U.S. Slavery

Slaves: Destination and Origins in the United States
The map shows the distribution of slaves in the United States in 1860. Study the patterns carefully.

Examine maps of the slave trade from West Africa to the Western Hemisphere from 1701-1810 and 1811-1870 (Source: Alan Thomas, et. al., Third World Atlas, p. 28). Muslims comprised 20 percent of African slaves brought to the United States. Or look at this web page.

For high-quality comprehensive information about U.S. slavery, visit the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. A few of the maps from this Center are available here.  

[Read about the importance of prisoners in colonial USA.]


                                   Death Rates of Africans from the Atlantic Slave Trade (Source: Britannica Online, estimates)

      from all of Africa from West Africa, north of the equator
    Eras arrived Overseas left Africa Percent Lost arrived Overseas Percent Lost
    Before 1600 290,000 370,000 - 22 220,000 - 41
    1601-1700 1,490,000 1,870,000 - 20 1,120,000 - 40
    1701-1810 5,150,000 6,130,000 - 16 3,680,000 - 40
    After 1810 2,780,000 3,270,000 - 15 1,090,000 -67
    Total 9,710,000 11,640,000 - 17 6,110,000 -48
    British soldiers in places like Nigeria and Namibia died of diseases, malaria and yellow fever in particular, at rates from 48 to 67 percent
    while African troops in the same places died at about 3 percent! Sailors in on slave ships made the trip several times; the slaves only once
    (Source: Charles Mann,1493, p. 133).

The South was not a uniform cultural region. 1) The plantation belt, which included the most fertile soils in the low country along the coastal plain, was integrated into the world economy with its cotton, tobacco, rice, and sugar. Planters dominated the economy and politics and here is where the majority of slaves were concentrated. 2) But a large number of whites lived in the Upcountry, where small farmers owned a few or no slaves and farmers were largely self-sufficient. Because slavery and planters and the yeoman self-sufficiency were located in different regions of the South, the latent class conflicts between planters and mountain people did not surface.

Yet many small farmers (nearly half in both Mississippi and South Carolina) owned a slave or two, and even in the mountains, slavery was firmly entrenched among a small but influential local elite: a few large-scale farmers, professionals, and merchants.

With secession and the Civil War, large numbers of Upcountry people, such as those in western Virginia (which became a separate state) and eastern Tennessee, identified with the North.

The U.S. slave population tripled after the slave trade was abolished in 1808; elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, the slave population declined without the importation of new slaves from Africa.

In 1860, the average wealth of a slaveowner was 14 times that of an average non-slaveowner in the South; and 5 times that of an average Northerner (Kolchin, 1999, p. 166). Kolchin argues that only "race" mattered in U.S. slavery whereas in Russia, serfdom was defined along class lines within the same ethnic group. Nine slave museums tell the story of U.S. slavery: where are they?


Slaves and Free Blacks
The South had 3.9 million black slaves and 262,000 free Negroes in 1860. The white population of the 11 Confederate states was 5 million. 7 percent of the total population in the South owned nearly 3 million slaves in 1860. Only 3,000 planters owned 100 or more slaves. Two million whites owned a few slaves, but 6 million whites owned no slaves. Regardless of whether they owned slaves or not, whites were frequently united with the interest of large slave owners. They were the overseers, drivers, and dealers of slaves. Others were hirers of slave labor and others were merchants and professionals who identified with the planter class.

Mississippi. In 1860, the state had 353,899 whites and 473,404 blacks, of which less than 1,000 were free. From 1840 the Cotton Kingdom spread across the state. In the Black Belt, the most fertile soils of the state, plantations were designed to raise a profitable cotton crop and not to entertain visitors, as they did in Natchez, New Orleans, and Charleston. From Memphis to the Gulf the cotton counties had black populations over 60%, while poor whites dominated the population in the poor lands of the northeast and southeast.

South Carolina. In 1860, South Carolina had 412,320 blacks and 291,300 whites and nearly 10,000 free blacks. By the mid-18th century the slaves on rice plantations provided their masters with the highest per capita income in the American colonies. Many of the Africans who were brought to the South Carolina low country came from rice-producing areas of Africa. African methods of planting, hoeing, winnowing, and threshing rice were used as late as 1865.

How does the U.S. achieve justice for past injustice? Read about the law suits for reparations of slavery: article1 and article 2. Slaves performed $40 million worth of unpaid labor between 1790-1860, then reparations would be around $1.4 trillion today!