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Slave Trade Within the US

1790  - 1860

From "A History of the Slave South," provides an overview of the slave trade domestically in the US during the period after the Revolutionary War up to the beginning of the Civil War.   The economic argument for prohibiting the importation of slaves in the US Constitution was that Virginia, Maryland and Rhode Island were already exporting slaves domestically to Kentucky and Tennessee.  The continuation of the domestic trading in slaves is illustrated below in a collage of slides from the University of Pennslyvania lecture series on this topic.  The price of slaves was in a very real sense pegged to the price of cotton.  It was possible, it was noted, to determine the price of a good field hand by extroplating from the price of cotton.


Prior to cotton plantation agriculture, the slave trade was primarily local.  Cotton changed that.  An exception was the "Fancy Girls" market in New Orleans where light skinned girls and women were sold as objects of sexual use.  With the market for slaves in the Lower South growing, more and more slaves were sold from Upper South regions (primarily in one's and two's) .  As slaves were collected they were marched in groups of 30 to 40 overland  to the Lower South.  The slave trade season was after harvest and before planting (October - February).  It was primarily rural and occurred primarily in private on plantations and farms across the South.  The inter-state slave trade resulted in: (a) one half of all slaves being separated from a spouse; (b) 1/4 of slaves marriages being destroyed; (c) 1/2 of nuclear families being eliminated; and (d) 1 in 3 youth aged 14 or younger separated from a parent.    The slave trade brought about the wholesale destruction of black families across the South.  The moral reckoning for the emotional injury caused by this calamity has never occurred, and the cultural impact of black family destruction is not acknowledged as part of a continuing crisis of female headed households in the black community of America today.


Narratives of the slave trade can be found by former slaves, Charles Ball, "Fifty Years a Slave" and Moses Grandy in "A History of the Slave South."  See Moses Grandy, A Narrative.

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