Slave Breeding In the South

A popular defense of the southern slave states by the neoconfederates is that the north was responsible for all the actual slave trading, and especially the import of slaves from their native soils, and the southern states were opposed to the importation of slaves.  This is partially true, and I ‘m not interested in defending the north’s record on race relations as it’s pretty abominable.  But it wasn’t kindness that motivated the majority of the south’s opposition to slave ships. It was a self interested objection to competition- several of the slave states were in the business of breeding human beings.

In the 30 years leading up the Civil War the upper Southern states began breeding slaves for export. Before that there had been some moral concerns about breeding human beings like cattle, even among those who owned human beings as though they were cattle. I am not sure what social and cultural reasons eroded these moral concerns. Perhaps the continued owning of other human beings based solely on their colour acted as a corroding acid on the moral viewpoint of those who professed a position of superiority based entirely on skin color. Perhaps Darwin’s theories broke down the last barrier in a slave-owner’s mind between the human beings he ‘owned’ and the cattle he owned. Or perhaps it was purely economics, a matter of supply and demand. The slave breeding states had more slaves than agriculture. The slave buying states had more good agricultural land and fewer slaves (partly because of death by overwork).

“The Virginia times (a weekly newspaper, published at Wheeling, Virginia) estimates, in 1836, the number of slaves exported for sale from that state alone, during the ’12 months preceding,’ at forty thousand, the aggregate value of whom is computed at twenty-four millions of dollars. Allowing for Virginia one-half of the whole exportation during the period in question and we have the … sum of eighty thousand slaves exported in a single year from the breeding states. Maryland ranks next to Virginia in point of numbers, North Carolina follows Maryland, Kentucky North Carolina, then Tennessee and Delaware. The Natchez (Mississippi) Courier says ‘that the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas, imported two hundred and fifty thousand slaves from the more northern states in the year 1836.”

From another issue of the Virginia Times:

“We have heard intelligent men estimate that number of slaves exported from Virginia, within the last twelve months, at a hundred and twenty thousand, each slave averaging at least six hundred dollars, making an aggregate of seventy-two million dollars. Of the number of slaves exported, nor more than one-third have been sold, the others having been carried by their masters, who have removed.”

From a Mississippi paper of 1837:

“so large has been the return of slave labor, that purchases by Alabama of that species of property from other states, since 1833, have amounted to about ten million dollars annually.”

There was an attempt in the Virginia legislature to free the slaves several years before the Civil War.  It came surprisingly close to passing but was unfortunately blocked, largely by the efforts of a Professor Dew, who  said:

“A full equivalent being left in the place of the slave (the purchase-money), this emigration becomes an advantage to the state, and does not check the black population as much as at first view we might imagine; because it furnishes every inducement to the master to attend to the Negroes, to encourage breeding, and to cause the greatest number possible to be raised… Virginia is, in fact, a Negro-raising state for the other states.”

Mr. Goode of VA, in a speech before the VA legislature in January of 1832:

“The superior usefulness of the slaves in the South will constitute an effectual demand, which will remove them from our limits. We shall send them from our state, because it will be our interest to do so. But gentlemen are alarmed let the markets of other states be closed against the introduction of our slaves. Sir the demand for slave labor must increase.”
The South’s answer to this ‘need’ was to insist on breaking any compromise attempts and opening the territories for slaves- in fact, his very next words were about acquiring the territory of Texas as a slave state because then the economic value of this ‘product’ would rise again.

Judge Upshur in the 1829 debates of the VA convention said that

“The value of slaves as an article of property depends much on the state of the market abroad. In this view, it is the value of land _abroad_, and not here which furnishes the ratio. Nothing is more fluctuating than the value of slaves. A late law of Louisiana reduced their value twenty-five percent in two hours after its passage was known.

From the port of Baltimore alone, over a two year period, 1,033 slaves were shipped to the southern market, based on the report of the custom house officer.

It is also common for neoconfederates to insist that the trials of slavery are overstated.   However, regarding the death by overwork in the slave population:

The Agricultural Society of Baton Rouge, LA in a report published in 1829 suggest that included in the costs of managing a ‘well-regulated’ sugar estate the annual net loss of slaves above the supply by propagation is 2.5 percent. Mr. Samuel Blackwell, American owner of a sugar refinery in England often visited the plantations that supplied him. He stated often that the planters told him that during the sugar working season the slaves worked so hard that it used them up in seven or eight years. Mr. Dickinson, in company with numerous plantation owners, stated that the sugar planters in La felt it was so expensive to maintain enough slaves all year long to accomplish the labor during the sugar season that it was more profitable to use fewer hands and sacrifice the occasional pair of hands. Professor Ingraham’s Travels in the Southwest documented the labour of slaves on sugar plantations. They worked, he said, from 18-20 hours, for three months, without breaks for the Sabbath or consideration for whether it was day or night.

This “situation” was only resolved through importation of new slaves from the slave breeding states, so the breeding of slaves by the states of the upper south was beneficial to the slave holding states of the lower south.

American Slavery as it is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses
By American Anti-Slavery Society, Theodore Dwight Weld

This is online at Googlebooks. American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses is also available for Kindle, but not currently free:

Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stow. She wrote this to share the sources she used as the basis for many of the events and situations in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (Halcyon Classics)is available for Kindle, but not free.

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  1. Posted September 28, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    It’s just sickening, isn’t it?

  2. Posted September 29, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    It’s a mistake to blame Darwin, whose book, On the Origin of Species, went to press in 1859. Your analogy to horses is exact. Horses are distant cousins to men. This no more implies cruelty or kindness to men than it implies cruelty or kindness to horses. “All human behavioral traits are heritable” (google the entire phrase). I suppose that empathy, like artistic sense or musical sense, is both innate and trained. Systematic incentives will move population averages systematically. People don’t need good reasons to be cruel, just good enough reasons that they don’t have to avoid mirrors. We all are pretty good at lying to ourselves. Just consider the stupid cliches in which lazy or narrowly self-interested people think about the modern slavery we call “the public school system”, in which children labor, unpaid, as windowdressing in a massive make-work program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel. $500 billion per year rides on the lack of examination voters give to the vapid arguments for compulsory attendance statutes and tax support of school.

  3. Posted September 29, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Are you reading this together? I recommend __The Narrative of Sojourner Truth__.

  4. Posted May 9, 2015 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Obviously, the most compelling reasons for the breeding of slaves was the termination of the Atlantic slave trade in 1807, along with the expansion of the New South following the Louisiana Purchase. Curiously, both of these events happened during the presidency of a Virginian, Thomas Jefferson. The Southern system of plantation agriculture, lacking a direct source of African slaves, would naturally come to see “domestic production” of slaves as the only way to maintain and grow the system.

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