to Classroom-tested Lesson Plans and Handouts
Slavery Fact Sheets
1. Enslaved Africans came primarily
from a region stretching from the Senegal River in northern
Africa to Angola in the South.
2. Europeans divided this stretch
of land into five coasts:
- Upper Guinea Coast: The area
delineated by the Senegal and Gambia Rivers
- Ivory (or Kwa Kwa or Windward)
- Lower Guinea Coast: Divided
into the Gold Coast on the west (Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana),
the Slave Coast (Togo, Benin, and western Nigeria), and the
Bight of Benin (Nigeria and Cameroon)
3. The Angolan coast supplied
nearly half the slaves sent to the Americas.
1. Unlike European religions,
most African religions were not based on sacred texts or scriptures,
but rather on continuous revelation.
2. Most areas did not create
a religious orthodoxy or have an entrenched priesthood.
3. Most African religions recognized
a variety of supernatural beings.
4. Religious practice focused
on contact between this world and the other world, typically
through augury, divination, prophecy, and spirit mediumship.
1. The notion of tribes, combing
a common language and customs with a political structure is
mistaken. Atlantic Africa was divided into states (political
units) and nations (cultural units).
2. While some states were quite
large, others were quite modest in size and many were tiny,
consisting of a capital town of a few thousand people and a
dozen villages under its control.
3. In the 17th century, 70 percent
of the people lived in states with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.
4. Unlike the rich and powerful
of Europe and Asia, those in Africa were not landowners, since
African law did not recognize the right to own, sell, or rent
land as property.
5. Private wealth usually derived
from control of dependents--clients, pawns, wives in polygynous
households, and slaves.
1. African law recognized slavery
and the right of owners to alienate slaves.
2. A relatively low population
density and an absence of the concept of property in land encouraged
the development of slavery in West and Central Africa.
3. Slavery had been important
in the medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai, and slave
exports had supplemented the export of gold.
4. Although African slavery
was not a benign institution, slaves in Africa were used in
a wider variety of ways than in the New World: they were employed
as agricultural workers, soldiers, servants, and officials.
5. The great majority of slaves
sold to Europeans were not slaves in Africa; they were usually
recent war captives or victims of banditry and judicial proceedings.
6. Even under harsh chattel
slavery, manumission was possible for a significant number of
slaves and slaves usually had a right to keep any monetary earnings
and buy their freedom.
7. Multi-generational slavery
was uncommon; in part this reflected the fact that most African
slaves were women.
8. During the early years of
enslavement, African slaves usually worked under supervision.
Then many became "allotment slaves," who worked five
or six days until about 2 p.m. on the master's lands, and in
the evenings and on their days off, worked their own plots.
In the third stage settled slaves spent most of their time working
their land in exchange for a fixed obligation, usually what
it took to feed an adult male for a year.
1. During the era of the Atlantic
slave trade, many of those enslaved, perhaps a majority, were
kept in Africa.
2. The Atlantic slave trade
carried about two to three men for every woman.
3. The slave trade reduced the
adult male population by about 20 percent, dramatically altering
the ratio of working adults to dependents and of adult men to
4. One result of unbalanced
sex ratios was to encourage polygyny.
5. Another result was to reduce
traditional male forms of work, such as hunting, fishing, livestock
rearing, the clearing of fields, the chopping down of trees,
and the digging up of roots. The result was a less protein rich
diet and a reduction in agricultural productivity.
6. About 14 percent of slaves
sent to the New World were children under 14; 56 percent were
male adults; and 30 percent were female adults.
Myths and Misconceptions and
the Slave Trade and Slavery
Slavery and World History
Myth: Slavery is a product of capitalism.
Fact: Slavery is older than the first human records.
Myth: Slavery is a product of Western Civilization.
Fact: Slavery is virtually a universal institution.
Myth: Slavery in the non-western world was a mild,
benign, and non-economic institution.
Fact: Slaves were always subject to torture, sexual
exploitation, and arbitrary death.
Myth: Slavery was an economically backward and inefficient
Fact: Many of the most progressive societies in the
world had slaves.
Myth: Slavery was always based on race.
Fact: Not until the 15th century was slavery associated
primarily with people of African descent.
Enslavement and the Slave Trade
Myth: New World slaves came exclusively from West Africa.
Fact: Half of all New World slaves came from central
Myth: Europeans physically enslaved Africans or hired
mercenaries who captured people for export or that African rulers
were "Holocaust abettors" who were themselves to blame
for the slave trade.
Fact: Europeans did engage in some slave raiding; the
majority of people who were transported to the Americas were
enslaved by Africans in Africa.
Myth: Many slaves were captured with nets.
Fact: There is no evidence that slaves were captured
with nets; war was the most important source of enslavement.
Myth: Kidnapping was the usual means of enslavement.
Fact: War was the most important source of enslavement;
it would be incorrect to reduce all of these wars to slave raids.
Myth: The Middle Passage stripped enslaved Africans
of their cultural heritage and transformed them into docile,
passive figures wholly receptive to the cultural inputs of their
Fact: Slaves engaged in at least 250 shipboard rebellions.
Slavery in the Americas
Myth: Most slaves were imported into what is now the
Fact: Well over 90 percent of slaves from Africa were
imported into the Caribbean and South America
Myth: Slavery played a marginal role in the history
of the Americas
Fact: African slaves were the only remedy for the labor
shortages that plagued Europe's New World dominions.
Fact: Slave labor made it profitable to mine for precious
metal and to harvest sugar, indigo, and tobacco; slaves taught
whites how to raise such crops as rice and indigo.
Myth: Europeans arrived in the New World in far larger
numbers than did Africans.
Fact: Before 1820, the number of Africans outstripped
the combined total of European immigrants by a ratio of 3, 4,
or 5 to 1.
Myth: The first slaves arrived in what is now the U.S.
Fact: Slaves arrived in Spanish Florida at least a
century before 1619 and a recently uncovered census shows that
blacks were present in Virginia before 1619.
Myth: The slave trade permanently broke slaves' bonds
Fact: Slaves were able to draw upon their African cultural
background and experiences and use them as a basis for life
in the New World.
Myth: Plantation life with its harsh labor, unstable
families, and high mortality, made it difficult for Africans
to construct social ties
Fact: African nations persisted in America well into
the 18th century and even the early 19th century.
Myth: Masters assigned names to slaves or slaves imitated
masters' systems of naming.
Fact: In fact, slaves were rarely named for owners.
Naming patterns appear to have reflected African practices,
such as the custom of giving children "day names"
(after the day they were born) and "name-saking,"
such as naming children after grandparents.
Myth: Slaveholders sought to deculturate slaves by
forbidding African names and languages and obliterating African
Fact: While deculturation was part of the "project"
of slavery, in fact African music, dance, decoration, design,
cuisine, and religion exerted a profound, ongoing influence
on American culture.
Fact: Slaves adapted religious rites and perpetuated
a rich tradition of folklore.
Economics of Slavery
Myth: Slavesholders lost money and were more interested
in status than moneymaking; slaves did little productive work
Fact: Slaves worked longer days, more days, and more
of their life
Myth: Slavery was incompatible with urban life and
Fact: Sugar mills were the first true factories in
the world; slaves were widely used in cities and in various
kinds of manufacturing and crafts.
Myth: Slaves engaged almost exclusively in unskilled
brutish field labor.
Fact: Much of the labor performed by slaves required high skill
levels and careful, painstaking effort.
Fact: Masters relied on slaves for skilled craftsmanship.
Myth: West and Central Africans received their first
exposure to Christianity in the New World.
Fact: Catholic missionary activities began in the central
African kingdom of Kongo half a century before Columbus's voyages
of discovery and Kongo converted to Catholicism in 1491. A sizeable
community of African Christians developed around Portuguese
Myth: Priests and missionaries were primarily responsible
for converting slaves to Christianity.
Fact: In Latin America, slaves were instructed not
by European clergy but by African Christians, who spread a specifically
African interpretation of Christianity.
Myth: Upon arrival in Latin America, slaves were given
hasty instruction in a complex foreign religion in a language
they could barely understand.
Fact: A certain number of slaves were baptized Christians
and others were familiar with Christianity.
Myth: The Catholic Church did not tolerate the mixture
of Catholicism with traditional African religions.
Fact: In Kongo and in Latin America, the Church did
tolerate the mixture of Catholicism with African religions,
allowing Africans to retain their old cosmology, understanding
of the universe, and the place of gods and other divine beings
in the universe.
Myth: Before the Civil War, the Southern churches were
Fact: In 1860, slave constituted about 26 percent of
the Southern Baptist church membership.
Myth: Slave Christianity was essentially a "religion
Fact: Christianity was dual edged and marked by millennialist
possibilities; whites could not prevent black preachers from
turning Christianity into a source of self-respect and faith
Myth: Slaves were brainwashed and stunned into submission
and rarely resisted slavery.
Fact: Resistance took a variety of forms ranging from
day-to-day resistance, economic bargaining, running away and
maroonage, and outright rebellions
Slavery and World History
1. The most ancient civilizations--ancient
Mesopotamia, Old Kingdom Egypt, and the budding civilization
that formed in the Indus and Yangtze river valleys--all had
some form of slavery present in their earliest years.
2. In none of these cultures
did slaves constitute a large proportion of the population.
3. It was in classical Greece
and Rome that the first true slave societies came into existence.
From the 5th to the 3rd centuries b.c., perhaps a third to a
half of Athens's population consisted of slaves. Slaves constituted
as much as 30 percent of Rome's population.
4. England's Domesday book of
1086 indicated that 10 percent of the population was enslaved.
5. Although slavery is often
stigmatized as archaic and backward, slavery has been found
in many of the most progressive societies.
6. Contrary to what many think,
slavery never disappeared from medieval Europe. Slavery persisted
in Sicily, southern Italy, Russia, southern France, Spain, and
Curse of Ham
The claim that Noah, the biblical
father of all subsequent humanity, cursed his son Ham with both
blackness and the condition of slavery for looking at him drunk
and naked and exposing him to his other sons, Shem and Japheth.
In fact Ham was not cursed and his association with black slavery
does not appear in the Nebrew Bible.
Noah cursed Canaan--the ancestor
of the Semitic Canaanites, who occupied Israel before the Hebrews--to
be the "servant of servants." Why Noah was upset with
Canaan we are never told. Ham's African sons were Cush (Ethiopia),
Put (Libya), and Misraim (Egypt)--and they were not cursed.
Independent communities of fugitive
One of two plantation labor
systems. Under the task system, slaves were assigned several
specific tasks within a day. When those tasks were finished,
slaves could have time to themselves to spend however they wished.
Slaves who worked in rice and long staple cotton plantations,
in the naval stores industry, or in skilled labor positions
worked under the task system. The benefits of this system for
slaves included less supervision, more autonomy and more free
Wherever tobacco, sugar or short
stable cotton grew, slaves worked in large groups or gangs under
the strict supervision of white overseers or black drivers from
dawn to dusk. Close supervision meant less autonomy and less
Many boys and girls performed
light agricultural labor, sweeping yards, clearing dried cornstalks
from fields, chopping cotton, carrying water to field hands,
weeding, picking cotton at a slower pace, feeding work animals,
and driving cows to pasture.
Slavery and the Law in Virginia
women's children to serve accounting to the condition of the
act declaring the baptism of slaves doth not exempt them from
act about the casual killing of slaves....If any slaves resist
his master (or other by his master's order correcting him)
and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die,
that his death shall not be attempted felony.
Negroes nor Indians to buy Christian servants.
act for the apprehension and suppression of runaways, Negroes
and slaves....If any Negroe, mulatto, Indian slave, or servant
for life, runaway and shall be pursued by the warrant or hue
and cry, it shall and may be lawful for any person who shall
endeavour to take them, upon the resistance of such Negro,
mulatto, Indian slave, or servant for life, to kill or wound
him or them so resisting....And if it happen that such Negroe,
mulatto, Indian slave, or servants for life doe dye of any
wound in such their resistance received the master or owner
of such shall receive satisfaction from the public....
act for preventing Negroes' Insurrections. Whereas the frequent
meeting of considerable numbers of Negroe slaves under pretence
of feasts and burials is judged of dangerous consequence...it
shall not be lawful for any Negroe or other slave to carry
or arm himself with any club, staff, gun, sword, or any other
weapon of defense or offense, not to goe or depart from his
master's ground without a certificate from his master...and
such permission not to be granted but upon particular and
necessary operations; and every Negroe or slave so offending
not having a certificate...[will receive] twenty lashes on
his bare back well laid....If any Negroe or other slave shall
absent himself from his master's service and lie hid and lurking
in obscure places...it shall be lawful...to kill the said
Negroe or slave....
additional act for the better preventing insurrections by
Negroes....No master or overseer knowingly permit or suffer...any
Negroe or slave not properly belonging to him or them, to
remain or be upon his or their plantation above the space
of four hours at any one time....
voted to banish any white man or woman who married a black,
mulatto, or Indian. Any white woman who gave birth to a mulatto
child was required to pay a heavy fine or be sold for a five
year term of servitude.
The slave trade contributed
to Africa's depopulation, to the increased use of slaves within
Africa, to the development of more predatory political systems,
and to a greater gap between rich and poor.
Rejected the argument that
slave exports led to serious depopulation and contended that
the slavetrade contributed to political centralization and
Mier and Kopytoff Argue that African slavery was one of a
series of relationships, like marriage and parentage, that
involve rights in persons; argued that African slaves gradually
ceased to be aliens and eventually were incorporated within
the kinship system.
John Thornton Africans were co-architects of the Atlantic
New World Historiography
Racism was the result and
not the cause of slavery; slave economies were a major source
of capital for the industrial revolution; abolition came when
slave economies were declining in profitability; abolition
was driven more by economic interests than by philanthropy.
Compared to British colonists,
Latin Americans were less tainted by racial prejudice, were
more lenient in their treatment of slaves, and extended religious
and legal protections involving families and physical cruelty.
Demographic necessity led
the Portuguese in Brazil to promote freedmen and mulattoes
into positions of social respectability; in the U.S., poor
white yeomanry supported racism to protect their position
The slave was the beneficiary
of a patriarchal but unprofitable institution.
Slavery was a dehumanizing,
exploitative, but highly profitable labor system. Slaveowners
maintained discipline by instilling "a sense of complete
dependence," employing whipping to make slaves "stand
in fear." They also provided more positive incentives,
including patches of land for gardens, passes to visit other
farms and plantations, and cash payments. Slaves resisted
masters by working indifferently, breaking tools, running
away, and rebelling.
The slave trade was so disruptive
and U.S. slavery so severe that it shattered cultural ties
with Africa; the slave was a psychic casualty of an all-embracing,
In music, dance, song, religion,
and folk belief, slaves created a separate, independent life
which fostered a strong sense of community.
Slavery was an economically
inefficient institution that impeded the growth of industry,
retarded the growth of cities, and inhibited technological
innovation; relations between masters and slaves were characterized
by paternalism; compared to Brazil and the Caribbean, what
stands out in the U.S. is the infrequency of slave revolts.
Fogel & Engerman
Slave-based agriculture was
efficient and profitable and slaves benefited in many ways
because considerate treatment of a valuable capital asset
was to the financial advantage of profit-seeking slaveowners.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
The roots of contemporary
black poverty lie in the disorganization of black family life
under slavery; the slave family did not exist beyond the mother-child
Children were frequently named
for fathers; Slaves had different norms than whites, including
the acceptance of women who bore a child before permanently
settling down with a male partner and a hostility toward cousin
U.B. Phillips: "Every plantation of the standard southern
type was, in fact, a school constantly training and controlling
pupils who were in a backward state of civilization" (1918)
W.E. Woodward: "The slave system...did incalculable harm
to the white people of the South, and benefited nobody but the
Negro, in that it served as a vast training school for African
savages. Though the regime of the slave plantations was strict
it was, on the whole, a kindly one by comparison with what the
imported slave had experienced in his own land. It taught him
discipline, cleanliness and a conception of moral standards. (New
American History (1936) the most prestigious textbook of its time)
Kenneth Stampp: "I have assumed that slaves were merely ordinary
human beings, that innately Negroes are, after all, only white
men with black skins, nothing more, nothing less." (1956)
Jews, the Slave Trade, and
1. The vast majority of New
World slaves were captured, bought, traded, and employed by
2. Some Jews participated in
the slave trade, owned slaves, and even helped formulate and
disseminate the pro-slavery ideology. Other Jews, including
the Cincinnati abolitionist Max Lilianthal, Isaac Wise, and
Rabbi David Einhor of Baltimore attacked slavery.
3. The Jewish expulsion from
Spain coincided with establishment of trading links between
Africa, Europe, and the Americas. As a result, the Sephardim
found themselves dispersed over critical nodes of the new system,
transferring assets and information.
4. The only place where Jews
came close to dominating a New World plantation system was the
Dutch colonies of Curacao and Surinam.
5. In the antebellum South,
about 5,000 Jews (out of 20,000) owned one or more slaves, making
up 1.25 percent of Southern slaveowners.
6. The largest Jewish slaveholders
were Judah P. Benjamin owned 140 slaves near New Orleans; and
Major Raphael J. Moses owned 50 slaves near Columbus, Georgia.
7. No southern Jewish intellectual
questioned the injustice of slavery.
The Arab and Islamic Slave
1. Arabs were involved in the
capture and transport of slaves northward across the Sahara
desert and the Indian Ocean region into the Middle East, Persia,
and the Indian subcontinent.
2. The trans-Saharan and Indian
Ocean slave trade was much older than the transatlantic slave
trade and continued into the 19th century.
3. As many African slaves may
have crossed the Sahara Desert, the Red Sea, and the Indian
Ocean as crossed the Atlantic.
4. An estimated 11,612,000 slaves
crossed the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Sahara Desert from 650
to 1900, compared to 11,656,000 across the Atlantic from 1500
1. In 1830, approximately 3,775
owned 12,760 slaves. One in ten free black household heads owned
at least one slave.
2. Some were relatives or family
members, who could not legally be emancipated.
3. During the 1840s and 1850s,
the number of black slaveholders decreased substantially. In
South Carolina, the number fell from 450 in 1830 to 171 in 1860.
New York City, 1712
Like many later revolts, this
one occurred during a period of social dissension among whites
following Leisler's Rebellion. The rebels espoused traditional
Stono Rebellion, 1739
The Spanish empire enticed slaves
of English colonies to escape to Spanish territory. In 1733
Spain issued an edict to free all runaway slaves from British
territory who made their way into Spanish possessions. On September
9, 1739, about 20 slaves, mostly from Angola, gathered under
the leadership of a slave called Jemmy near the Stono River,
20 miles from Charleson. 44 blacks and 21 whites lost their
lives. South Carolina responded by placing import duties on
slaves from abroad, strengthening patrol duties and militia
training, and recommending more benign treatment of slaves.
Gabriel's Rebellion, 1800
This attempted insurrection
near Richmond was organized during the Haitian Revolution and
the undeclared naval war between the U.S. and France.
Denmark Vesey's Conspiracy,
This failed insurrection was
organized soon after the contentious debate over the admission
of Missouri as a slave state. Like Gabriel, Vesey consciously
looked to Haiti for inspiration and support.
Nat Turner, 1832
This insurrection took place
at a time when slaves in Jamaica had staged one of the largest
revolts in history, when radical abolition had arisen in the
North, and Britain was debating slave emancipation.
Facts about the Slave Trade
The level of slave exports grew
from about 36,000 a year during the early 18th century to almost
80,000 a year during the 1780s.
The Angolan region of west-central
Africa made up slightly more than half of all Africans sent
to the Americas and a quarter of imports to British North America.
Approximately 11,863,000 Africans
were shipped across the Atlantic, with a death rate during the
Middle Passage reducing this number by 10-20 percent.
As a result between 9.6 and
10.8 million Africans arrived in the Americas.
About 500,000 Africans were
imported into what is now the U.S. between 1619 and 1807--or
about 6 percent of all Africans forcibly imported into the Americas.
About 70 percent arrived directly from Africa.
Well over 90 percent of African
slaves were imported into the Caribbean and South America. Only
about 6 percent of imports went directly to British North America.
Yet by 1825, the U.S. had a quarter of blacks in the New World.
The majority of African slaves
were brought to British North America between 1720 and 1780.
(Average date of arrival for whites is 1890)
American plantations were dwarfed
by those in the West Indies. About a quarter of U.S. slaves
lived on farms with 15 or fewer slaves. In 1850, just 125 plantations
had over 250 slaves.
In the Caribbean, Dutch Guiana
and Brazil, the slave death rate was so high and the birth rate
so low that they could not sustain their population without
importations from Africa. Rates of natural decrease ran as high
as 5 percent a year. While the death rate of U.S. slaves was
about the same as that of Jamaican slaves, the fertility rate
was more than 80 percent higher.
U.S. slaves were further removed
from Africa than those in the Caribbean. In the 19th century,
the majority of slaves in the British Caribbean and Brazil were
born in Africa. In contrast, by 1850, most U.S. slaves were
third-, fourth-, or fifth generation Americans.
Slavery in the U.S. was distinctive
in the near-balance of the sexes and the ability of the slave
population to increase its numbers by natural reproduction.
Unlike any other slave society,
the U.S. had a high and sustained natural increase in the slave
population for a more than a century and a half.
In 1860, 89 percent of the nation's
African Americans were slaves; blacks formed 13 percent of the
country's population and 33 percent of the South's population.
In 1860, less than 10 percent
of the slave population was over 50 and only 3.5 percent was
The average age of first birth
for slave women was around 20. Child spacing averaged about
The average number of children
born to a slave woman was 9.2--twice as many in the West Indies.
Most slaves lived in nuclear
households consisting of two parents and children: 64 percent
nuclear; 21 percent single parents; 15 percent non-family.
Mother-headed families were
50 percent more frequent on plantations with 15 or fewer slaves
than on large ones. Smaller units also had a disproportionately
large share of families in which the father and mother lived
on different plantations for most of the week.
Average number of persons per
household was 6.
Average age of women at birth
of their first child was about 21.
Few slaves lived into old age.
Between 1830 and 1860, only 10 percent of slaves in North America
were over 50 years old.
Most infants were weaned within
three or four months
There were few instances in
which slave women were released from field work for extended
periods during slavery. Even during the last week before childbirth,
pregnant women on average picked three-quarters or more of the
amount normal for women.
Half of all slave babies died
in the first year of life--twice the rate for white babies.
The average birth weight of
slave infants was less than 5.5 pounds.
Slave children were tiny; their
average height did not reach three feet until they were 4; they
were 5.5 inches shorter than modern children and comparable
to children in Bangladesh and the slums of Lagos.
At 17, slave men were shorter
than 96 percent of men today and slave women shorter than 80
percent of contemporary women.
Slaves did not reach their full
stature--67 inches for men and 62.5 inches for women--until
Children entered the labor force
as early as 3 or 4. Some were taken into the master's house
to be servants while others were assigned to special children's
gangs called "trash gangs," which swept yards, cleared
drying cornstalks from fields, chopped cotton, carried water
to field hands, weeded, picked cotton, fed work animals, and
drove cows to pasture.
By age 7, over 40 percent of
the boys and half the girls had entered the work force. At about
11, boys began to transfer to adult field jobs.
At the beginning of the 18th
century, it was common for small groups of slaves to live and
work by themselves on properties remote from their masters'
Sugar field workers in Jamaica
worked about 4,000 hours a year--three times that of a modern
factory worker. Cotton workers toiled about 3,000 hours a year.
The median size of slaveholdings
ranged from approximately 25 slaves in the tobacco regions of
Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, to 30-50 slaves in upland
cotton regions. Plantations in the Sea Islands of South Carolina
and Georgia and the sugar parishes of Louisiana averaged 60-80
slaves. In small areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and South
Carolina, slaves lived on 125-175 person units.
In 1790, 44 percent of enslaved
Africans lived on units of 20 or more slaves. In 1860, the figure
was 53 percent (and approximately a third lived on units with
50 or more slaves).
Half of all masters owned five
or fewer slaves. While most small slaveholders were farmers,
a disproportionate share were artisans, shopkeepers, and public
Prices of slaves varied widely
over time. During the 18th century, slave prices generally rose.
Though they fell somewhat before the start of the revolution,
by the early 1790s, even before the onset of cotton expansion,
prices had returned to earlier levels. Prices rose to a high
of about $1,250 during the cotton boom of the late 1830s, fell
to below half that level in the 1840s, and rose to about $1,450
in the late 1850. Males were valued 10-20 percent more than
females; at age ten, children's prices were about half that
of a prime male field hand.
By 1850, about 64 percent of
slaves lived on cotton plantations; 12 percent raised tobacco,
5 percent sugar, 4 percent rice.
Among slaves 16-20, about 83
percent of the males and 89 percent of the females were field
hands. The remainder were managers, artisans, or domestic servants.
Growing cotton required about
38 percent of the labor time of slaves; growing corn and caring
for livestock 31 percent; and 31 percent improving land, constructing
fences and buildings, raising other crops, and manufacturing
products such as clothes.
Slaves constructed more than
9,500 miles of railroad track by 1860, a third of the nation's
total and more than the mileage of Britain, France, and Germany.
About 2/3s of slaves were in
the labor force, twice the proportion among free persons. Nearly
a third of slave laborers were children and an eighth were elderly
Slaves suffered a variety of
maladies--such as blindness, abdominal swelling, bowed legs,
skin lesions, and convulsions--that may have been caused by
beriberi (caused by a deficiency of thiamine), pellagra (caused
by a niacin deficiency), tetany (caused by deficiencies of calcium,
magnesium, and Vitamin D), rickets (also caused by a deficiency
of Vitamin D), and kwashiorkor (caused by severe protein deficiency).
Diarrhea, dysentery, whooping
cough, and respiratory diseases as well as worms pushed the
infant and early childhood death rate of slaves to twice that
experienced by white infants and children.
Domestic Slave Trade
Between 1790 and 1860, 835,000
slaves were moved from Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas
to Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.
Between 16 and 60 percent of
slaves were shipped west by traders.
Slaveholding became more concentrated
over time. The fraction of households owning slaves fell from
36 percent in 1830 to 25 percent in 1860.
The distribution of wealth in
the South was much more unequal than that of the North.
Nearly 2 of 3 males with estates
of $100,000 or more lived in the South in 1860.
If the North and South are treated
as separate nations, the South was the fourth most prosperous
nation in the world in 1860. Italy did not achieve the southern
level of per capita income until the eve of World War II.
Civil War During the Civil War,
140,500 freed slaves and 38,500 free blacks served in the Union
Between 1936 and 1938, some
300 interviewers employed by the Federal Writers Project, a
federally-financed jobs program, questioned 2200 former slaves
in 17 states about life under slavery. This amounted to about
2 percent of all former slaves surviving at the time the interviews
were taken. Most were born during the last years of slavery
or during the Civil War.
Because the interviews were
conducted seventy years after the end of slavery, most of the
people interviewed were in their 80s or older. Most had only
been children during slavery.
The overwhelming majority of
interviewers were whites, who used dialect to represent the
way that the interviewees spoke. Many readers may find this
use of dialect patronizing, as well as a little hard to read.
You can find a selection of
the narratives on-line at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/wpa/wpahome.html