THE CONDITION OF THE SOUTHERN
SLAVE READING #2
SLAVERY IN THE SOUTHERN STATES
"Master used to say that if we didn't suit him he would put us in his
pocket quick -- meaning that he would sell us,"
- former slave William Johnson
For the 3.9 million African American slaves counted in the census of
1860, life was brutal. Each day promised ceaseless toil, threats
or punishment, and the looming, nightmarish possibility of being
sold away from beloved family members and friends. Even those
slaves who accepted their situation without complaint, who had
kind owners, or who were given lighter work duties suffered from
the absence of self-determination, the possibility of freely
choosing the course of their own lives.
Coffles of slaves traveled across the South, headed to market, with
the men or the more resistant chained together in pairs or bound
with ropes. In the marketplace, slaves endured assessments of
their physical capabilities and their psychological makeup as
traders and buyers haggled over prices. Mississippi River slave
trader John White recorded many of his transactions in the New
Orleans slave market.
Ledger of John White
Matilda Selby, 9, $400.00 Sold to Mr. Covington, St.
Brooks Selby, 19, $750.00 Left at Home -- Crazy
Fred McAfee, 22, $800.00 Sold to Pepidal,
Howard Barnett, 25, $750.00 Ranaway. Sold out of Jail,
Harriet Barnett, 17, $550.00 Sold to Davenport and
Jones, Lafourche, $900.00
Though the importation of slaves to the United States was banned
starting in 1808, the nation's slave population grew at an average
of 27 percent per decade after 1810, as children were born into
slavery. During the 1850s, the vast majority of slaves worked in
agriculture, growing cotton, or, to a lesser extent, tobacco, sugar,
rice, or hemp.
In the slave owning states, which had a population of slightly
more than eight million white people in 1860, nearly 400,000 people
owned slaves. Counted together with their families, slave owners
totaled about a quarter of the South's white population.
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