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Antebellum Slavery Previous Next
Digital History ID 455


During the last years of the eighteenth century, New World slavery seemed to be declining. As a result of the American and French revolutions, thousands of black slaves escaped slavery through revolt or simply by running away. Revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality encouraged many slaveowners in the United States, the Caribbean, and Spanish America to emancipate their slaves. In the ten years after Virginia enacted a law allowing private manumissions, masters freed 10,000 slaves. A French traveler reported that people throughout the South "are constantly talking of abolishing slavery, of contriving some other means of cultivating their estates."

But slavery was not, in fact, on the road to extinction. During the early nineteenth century, slavery underwent a new boom, rapidly expanding in Brazil, Cuba, Trinidad, Guiana, the Windward Islands, and new territories southwest of the Appalachian mountains in the United States: into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas.

Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin gave slavery a new lease on life. Between 1792, when Whitney invented the cotton gin, and 1794, the price of slaves doubled. By 1825, field hands, who had brought $500 apiece in 1794, were worth $1,500. As the price of slaves grew, so, too, did their numbers. During the first decade of the nineteenth century, the number of slaves in the United States rose by 33 percent; during the following decade, the slave population grew another 29 percent

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