state in the Union (though the total number of free blacks there was only 19,829). Louisiana, by comparison, had almost as many free black people as Delaware did in 1860—18,647—but they made up only 3 percent of the state’s population, while New York had more than both of these states combined—49,005 free black women and men—but they accounted for only 1 per cent of the Empire State’s total population.

23. Free blacks in the South largely resided in cities—the bigger the better, because that’s where the jobs were (in 1860, 72.7 percent of urban free blacks lived in Southern cities of 10,000 or more). In 1860, Baltimore City alone had almost 28,000 (3 percent of the state's population). New Orleans, by contrast, had 10,939 free persons of color, or around 6 percent of the population, down from a high of more than 28 percent in 1810 and a high absolute number of 15,072 in 1840—the result, among other things, of tighter regulations on free black people’s privileges, increasing white immigration into the city and opportunities for them to advance elsewhere. (For more, see Caryn Cosse Bell’s book, Revolution, Romanticism, and the Afro-Creole Protest Tradition in Louisiana. )

24. A majority of free blacks in the South were female (52.6 percent of them were women in 1860), because, according to Berlin, free black men had a greater tendency to move out of the region.

25. Free black people also were older than the average slave, because they often had to wait to earn or buy their freedom, or, in not uncommon cases, be “dumped” by their owners as weak or infirm (in 1860, 20 percent of free blacks were over the age of 40 compared to 15 percent of slaves and whites).

26. Not only did the vast majority of free black people live in the Upper South (224,963 in 1860 versus 36,955 in the Lower South in 1860), they were on average darker-skinned and more rural than their Lower South counterparts. By contrast, free black people in the Lower South were fewer in number and lighter-skinned (the result, according to Berlin, of “miscegenation and selective emancipation,” as well as a greater “influx of brown émigrés from Saint-Domingo [Haiti] and elsewhere in the West Indies”), creating a much more pronounced three-caste system and within it various gradations of blackness, including mulattoes (those who would be called “biracial” today), quadroons (those with one black grandparent) and octoroons (those with one black great-grandparent).

Emancipation and Finding Your Slave Ancestors

27. The Emancipation Proclamation did not abolish the institution of slavery in the United States. Rather, it “freed” any slave in the Confederate states (that’s right—it did not apply to states in the Union in which slavery remained legal) who could manage to flee her or his plantation and make their way behind liberating Union lines. Historians estimate that as many as 500,000 black people managed to do this. So we might say that these black people freed themselves. To put this number into a bit of perspective, in 1860 there were about 3.9 million enslaved African Americans, which means that by the end of the Civil War, some 3.4 million black people remained in bondage, in spite of the Emancipation Proclamation. Their only salvation: the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865.

28. Free African Americans were listed by name in the Federal Census prior to the Civil War. Slaves’ names were not recorded in the U.S. Census until after the war, in 1870. In the 1850 and 1860 censuses, there were separate slave schedules kept, but in almost every case they only listed individuals by age, color and gender. However, there were a few counties that did list slaves by name, according to genealogist Jane Ailes. For 1850, the counties were: Utah County, Utah Bowie County, Texas and Scott County, Tenn. And for 1860, the counties were: Hampshire County, Va. (where I have ancestors) Boyd County, Ky. Camden County, N.C. (named only in the copy held by the courthouse, not the National Archives copy). In addition, some, but not all, are listed in Twiggs County, Ga. Washington County, Ten. and the Second Ward of the City of St. Louis. One more exception, says Ailes: Almost all slaves over the age of 100 are named in all counties. Last but not least, you can find slaves named in the Federal Census mortality schedules for 1850 and 1860.

That’s our list of facts to ponder and learn during the month of February. I hope that you and your family and friends will enjoy meeting The Root’s Black History Month Challenge.

Slavery in Colonial Georgia

Harvey H. Jackson and Phinizy Spalding, eds., Forty Years of Diversity: Essays on Colonial Georgia (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984).

Julia Floyd Smith, Slavery and Rice Culture in Low Country Georgia, 1750-1860 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1985).

Darold D. Wax, "'New Negroes Are Always in Demand': The Slave Trade in Eighteenth-Century Georgia," Georgia Historical Quarterly 68 (summer 1984).

Betty Wood, Slavery in Colonial Georgia, 1730-1775 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984).

Betty Wood, "Thomas Stephens and the Introduction of Black Slavery in Georgia," Georgia Historical Quarterly 58 (spring 1974).

Betty Wood and Ralph Gray, "The Transition from Indentured to Involuntary Servitude in Colonial Georgia," Explorations in Economic History 13, no. 4 (1976).


by Jeffrey J. Crow, 2006
Additional research provided by Amelia Dees-Killette and Diane Huff.

Although slaves had come straight from Guinea to the Carolina colony in the late 1600s, direct importation was not as extensive as in other southern colonies. With the increased demand for cash crops in European markets and the need for fertile land, the British Lords Proprietors in 1663 offered additional acreage for every male and female slave brought into Carolina during the first five years of white settlement. The labor-intensive cash crops of tobacco, rice, and indigo made the use of slaves a "necessary" solution to the inadequate labor supply in the early eighteenth century. Most of this need was met through the natural increase of slave populations, which outpaced slave imports by 1720. After the Carolinas officially split in 1729, North Carolina had 6,000 slaves compared to South Carolina's 32,000.

While geographic barriers made slave trading difficult in North Carolina, they did not totally prevent it. The port at Wilmington was used extensively in the delivery of slaves to the Lower Cape Fear region. However, the barrier islands along the northern coast did not permit access to the natural harbors from the Atlantic Ocean, making the direct importation of slaves into the northern part of the Carolina colony virtually impossible. Many owners in North Carolina purchased their slaves via overland routes from South Carolina, Georgia, and the Chesapeake region.

Agricultural patterns determined the distribution of slaves in North Carolina. Settled in the 1720s by South Carolina planters, the Lower Cape Fear produced rice and naval stores with slave labor. Slavery also prospered along a tier of counties bordering Virginia that concentrated on the cultivation of tobacco. By 1860, 19 counties in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont counted black majorities, and 12 of the 19 produced at least 1,000 400-pound bales of cotton. Commercial crops thus depended heavily on slave labor. Even in the North Carolina Mountains, where it was impossible to grow staple crops, slaves engaged in a variety of economic activities, including manufacturing, mining, construction, and livestock management.

At the time of the French and Indian War (1754-63), a slave cost approximately £60 to £80. During the 1780s the price escalated to as much as £180. An African slave in Charles Towne (Charleston, S.C.), bound for North Carolina, brought $300 in 1804. By 1840 a prime field hand cost about $800. Twenty years later field hands sold for $1,500 to $1,700, women $1,300 to $1,500, and artisans as much as $2,000.

As the American Revolution produced a temporary lull in slave importation, the natural increase of the slave population allowed southern states to sell their human property at a profit. North Carolina attempted to reduce slave imports as early as August 1774, when the Provincial Congress meeting in New Bern resolved "that we will not import any slave or slaves, or purchase any slave or slaves, imported or brought into this Province by others, from any part of the world, after the first day of November next." This prohibition of the slave trade is repeated several times in North Carolina records.

By the end of the Revolutionary War, the nation sought to regain economic stability by reopening the African and West Indian trade, especially in the Carolinas and Georgia. This action met with increased resistance in the Upper South states of the Chesapeake area and in North Carolina, partly because it would cut into profits of interregional trade and partly because of the mainly imagined fear that slave rebellions would spread from the West Indies.

In 1786 North Carolina again banned slave importation it increased the prohibitive duty on imported Africans, which was later repealed in 1790. Prohibitive laws became more specific in 1794, barring the importation not only of slaves but also of indentured servants by "land or water routes." One year later, legislators passed the "Act against West Indian Slaves," which expressly prevented the importation of slaves by individuals emigrating from the West Indies. White slaveholders in North Carolina made up 31 percent of the population in 1790 and 27.7 percent in 1860. Only 2 percent of these slaveholders owned more than 50 slaves, and only 3 percent attained the rank of planter (owning 20 or more slaves). In 1860 the vast majority of slaveholders (70.8 percent) owned fewer than 10 slaves.

In 1800 and 1807 Congress barred U.S. citizens from exporting slaves, and as of 1 Jan. 1808 it prohibited any engagement in the international slave trade. The disposition of confiscated slaves was left up to individual states. In 1816 North Carolina and several other states passed the Act to Dispose of Illegally Imported Slaves, opting to sell all slaves who had been imported after 1808 with the proceeds benefiting the state treasury.

Although federal and state laws banned the importation of slaves nationwide, these same laws kept the prices high for slaves in the Lower South. The "need" for slaves in the Cotton Belt, the natural increase of slave populations, and the stagnant economy of the Upper South in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries all bolstered the interregional sale of slaves. Between 1810 and 1820, 137,000 slaves were sent from the Chesapeake states and North Carolina to Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. The sluggish economy of the 1820s-30s led to the sale of thousands more North Carolina slaves to the Cotton Belt.

By any measure, most slaves were ill-fed, ill-housed, and ill-clothed. In the 1780s a traveler observed: "The keep of a negro here does not come to a great figure, since the daily ration is but a quart of maize, and rarely a little meat or salted fish." Each year male slaves received "a suit of coarse woolen cloth, two rough shirts, and a pair of shoes." Conditions had scarcely improved during the antebellum period. Slaves supplemented their owner-supplied diet of cornmeal and fat pork by hunting, fishing, and raising vegetable gardens. Dark, smoky, and crowded, slave cabins were insubstantial structures with dirt floors, unglazed windows, and wattle-and-daub chimneys.

Despite their abhorrent conditions, slaves tried to preserve families and develop cultural defenses against white oppression. Conversion to Christianity before the Revolution came slowly slaves continued to worship African spirits and to practice African rituals such as the "ring shout." A nineteenth-century observer, who witnessed a Jonkonnu celebration at Somerset Place plantation in Washington County, compared the celebration to a Muslim festival that he had attended in Egypt. Nevertheless, by the nineteenth century Christianity had swept through the state's slave quarters. Baptists and Methodists proved especially effective in converting slaves, who then adapted Christian practices and teachings to their own purposes. Blacks founded separate churches in Fayetteville, Wilmington, New Bern, and Edenton. Some slaves conducted prayer meetings in secret. One former slave recalled a practice that probably derived from West African ceremonies: "We turned down pots on the inside of the house at the door to keep master and missus from hearing the singing and praying."

In the eighteenth century slaves continued to use an extensive pool of African names for their children, but by the nineteenth century their naming patterns showed strong family ties. Slaves were named for fathers, grandfathers, aunts, and uncles. African crafts, medicine, conjury, dance, music, song, and folklore endured. Such cultural persistence allowed slaves to construct their own value system, which their owners never could entirely suppress.

After the Civil War ended in 1865, North Carolina's more than 360,000 newly emancipated African Americans continued these traditions in various forms. In the immediate aftermath of war, African Americans sought precisely those rights and freedoms that had been denied them under slavery: normalization of marriage, equal political and civil rights, education, and the right to own property. With freedom came new opportunities but also numerous new hardships, rooted in whites' deep and brutal acrimony toward blacks' social, economic, and political pursuits. While African Americans moved forward through this markedly hostile environment, remnants of both their African and slave experiences continued to inform their lives and serve as the core of a unique and lasting African American culture.

Educator Resources:

Grade 8: Voices from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. North Carolina Civic Education Consortium. http://civics.sites.unc.edu/files/2012/04/VoicesTransAtlanticSlaveTrade.pdf

Grade 8: United States Constitution of 1787 & Slavery. North Carolina Civic Education Consortium. http://database.civics.unc.edu/files/2012/05/USConstitutionandSlavery1.pdf

Jeffrey J. Crow, Paul D. Escott, and Flora J. Hatley, A History of African Americans in North Carolina (2002).

John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss Jr., From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans (6th ed., 1988).

Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (1976).

Everett Jenkins Jr., Pan-African Chronology: A Comprehensive Reference to the Black Quest for Freedom in Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Asia, 1400-1865 (1953).

Marvin L. Michael Kay and Lorin Lee Cary, Slavery in North Carolina, 1748-1775 (1995).

Michael Tadman, Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South (1989).

Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870 (1997).

The History of Slavery in Barbados

In 1536 Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos stopped over in Barbados en route to Brazil and named the island 'Los Barbados' - the bearded ones, presumably after the island's fig trees, with there long hanging aerial roots. (A beard-like resemblance)

Although known to the Portuguese and Spanish, the British were the first settlers in 1625. Captain John Powell landed on Barbados with his crew and claimed the uninhabited island for England. Two years later, his brother Captain Henry Powell landed with a party of 80 settlers and 10 African slaves. The group established the island's first European settlement, Jamestown, on the western coast at what is now Holetown. They were welcomed only by a herd of Portuguese Hogs thought to be left there by Campos whose intention was to use them as food on return voyages.

When Slavery Began

Slaves brought into Barbados came from various tribes out of the forest region of West Africa, during village raids. Some of the African tribes were Eboes, Paw-paws and Igbo. They came via slave trade forts on the African west coast, set up by Europeans. Such forts were the Axim and El Mina. After being traded for trinkets, the slaves were sent to the Caribbean and sold to Plantation owners.
In 1636, officials passed a law declaring all slaves brought into Barbados, whether African or Amerindian were to be enslaved for life. It was later extended to include their off springs. At this time there were only 22 free coloured persons on the island.

During the 1700s, the main source of labour for cotton and tobacco was indentured servants from Europe, while Amerindians from the Guianas were imported to teach agriculture. As the cotton and tobacco industry started to fail because of the lack of labour, due to terrible conditions for indentured servants, the sugar industry emerged. Sugar in Barbados at that time was used only for feedstock, as fuel and in the production of rum.

Why Slaves From Africa?

The Triangle Trade


As the cost of white labour rose in England, more slaves were imported from West Africa, especially the Gold Coast and by extension more black slaves were brought to Barbados. The main groups of slaves imported were from Ibibio, Yoruba, Lgbo and Efik, as well as Asante, Fante, Ga and Fon. By mid 1600's there was over 5600 black African slaves in Barbados and by early 1800,s over 385,000. The constant importation of slaves was caused by the high mortality rate, due to bad conditions and overwork. By the 1700's, Barbados was one of the leaders in the slave trade from the European colonies.

During the 1800's, the elite were building elaborate estates like Drax Hall and St. Nicholas Abbey, which still exist, while controlling the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council. They encouraged slave reproduction to avoid more importations of slaves, becoming the only island in the British Caribbean no longer dependent on slave imports.

The Colour Shift
During the 1700's to 1800's, Barbados shifted from a majority white population to majority black. This caused tension on the island as white indentured servants became unsure of their place, and plantation owners were afraid of slave rebellion, eventually causing most of them to leave. By the beginning of the 1800's the majority of blacks in Barbados were born locally, with a high percentage of Creole born blacks, as opposed to Africans. This enabled the black population to reproduce itself, rather than rely on new imports from Africa to maintain population levels.

Regulating the Slaves
Due to the unrest, the laws regulating the slaves were strongly enforced. By the 1800's, there were laws prohibiting slaves from leaving their plantations without permission and stopping them from beating drums or any other instruments used by slaves to communicate with each other. There were also laws requiring the return of runaway slaves and leniency for those killing slaves.

The Slave Rebellions

The First Slave Rebellion (1649)
This included two plantations, and the trigger was insufficient food. It was quickly subdued with not much damage.

The Second Slave Rebellion (1675)
This one was island-wide and took over three years to plan but was uncovered when a one of the slaves named Fortuna leaked the information out. Over 100 slaves were arrested and tortured, while over 40 were executed after being found guilty of rebellion. Some committed suicide before being executed, while others were beheaded or burnt alive.

The Third Slave Rebellion (1692)
This was also island-wide with over 200 slaves arrested and over 90 executed after being found guilty of rebellion.

Rebellions simmered in Barbados until 1816 due to an increase in free blacks and slaves born on the island (called Creole Slaves), there were also more frequent visits to the island by British Military Ships for supplies and a colonial militia which was becoming more powerful during the 1800's.

Creole Slaves were believed to be more submissive than African born slave and therefore were placed over the Africans.

The Bussa Rebellion (The Easter Rebellion - Sun 14th April 1816)
During the 1816 rebellion more than 800 slaves were killed while fighting and over 100 executed. This was the first rebellion of this size in Barbados and the Caribbean, and took part for (3) days on the southern part of the island. This rebellion caused reform to ease the hardships of slavery.

In 1825 the 'Amelioration Policy' was changed to 'the Consolidated Slave Law' legislation (The Emancipation Act) which consist of (3) Rights for Slaves The right to own property / The right to testify in all court cases / Reduction of fees charged for Manumission (a fee charged to slaveowners for emancipating their slaves).

Emancipation - Slave Freedom

In 1807 the International Slave Trade was abolished giving slaves in Barbados hope of freedom, but abolitionist missionaries and antislavery debates seemed to hinder the process, ultimately causing the 1816 Revolt by Bussa of Bayley's Plantation. Bussa is now one of Barbados' National heroes with the Emancipation Statue being erected in his memory.

By 1834 slavery was abolished in all the territories of British rule. This was mainly due to the Consolidated Slave Law (The Emancipation Act) and (3) major uprisings Bussa Rebellion (Barbados - 1816) / Demerara Revolt (now Guyana - 1823) / Jamaica Revolt (1832). Because of the instability within the Caribbean, the British Parliament was forced to emancipate over 80,000 slaves at this time.

Apprenticeships for freed slaves were then introduced under labour contracts as indentured servants. In Barbados Indentured Servants could not join the islands educational systems, and labour contracts were for (12) years, making it the longest in the Caribbean, as well as being paid the lowest wages in the region. Some worked (45) hour weeks without pay in exchange for accommodations in tiny huts.

In 1838 the Masters and Servant Act (Contract Law) made discrimination against persons of colour in Barbados illegal.

Watch the video: THOMAS SOWELL - THE REAL HISTORY OF SLAVERY (January 2022).