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American Negro Slavery
The Domestic Slave Trade
by Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell

In the New England town of Plymouth in November, 1729, a certain Thompson Phillips who was about to sail for Jamaica exchanged a half interest in his one-legged negro man for a similar share in Isaac Lathrop's negro boy who was to sail with Phillips and be sold on the voyage. Lathrop was meanwhile to teach the man the trade of cordwaining, and was to resell his share to Phillips at the end of a year at a price of £40 sterling.[1] This transaction, which was duly concluded in the following year, suggests the existence of a trade in slaves on a small scale from north to south in colonial times. Another item in the same connection is an advertisement in the Boston Gazette of August 17, 1761, offering for sale young slaves just from Africa and proposing to take in exchange "any negro men, strong and hearty though not of the best moral character, which are proper subjects of transportation";[2] and a third instance appears in a letter of James Habersham of Georgia in 1764 telling of his purchase of a parcel of negroes at New York for work on his rice plantation.[3] That the disestablishment of slavery in the North during and after the American Revolution enhanced the exportation of negroes was recited in a Vermont statute of 1787,[4] and is shown by occasional items in Southern archives. One of these is the registry at Savannah of a bill of sale made at New London in 1787 for a mulatto boy "as a servant for the term of ten years only, at the expiration of which time he is to be free."[5] Another is a report from an official at Norfolk to the Governor of Virginia, in 1795, relating that the captain of a sloop from Boston with three negroes on board pleaded ignorance of the Virginia law against the bringing in of slaves.[6]
[Footnote 1: Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, XXIV, 335, 336.]

[Footnote 2: Reprinted in Joshua Coffin, An Account of Some of the Principal Slave Insurrections (New York, 1860), p. 15.]

[Footnote 3: "The Letters of James Habersham," in the Georgia Historical Society Collections, VI, 22, 23.]

[Footnote 4: New England Register, XXIX, 248, citing Vermont Statutes, 1787, p. 105.]

[Footnote 5: U.B. Phillips, "Racial Problems, Adjustments and Disturbances in the Ante-bellum South," in The South in the Building of the Nation, IV, 218.]

[Footnote 6: Calendar of Virginia State Papers, VIII, 255.]
The federal census returns show that from 1790 onward the decline in the number of slaves in the Northern states was more than counterbalanced by the increase of their free negroes. This means either that the selling of slaves to the southward was very slight, or that the statistical effect of it was canceled by the northward flight of fugitive slaves and the migration of negroes legally free. There seems to be no evidence that the traffic across Mason and Dixon's line was ever of large dimensions, the following curious item from a New Orleans newspaper in 1818 to the contrary notwithstanding: "Jersey negroes appear to be peculiarly adapted to this market--especially those that bear the mark of Judge Van Winkle, as it is understood that they offer the best opportunity for speculation. We have the right to calculate on large importations in future, from the success which hitherto attended the sale."[7]
[Footnote 7: Augusta, Ga., Chronicle, Aug. 22, 1818, quoting the New Orleans Chronicle, July 14, 1818.]
The internal trade at the South began to be noticeable about the end of the eighteenth century. A man at Knoxville, Tennessee, in December, 1795, sent notice to a correspondent in Kentucky that he was about to set out with slaves for delivery as agreed upon, and would carry additional ones on speculation; and he concluded by saying "I intend carrying on the business extensively."[8] In 1797 La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt met a "drove of negroes" about one hundred in number,[9] whose owner had abandoned the planting business in the South Carolina uplands and was apparently carrying them to Charleston for sale. In 1799 there was discovered in the Georgia treasury a shortage of some ten thousand dollars which a contemporary news item explained as follows: Mr. Sims, a member of the legislature, having borrowed the money from the treasurer, entrusted it to a certain Speers for the purchase of slaves in Virginia. "Speers accordingly went and purchased a considerable number of negroes; and on his way returning to this state the negroes rose and cut the throats of Speers and another man who accompanied him. The slaves fled, and about ten of them, I think, were killed. In consequence of this misfortune Mr. Sims was rendered unable to raise the money at the time the legislature met."[10] Another transaction achieved record because of a literary effusion which it prompted. Charles Mott Lide of South Carolina, having inherited a fortune, went to Virginia early in 1802 to buy slaves, and began to establish a sea-island cotton plantation in Georgia. But misfortune in other investments forced him next year to sell his land, slaves and crops to two immigrants from the Bahama Islands. Thereupon, wrote he, "I composed the following valedictory, which breathes something of the tenderness of Ossian."[11] Callous history is not concerned in the farewell to his "sweet asylum," but only in the fact that he bought slaves in Virginia and carried them to Georgia. A grand jury at Alexandria presented as a grievance in 1802, "the practice of persons coming from distant parts of the United States into this district for the purpose of purchasing slaves."[12] Such fugitive items as these make up the whole record of the trade in its early years, and indeed constitute the main body of data upon its career from first to last.
[Footnote 8: Unsigned MS. draft in the Wisconsin Historical Society, Draper collection, printed in Plantation and Frontier, II, 55, 56.]

[Footnote 9: La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, Travels in the United States, p. 592.]

[Footnote 10: Charleston, S.C., City Gazette, Dec. 21, 1799.]

[Footnote 11: Alexander Gregg, History of the Old Cheraws (New York, 1877), pp. 480-482.]

[Footnote 12: Quoted in a speech in Congress in 1829, Register of Debates, V, 177.]
As soon as the African trade was closed, the interstate traffic began to assume the aspect of a regular business though for some years it not only continued to be of small scale but was oftentimes merely incidental in character. That is to say, migrating planters and farmers would in some cases carry extra slaves bought with a view to reselling them at western prices and applying the proceeds toward the expense of their new homesteads. The following advertisement by William Rochel at Natchez in 1810 gives an example of this: "I have upwards of twenty likely Virginia born slaves now in a flat bottomed boat lying in the river at Natchez, for sale cheaper than has been sold here in years.[13] Part of said negroes I wish to barter for a small farm. My boat may be known by a large cane standing on deck."
[Footnote 13: Natchez, Miss., Weekly Chronicle, April 2, 1810.]
The heyday of the trade fell in the piping times of peace and migration from 1815 to 1860. Its greatest activity was just prior to the panic of 1837, for thereafter the flow was held somewhat in check, first by the hard times in the cotton belt and then by an agricultural renaissance in Virginia. A Richmond newspaper reported in the fall of 1836 that estimates by intelligent men placed Virginia's export in the preceding year at 120,000 slaves, of whom at least two thirds had been carried by emigrating owners, and the rest by dealers.[14] This was probably an exaggeration for even the greatest year of the exodus. What the common volume of the commercial transport was can hardly be ascertained from the available data.
[Footnote 14: Niles' Register, LI, 83 (Oct. 8, 1836), quoting the Virginia Times.]
The slave trade was partly systematic, partly casual. For local sales every public auctioneer handled slaves along with other property, and in each city there were brokers buying them to sell again or handling them on commission. One of these at New Orleans in 1854 was Thomas Foster who advertised that he would pay the highest prices for sound negroes as well as sell those whom merchants or private citizens might consign him. Expecting to receive negroes throughout the season, he said, he would have a constant stock of mechanics, domestics and field hands; and in addition he would house as many as three hundred slaves at a time, for such as were importing them from other states.[16] Similarly Clark and Grubb, of Whitehall Street in Atlanta, when advertising their business as wholesale grocers, commission merchants and negro brokers, announced that they kept slaves of all classes constantly on hand and were paying the highest market prices for all that might be offered.[16] At Nashville, William L. Boyd, Jr., and R.W. Porter advertised as rival slave dealers in 1854;[17] and in the directory of that city for 1860 E.S. Hawkins, G.H. Hitchings, and Webb, Merrill and Company were also listed in this traffic. At St. Louis in 1859 Corbin Thompson and Bernard M. Lynch were the principal slave dealers. The rates of the latter, according to his placard, were 37-1/2 cents per day for board and 2-1/2 per cent, commission on sales; and all slaves entrusted to his care were to be held at their owners' risk.[18]
[Footnote 15: Southern Business Directory (Charleston, 1854), I, 163.]

[Footnote 16: Atlanta Intelligencer, Mch. 7, 1860.]

[Footnote 17: Southern Business Directory, II, 131.]

[Footnote 18: H.A. Trexler, Slavery in Missouri, 1804-1865 (Baltimore, 1914), p. 49.]
On the other hand a rural owner disposed to sell a slave locally would commonly pass the word round among his neighbors or publish a notice in the county newspaper. To this would sometimes be appended a statement that the slave was not to be sent out of the state, or that no dealers need apply. The following is one of many such Maryland items: "Will be sold for cash or good paper, a negro woman, 22 years old, and her two female children. She is sold for want of employment, and will not be sent out of the state. Apply to the editor."[19] In some cases, whether rural or urban, the slave was sent about to find his or her purchaser. In the city of Washington in 1854, for example, a woman, whose husband had been sold South, was furnished with the following document: "The bearer, Mary Jane, and her two daughters, are for sale. They are sold for no earthly fault whatever. She is one of the most ladylike and trustworthy servants I ever knew. She is a first rate parlour servant; can arrange and set out a dinner or party supper with as much taste as the most of white ladies. She is a pretty good mantua maker; can cut out and make vests and pantaloons and roundabouts and joseys for little boys in a first rate manner. Her daughters' ages are eleven and thirteen years, brought up exclusively as house servants. The eldest can sew neatly, both can knit stockings; and all are accustomed to all kinds of house work. They would not be sold to speculators or traders for any price whatever." The price for the three was fixed at $1800, but a memorandum stated that a purchaser taking the daughters at $1000 might have the mother on a month's trial. The girls were duly bought by Dr. Edward Maynard, who we may hope took the mother also at the end of the stipulated month.[20] In the cities a few slaves were sold by lottery. One Boulmay, for example, advertised at New Orleans in 1819 that he would sell fifty tickets at twenty dollars each, the lucky drawer to receive his girl Amelia, thirteen years old.[21]
[Footnote 19: Charleston, Md., Telegraph, Nov. 7, 1828.]

[Footnote 20: MSS. in the New York Public Library, MSS. division, filed under "slavery."]

[Footnote 21: Louisiana Courier (New Orleans), Aug. 17, 1819.]
The long distance trade, though open to any who would engage in it, appears to have been conducted mainly by firms plying it steadily. Each of these would have an assembling headquarters with field agents collecting slaves for it, one or more vessels perhaps for the coastwise traffic, and a selling agency at one of the centers of slave demand. The methods followed by some of the purchasing agents, and the local esteem in which they were held, may be gathered by an item written in 1818 at Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley: "Several wretches, whose hearts must be as black as the skins of the unfortunate beings who constitute their inhuman traffic, have for several days been impudently prowling about the streets of this place with labels on their hats exhibiting in conspicuous characters the words 'Cash for negroes,'"[22] That this repugnance was genuine enough to cause local sellers to make large concessions in price in order to keep faithful servants out of the hands of the long-distance traders is evidenced by the following report in 1824 from Hillsborough on the eastern shore of Maryland: "Slaves in this county, and I believe generally on this shore, have always had two prices, viz. a neighbourhood or domestic and a foreign or Southern price. The domestic price has generally been about a third less than the foreign, and sometimes the difference amounts to one half."[23]
[Footnote 22: Virginia Northwestern Gazette, Aug. 15, 1818.]

[Footnote 23: American Historical Review, XIX, 818.]
The slaves of whom their masters were most eager to be rid were the indolent, the unruly, and those under suspicion. A Creole settler at Mobile wrote in 1748, for example, to a friend living on the Mississippi: "I am sending you l'Eveille and his wife, whom I beg you to sell for me at the best price to be had. If however they will not bring 1,500 francs each, please keep them on your land and make them work. What makes me sell them is that l'Eveille is accused of being the head of a plot of some thirty Mobile slaves to run away. He stoutly denies this; but since there is rarely smoke without fire I think it well to take the precaution."[24] The converse of this is a laconic advertisement at Charleston in 1800: "Wanted to purchase one or two negro men whose characters will not be required."[25] It is probable that offers were not lacking in response.
[Footnote 24: MS. in private possession, here translated from the French.]

[Footnote 25: Charleston City Gazette, Jan. 8, 1800.]
Some of the slaves dealt in were actually convicted felons sold by the states in which their crimes had been committed. The purchasers of these were generally required to give bond to transport them beyond the limits of the United States; but some of the traders broke their pledges on the chance that their breaches would not be discovered. One of these, a certain W.H. Williams, when found offering his outlawed merchandize of twenty-four convict slaves at New Orleans in 1841, was prosecuted and convicted. His penalty included the forfeiture of the twenty-four slaves, a fine of $500 to the state of Louisiana for each of the felons introduced, and the forfeiture to the state of Virginia of his bond in the amount of $1,000 per slave. The total was reckoned at $48,000.[26]
[Footnote 26: Niles' Register, LX, 189, quoting the New Orleans Picayune, May 2, 1841.]
The slaves whom the dealers preferred to buy for distant sale were "likely negroes from ten to thirty years old."[27] Faithfulness and skill in husbandry were of minor importance, for the trader could give little proof of them to his patrons. Demonstrable talents in artisanry would of course enhance a man's value; and unusual good looks on the part of a young woman might stimulate the bidding of men interested in concubinage. Episodes of the latter sort were occasionally reported; but in at least one instance inquiry on the spot showed that sex was not involved. This was the case of the girl Sarah, who was sold to the highest bidder on the auction block in the rotunda of the St. Louis Hotel at New Orleans in 1841 at a price of eight thousand dollars. The onlookers were set agog, but a newspaper man promptly found that the sale had been made as a mere form in the course of litigation and that the bidding bore no relation to the money which was to change hands.[28] Among the thousands of bills of sale which the present writer has scanned, in every quarter of the South, many have borne record of exceptional prices for men, mostly artisans and "drivers"; but the few women who brought unusually high prices were described in virtually every case as fine seamstresses, parlor maids, laundresses, hotel cooks, and the like. Another indication against the multiplicity of purchases for concubinage is that the great majority of the women listed in these records were bought in family groups. Concubinage itself was fairly frequent, particularly in southern Louisiana; but no frequency of purchases for it as a predominant purpose can be demonstrated from authentic records.
[Footnote 27: Advertisement in the Western Carolinian (Salisbury, N. C), July 12, 1834.]

[Footnote 28: New Orleans Bee, Oct. 16, 1841.]
Some of the dealers used public jails, taverns and warehouses for the assembling of their slaves, while others had stockades of their own. That of Franklin and Armfield at Alexandria, managed by the junior member of the firm, was described by a visitor in July, 1835. In addition to a brick residence and office, it comprised two courts, for the men and women respectively, each with whitewashed walls, padlocked gates, cleanly barracks and eating sheds, and a hospital which at this time had no occupants. In the men's yards "the slaves, fifty or sixty in number, were standing or moving about in groups, some amusing themselves with rude sports, and others engaged in conversation which was often interrupted by loud laughter in all the varied tones peculiar to negroes." They were mostly young men, but comprised a few boys of from ten to fifteen years old. In the women's yard the ages ranged similarly, and but one woman had a young child. The slaves were neatly dressed in clothes from a tailor shop within the walls, and additional clothing was already stored ready to be sent with the coffle and issued to its members at the end of the southward journey. In a yard behind the stockade there were wagons and tents made ready for the departure. Shipments were commonly made by the firm once every two months in a vessel for New Orleans, but the present lot was to march overland. Whether by land or sea, the destination was Natchez, where the senior partner managed the selling end of the business. Armfield himself was "a man of fine personal appearance, and of engaging and graceful manners"; and his firm was said to have gained the confidence of all the countryside by its honorable dealings and by its resolute efforts to discourage kidnapping. It was said to be highly esteemed even among the negroes.[29]
[Footnote 29: E.A. Andrews, Slavery and the Domestic Slave Trade in the United States (Boston, 1836), pp. 135, 143, 150.]
Soon afterward this traveler made a short voyage on the Potomac with a trader of a much more vulgar type who was carrying about fifty slaves, mostly women with their children, to Fredericksburg and thence across the Carolinas. Overland, the trader said, he was accustomed to cover some twenty-five miles a day, with the able-bodied slaves on foot and the children in wagons. The former he had found could cover these marches, after the first few days, without much fatigue. His firm, he continued, had formerly sent most of its slaves by sea, but one of the vessels carrying them had been driven to Bermuda, where all the negroes had escaped to land and obtained their freedom under the British flag.[30]
[Footnote 30: Ibid., pp. 145-149.]
The scale of the coasting transit of slaves may be ascertained from the ship manifests made under the requirements of the congressional act of 1808 and now preserved in large numbers in the manuscripts division of the Library of Congress. Its volume appears to have ranged commonly, between 1815 and 1860, at from two to five thousand slaves a year. Several score of these, or perhaps a few hundred, annually were carried as body servants by their owners when making visits whether to southern cities or to New York or Philadelphia. Of the rest about half were sent or carried without intent of sale. Thus in 1831 James L. Pettigru and Langdon Cheves sent from Charleston to Savannah 85 and 64 slaves respectively of ages ranging from ninety and seventy years to infancy, with obvious purpose to develop newly acquired plantations in Georgia. Most of the non-commercial shipments, however, were in lots of from one to a dozen slaves each. The traders' lots, on the other hand, which were commonly of considerable dimensions, may be somewhat safely distinguished by the range of the negroes' ages, with heavy preponderance of those between ten and thirty years, and by the recurrence of shippers' and consignees' names. The Chesapeake ports were the chief points of departure, and New Orleans the great port of entry. Thus in 1819 Abner Robinson at Baltimore shipped a cargo of 99 slaves to William Kenner and Co. at New Orleans, whereas by 1832 Robinson had himself removed to the latter place and was receiving shipments from Henry King at Norfolk. In the latter year Franklin and Armfield sent from Alexandria via New Orleans to Isaac Franklin at Natchez three cargoes of 109, 117 and 134 slaves, mainly of course within the traders' ages; R.C. Ballard and Co. sent batches from Norfolk to Franklin at Natchez and to John Hogan and Co. at New Orleans; and William T. Foster, associated with William Rollins who was master of the brig Ajax, consigned numerous parcels to various New Orleans correspondents. About 1850 the chief shippers were Joseph Donovan of Baltimore, B.M. and M.L. Campbell of the same place, David Currie of Richmond and G.W. Apperson of Norfolk, each of whom sent each year several shipments of several score slaves to New Orleans. The principal recipients there were Thomas Boudar, John Hogan, W.F. Talbott, Buchanan, Carroll and Co., Masi and Bourk, and Sherman Johnson. The outward manifests from New Orleans show in turn a large maritime distribution from that port, mainly to Galveston and Matagorda Bay. The chief bulk of this was obviously migrant, not commercial; but a considerable dependence of all the smaller Gulf ports and even of Montgomery upon the New Orleans labor market is indicated by occasional manifests bulking heavily in the traders' ages. In 1850 and thereabouts, it is curious to note, there were manifests for perhaps a hundred slaves a year bound for Chagres en route for San Francisco. They were for the most part young men carried singly, and were obviously intended to share their masters' adventures in the California gold fields.

Many slaves carried by sea were covered by marine insurance. Among a number of policies issued by the Louisiana Insurance Company to William Kenner and Company was one dated February 18, 1822, on slaves in transit in the brig Fame. It was made out on a printed form of the standard type for the marine insurance of goods, with the words "on goods" stricken out and "on slaves" inserted. The risks, specified as assumed in the printed form were those "of the sea, men of war, fire, enemies, pirates, rovers, thieves, jettison, letters of mart and counter-mart, surprisals, taking at sea, arrests, restraints and detainments of all kings, princes or people of what nation, condition or quality soever, barratry of the master and mariners, and all other perils, losses and misfortunes that have or shall come to the hurt, detriment or damage of the said goods or merchandize, or any part thereof." In manuscript was added: "This insurance is declared to be made on one hundred slaves, valued at $40,000 and warranted by the insured to be free from insurrection, elopement, suicide and natural death." The premium was one and a quarter per cent, of the forty thousand dollars.[31] That the insurers were not always free from serious risk is indicated by a New Orleans news item in 1818 relating that two local insurance companies had recently lost more than forty thousand dollars in consequence of the robbery of seventy-two slaves out of a vessel from the Chesapeake by a piratical boat off the Berry Islands.[32]
[Footnote 31: Original in private possession.]

[Footnote 32: Augusta, Ga., Chronicle, Sept. 23, 1818, quoting the Orleans Gazette.]
Overland coffles were occasionally encountered and described by travelers. Featherstonhaugh overtook one at daybreak one morning in southwestern Virginia bound through the Tennessee Valley and wrote of it as follows: "It was a camp of negro slave drivers, just packing up to start. They had about three hundred slaves with them, who had bivouacked the preceding night in chains in the woods. These they were conducting to Natchez on the Mississippi River to work upon the sugar plantations in Louisiana. It resembled one of the coffles spoken of by Mungo Park, except that they had a caravan of nine wagons and single-horse carriages for the purpose of conducting the white people and any of the blacks that should fall lame.... The female slaves, some of them sitting on logs of wood, while others were standing, and a great many little black children, were warming themselves at the fire of the bivouac. In front of them all, and prepared for the march, stood in double files about two hundred men slaves, manacled and chained to each other." The writer went on to ejaculate upon the horror of "white men with liberty and equality in their mouths," driving black men "to perish in the sugar mills of Louisiana, where the duration of life for a sugar mill hand does not exceed seven years."[33] Sir Charles Lyell, who was less disposed to moralize or to repeat slanders of the Louisiana régime, wrote upon reaching the outskirts of Columbus, Georgia, in January, 1846: "The first sight we saw there was a long line of negroes, men, women and boys, well dressed and very merry, talking and laughing, who stopped to look at our coach. On inquiry we were told that it was a gang of slaves, probably from Virginia, going to the market to be sold."[34] Whether this laughing company wore shackles the writer failed to say.
[Footnote 33: G.W. Featherstonhaugh, Excursion through the Slave States (London, 1844), I, 120.]

[Footnote 34: Sir Charles Lyell, A Second Visit to the United States (New York, 1849), II, 35.]
Some of the slaves in the coffles were peddled to planters and townsmen along the route; the rest were carried to the main distributing centers and there either kept in stock for sale at fixed prices to such customers as might apply, or sold at auction. Oftentimes a family group divided for sale was reunited by purchase. Johann Schoepf observed a prompt consummation of the sort when a cooper being auctioned continually called to the bidders that whoever should buy him must buy his son also, an injunction to which his purchaser duly conformed.[35] Both hardness of heart and shortness of sight would have been involved in the neglect of so ready a means of promoting the workman's equanimity; and the good nature of the competing bidders doubtless made the second purchase easy. More commonly the sellers offered the slaves in family groups outright. By whatever method the sales were made, the slaves of both sexes were subjected to such examination of teeth and limbs as might be desired.[36] Those on the block oftentimes praised their own strength and talents, for it was a matter of pride to fetch high prices. On the other hand if a slave should bear a grudge against his seller, or should hope to be bought only by someone who would expect but light service, he might pretend a disability though he had it not. The purchasers were commonly too shrewd to be deceived in either way; yet they necessarily took risks in every purchase they made. If horse trading is notoriously fertile in deception, slave trading gave opportunity for it in as much greater degree as human nature is more complex and uncertain than equine and harder to fathom from surface indications.
[Footnote 35: Johann David Schoepf, Travels in the Confederation, 1783-1784, A.J. Morrison tr. (Philadelphia, 1911), I, 148.]

[Footnote 36: The proceedings at typical slave auctions are narrated by Basil Hall, Travels in North America (Edinburgh, 1829), III, 143-145; and by William Chambers, Things as they are in America (2d edition, London, 1857), pp. 273-284.]
There was also some risk of loss from defects of title. The negroes offered might prove to be kidnapped freemen, or stolen slaves, or to have been illegally sold by their former owners in defraud of mortgagees. The last of these considerations was particularly disquieting in times of financial stress, for suspicion of wholesale frauds then became rife. At the beginning of 1840, for example, the offerings of slaves from Mississippi in large numbers and at bargain prices in the New Orleans market prompted a local editor to warn the citizens against buying cheap slaves who might shortly be seized by the federal marshal at the suit of citizens in other states. A few days afterward the same journal printed in its local news the following: "Many slaves were put up this day at the St. Louis exchange. Few if any were sold. It is very difficult now to find persons willing to buy slaves from Mississippi or Alabama on account of the fears entertained that such property may be already mortgaged to the banks of the above named states. Our moneyed men and speculators are now wide awake. It will take a pretty cunning child to cheat them."[37]
[Footnote 37: Louisiana Courier, Feb. 12 and 15, 1840.]
The disesteem in which the slavetraders were held was so great and general in the Southern community as to produce a social ostracism. The prevailing sentiment was expressed, with perhaps a little exaggeration, by D.R. Hundley of Alabama in his analysis of Southern social types: "Preëminent in villainy and a greedy love of filthy lucre stands the hard-hearted negro trader.... Some of them, we do not doubt, are conscientious men, but the number is few. Although honest and honorable when they first go into the business, the natural result of their calling seems to corrupt them; for they usually have to deal with the most refractory and brutal of the slave population, since good and honest slaves are rarely permitted to fall into the unscrupulous clutches of the speculator.... [He] is outwardly a coarse, ill-bred person, provincial in speech and manners, with a cross-looking phiz, a whiskey-tinctured nose, cold hard-looking eyes, a dirty tobacco-stained mouth, and shabby dress.... He is not troubled evidently with a conscience, for although he habitually separates parent from child, brother from sister, and husband from wife, he is yet one of the jolliest dogs alive, and never evinces the least sign of remorse.... Almost every sentence he utters is accompanied by an oath.... Nearly nine tenths of the slaves he buys and sells are vicious ones sold for crimes and misdemeanors, or otherwise diseased ones sold because of their worthlessness as property. These he purchases for about one half what healthy and honest slaves would cost him; but he sells them as both honest and healthy, mark you! So soon as he has completed his 'gang' he dresses them up in good clothes, makes them comb their kinky heads into some appearance of neatness, rubs oil on their dusky faces to give them a sleek healthy color, gives them a dram occasionally to make them sprightly, and teaches each one the part he or she has to play; and then he sets out for the extreme South.... At every village of importance he sojourns for a day or two, each day ranging his 'gang' in a line on the most busy street, and whenever a customer makes his appearance the oily speculator button-holes him immediately and begins to descant in the most highfalutin fashion upon the virtuous lot of darkeys he has for sale. Mrs. Stowe's Uncle Tom was not a circumstance to any one of the dozens he points out. So honest! so truthful! so dear to the hearts of their former masters and mistresses! Ah! Messrs. stock-brokers of Wall Street--you who are wont to cry up your rotten railroad, mining, steamboat and other worthless stocks[38]--for ingenious lying you should take lessons from the Southern negro trader!" Some of the itinerant traders were said, however, and probably with truth, to have had silent partners among the most substantial capitalists in the Southern cities.[39]
[Footnote 38: D.R. Hundley, Social Relations in our Southern States (New York, 1860), pp. 139-142.]

[Footnote 39: Ibid., p.145.]
The social stigma upon slave dealing doubtless enhanced the profits of the traders by diminishing the competition. The difference in the scales of prices prevailing at any time in the cheapest and the dearest local markets was hardly ever less than thirty per cent. From such a margin, however, there had to be deducted not only the cost of feeding, clothing, sheltering, guarding and transporting the slaves for the several months commonly elapsing between purchase and sale in the trade, but also allowances for such loss as might occur in transit by death, illness, accident or escape. At some periods, furthermore, slave prices fell so rapidly that the prospect of profit for the speculator vanished. At Columbus, Georgia, in December, 1844, for example, it was reported that a coffle from North Carolina had been marched back for want of buyers.[40] But losses of this sort were more than offset in the long run by the upward trend of prices which was in effect throughout the most of the ante-bellum period. The Southern planters sometimes cut into the business of the traders by going to the border states to buy and bring home in person the slaves they needed.[41] The building of railways speeded the journeys and correspondingly reduced the costs. The Central of Georgia Railroad improved its service in 1858 by instituting a negro sleeping car [42]--an accommodation which apparently no railroad has furnished in the post-bellum decades.
[Footnote 40: Federal Union (Milledgeville, Ga.), Dec. 31, 1844.]

[Footnote 41: Andrews, Slavery and the Domestic Slave Trade, p.171.]
While the traders were held in common contempt, the incidents and effects of their traffic were viewed with mixed emotions. Its employment of shackles was excused only on the ground of necessary precaution. Its breaking up of families was generally deplored, although it was apologized for by thick-and-thin champions of everything Southern with arguments that negro domestic ties were weak at best and that the separations were no more frequent than those suffered by free laborers at the North under the stress of economic necessity. Its drain of money from the districts importing the slaves was regretted as a financial disadvantage. On the other hand, the citizens of the exporting states were disposed to rejoice doubly at being saved from loss by the depreciation of property on their hands [43] and at seeing the negro element in their population begin to dwindle;[44] but even these considerations were in some degree offset, in Virginia at least, by thoughts that the shrinkage of the blacks was not enough to lessen materially the problem of racial adjustments, that it was prime young workmen and women rather than culls who were being sold South, that white immigration was not filling their gaps, and that accordingly land prices were falling as slave prices rose.[45]
[Footnote 42: Central of Georgia Railroad Company Report for 1859.]

[Footnote 43: National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), Jan. 19, 1833.]

[Footnote 44: R.R. Howison, History of Virginia (Richmond, Va., 1846-1848), II. 519, 520.]

[Footnote 45: Edmund Ruffin, "The Effects of High Prices of Slaves," in DeBow's Review, XXVI, 647-657 (June, 1859).]
Delaware alone among the states below Mason and Dixon's line appears to have made serious effort to restrict the outgoing trade in slaves; but all the states from Maryland and Kentucky to Louisiana legislated from time to time for the prohibition of the inward trade.[46] The enforcement of these laws was called for by citizen after citizen in the public press, as demanded by "every principle of justice, humanity, policy and interest," and particularly on the ground that if the border states were drained of slaves they would be transferred from the pro-slavery to the anti-slavery group in politics.[47] The state laws could not constitutionally debar traders from the right of transit, and as a rule they did not prohibit citizens from bringing in slaves for their own use. These two apertures, together with the passiveness of the public, made the legislative obstacles of no effect whatever. As to the neighborhood trade within each community, no prohibition was attempted anywhere in the South.
[Footnote 46: These acts are summarized in W.H. Collins, Domestic Slave Trade, chap. 7.]

[Footnote 47: Louisiana Gazette, Feb. 25, 1818 and Jan. 29, 1823; Louisiana Courier, Jan. 13, 1831; Georgia Journal (Milledgeville, Ga.), Dec. 4, 1821, reprinted in Plantation and Frontier, II, 67-70; Federal Union (Milledgeville, Ga.), Feb. 6, 1847.]
On the whole, instead of hampering migration, as serfdom would have done, the institution of slavery made the negro population much more responsive to new industrial opportunity than if it had been free. The long distance slave trade found its principal function in augmenting the westward movement. No persuasion of the ignorant and inert was required; the fiat of one master set them on the road, and the fiat of another set them to new tasks. The local branch of the trade had its main use in transferring labor from impoverished employers to those with better means, from passive owners to active, and from persons with whom relations might be strained to others whom the negroes might find more congenial. That this last was not negligible is suggested by a series of letters in 1860 from William Capers, overseer on a Savannah River rice plantation, to Charles Manigault his employer, concerning a slave foreman or "driver" named John. In the first of these letters, August 5, Capers expressed pleasure at learning that John, who had in previous years been his lieutenant on another estate, was for sale. He wrote: "Buy him by all means. There is but few negroes more competent than he is, and he was not a drunkard when under my management.... In speaking with John he does not answer like a smart negro, but he is quite so. You had better say to him who is to manage him on Savannah." A week later Capers wrote: "John arrived safe and handed me yours of the 9th inst. I congratulate you on the purchase of said negro. He says he is quite satisfied to be here and will do as he has always done 'during the time I have managed him.' No drink will be offered him. All on my part will be done to bring John all right." Finally, on October 15, Capers reported: "I have found John as good a driver as when I left him on Santee. Bad management was the cause of his being sold, and [I] am glad you have been the fortunate man to get him."[48]
[Footnote 48: Plantation and Frontier, I, 337, 338.]
Leaving aside for the present, as topics falling more fitly under the economics of slavery, the questions of the market breeding of slaves in the border states and the working of them to death in the lower South, as well as the subject of inflations and depressions in slave prices, it remains to mention the chief defect of the slave trade as an agency for the distribution of labor. This lay in the fact that it dealt only in lifetime service. Employers, it is true, might buy slaves for temporary employment and sell them when the need for their labor was ended; but the fluctuations of slave prices and of the local opportunity to sell those on hand would involve such persons in slave trading risks on a scale eclipsing that of their industrial earnings. The fact that slave hiring prevailed extensively in all the Southern towns demonstrates the eagerness of short term employers to avoid the toils of speculation.


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