The Slave Trade
Henry Charles Carey

Chapter III.
Of Slavery in the United States.

In the North American provinces, now the United States, negro slavery existed from a very early period, but on a very limited scale, as the demand for slaves was mainly supplied from England.  The exports of the colonies were bulky, and the whites could be imported as return cargo;  whereas the blacks would have required a voyage to the coast of Africa, with which little trade was maintained.  The export from England ceased after the revolution of 1688, and thenceforward negro slaves were somewhat more freely imported; yet the trade appears to have been so small as scarcely to have attracted notice.  The only information on the subject furnished by Macpherson in his Annals of Commerce is that, in the eight months ending July 12, 1753, the negroes imported into Charleston, S.C., were 511 in number;  and that in the year 1765-66, the value of negroes imported from Africa into Georgia was 14,820 — and this, if they be valued at only 10 each, would give only 1,482.  From 1783 to 1787, the number exported from an the West India Islands to this country was 1392[1] — being an average of less than 300 per annum;  and there is little reason for believing that this number was increased by any import direct from Africa.  The British West Indies were then the entrepot of the trade,[2] and thence they were supplied to the other islands and the settlements on the Main;  and had the demand for this country been considerable, it cannot be doubted that a larger portion of the thousands then annually exported would have been sent in this direction.

Under these circumstances, the only mode of arriving at the history of slavery prior to the first census, in 1790, appears to be to commence at that date and go forward, and afterwards employ the information so obtained in endeavouring to elucidate the operations of the previous period.

The number of negroes, free and enslaved, at that date, was 757,263 And at the second census, in 1801, it was 1,001,436 showing an increase of almost thirty-three percent.  How much of this, however, was due to importation, we have now to inquire.

The only two States that then tolerated the import of slaves were South Carolina and Georgia, the joint black population of which, in 1790, was 136,358 whereas, in 1800, it had risen to 205,555; Increase 69,197.

In the same period the white population increased 104,762, requiring an immigration from the Northern slave States to the extent of not less than 45,000, even allowing more than thirty percent for the natural increase by births.  Admitting, now, that for every family of five free persons there came one slave, this would account for 9,000.  And if we take the natural increase of the slave population at only twenty-five percent, we have further 34,000;  making a total from domestic sources of 43,000, and leaving, for the import from abroad 26,197.

Deducting these from the total number added;  we obtain, for the natural increase, about 29½ percent.

Macpherson, treating of this period, says—

“That importation is not necessary for keeping up the stock is proved by the example of North America — a country less congenial to the constitution of the negro than the West Indies — where, notwithstanding the destruction and desertion of the slaves occasioned by the war, the number of negroes, though perhaps not of slaves, has greatly increased — because, since the war they have imported very few, and of late years none at all, except in the Southern States." — Annals, vol. iv. 150.

The number of vessels employed in the slave trade, in 1795, is stated to have been twenty, all of them small;  and the number of slaves to be carried was limited to one for each ton of their capacity.

From 1800 to 1810, the increase was 378,374, of which nearly 30,000 were found in Louisiana at her incorporation into the Union, leaving about 350,000 to come from other sources;  being an increase of 35 percent.  In this period the increase of Georgia and South Carolina, the two importing States, was only 96,000, while that of the white population was 129,073, carrying with them perhaps 25,000.  If to this be added the natural increase at the rate of 25 percent, we obtain about 75,000, leaving only 21,000 for importation.  It is probable, however, that it was somewhat larger, and that it might be safe to estimate it at the same amount as in the previous period, making a total of about 52,000 in the twenty years.  Deducting 26,000 from the 350,000, we obtain 324,000 as the addition from domestic sources, which would be about 32 percent on the population of 1800.  This may be too high;  and yet the growth of the following decennial period — one of war and great commercial and agricultural distress — was almost thirty percent.  In 1810, the number had been 1,379,800.

In 1820 it was 1,779,885;  increase 30 percent.
 " 1830   "    2,328,642;     "     30.8  "  
 " 1840   "    2,873,703;     "     24    "
 " 1850   "    3,591,000;     "     25    "[3]

Having thus ascertained, as far as possible, the ratio of increase subsequent to the first census, we may now proceed to an examination of the course of affairs in the period which had preceded it.

In 1714, the number of blacks was 58,850, and they were dispersed throughout the provinces from New Hampshire to Carolina, engaged, to a large extent, in labours similar to those in which were engaged the whites by whom they were owned.  One-half of them may have been imported.  Starting from this point, and taking the natural increase of each decennial period at 25 percent, as shown to have since been the case, we should obtain, for 1750, about 130,000.  The actual quantity was 220,000;  and the difference, 90,000, may be set down to importation.  Adding, now, 25 percent to 220,000, we obtain, for 1760, 275,000;  whereas the actual number was 310,000, which would give 35,000 for importation.  Pursuing the same course with the following periods, we obtain the following results:—

              Actual    Natural  Actual
Years Number increase Increase Importations 
1760 310,000  77,500   152,000   74,500
1770 462,000 115,500   120,000
1780 582,000 140,500   170,000   34,000
1790 752,000 number given by first census

For a large portion of the period from 1770 to 1790, there must have been a very small importation; for during nearly half the time the trade with foreign countries was almost altogether suspended by the war of the revolution.

If we add together the quantities thus obtained, we shall obtain a tolerable approximation to the number of slaves imported into the territory now constituting the Union, as follows:—

Prior to 1714  30,000 
1715 to 1750  90,000 
1751 to 1760  35,000 
1761 to 1770  74,500 
1771 to 1790  34,000 
And if we now estimate the import
subsequent to 1790 at even         70,000 
We obtain as the total number  333,500

The number now in the Union exceeds 3,800,000;  and even if we estimate the import as high as 380,000, we then have more than ten for one;  whereas in the British Islands we can find not more than two for five, and perhaps even not more than one for three.  Had the slaves of the latter been as well fed, clothed, lodged, and otherwise cared for, as were those of these provinces and States, their numbers would have reached seventeen or twenty millions.  Had the blacks among the people of these States experienced the same treatment as did their fellows of the islands, we should now have among us less than one hundred and fifty thousand slaves.

The prices paid by the British Government averaged 25 per head.  Had the number in the colonies been allowed to increase as they increased here, it would have required, even at that price, the enormous sum of 500,000,000.

Had the numbers in this country been reduced by the same process there practised, emancipation could now be carried out at cost of less than 4,000,000.

To emancipate them now, paying for them at the same rate, would require nearly 100,000,000.  If or almost five hundred millions of dollars.  The same course, however, that has increased their numbers, has largely increased their value to the owners and to themselves.  Men, when well fed, well clothed, well lodged, and otherwise well cared for, always increase rapidly in numbers, and in such cases labour always increases rapidly in value; and hence it is that the average price of the negro slave of this country is probably four times greater than that which the planters of the West Indies were compelled to receive.  Such being the case, it would follow that to pay for their full value would require probably four hundred millions of pounds sterling, or nearly two thousand millions of dollars.

It will now be seen that the course of things in the two countries has been entirely different.  In the islands the slave trade had been cherished as a source of profit.  Here, it had been made the subject of repeated protests on the part of several of the provinces, and had been by all but two prohibited at the earliest moment at which they possessed the power so to do.  In the islands it was held to be cheaper to buy slaves than to raise them, and the sexes were out of all proportion to each other.  Here, importation was small, and almost the whole increase, large as it has been, has resulted from the excess of births over deaths.  In the islands, the slave was generally a barbarian, speaking an unknown tongue, and working with men like himself, in gangs, with scarcely a chance for improvement.  Here, he was generally a being born on the soil, speaking the same language with his owner, and often working in the field with him, with many advantages for the development of his faculties.  In the islands, the land-owners clung to slavery as the sheet-anchor of their hopes.  Here, on the contrary, slavery bad gradually been abolished in all the States north of Mason & Dixon’s line, and Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky were all at the date of emancipation in the islands, preparing for the early adoption of measures looking to its entire abolition.  In the islands, the connection with Africa had been cherished as a means of obtaining cheap labour, to be obtained by fomenting discord among the natives.  Here, on the contrary, had originated a grand scheme for carrying civilization into the heart of Africa by mean of the gradual transplantation of some of the already civilized blacks.  In the islands, it has been deemed desirable to carry out “the European policy," of preventing the Africans “from arriving at perfection" in the art of preparing their cotton, sugar, indigo, or other articles, “from a fear of interfering with established branches of commerce elsewhere."[4]  Here, on the contrary, efforts had been made for disseminating among them the knowledge required for perfecting themselves in the modes of preparation and manufacture.  In the islands, every thing looked toward the permanency of slavery.  Here, every thing looked toward the gradual and gentle civilisation and emancipation of the negro throughout the world.  In the islands, however, by a prompt measure forced on the people by a distant government, slavery was abolished, and the planters, or their representatives in England, received twenty millions of pounds sterling as compensation in full for the services of the few who remained in existence out of the large number that had been imported.  Here, the planters are now urged to adopt for themselves measures of a similar kind.  The whole course of proceeding in the two countries in reference to the negro having been so widely different, there are, however, difficulties in the way that seem to be almost insuperable.  The power to purchase the slaves of the British colonies was a consequence of the fact that their numbers had not on been permitted to increase.  The difficulty of purchasing them here is great, because of their having been well fed, well clothed, and otherwise well provided for, and having therefore increased so rapidly.  If, nevertheless, it can be shown that by abandoning the system under which the negro race has steadily increased in numbers and advanced towards civilization, and adopting that of a nation under whose rule there has been a steady decline of numbers, and but little, If any, tendency toward civilization, we shall benefit the race, it will become our duty to make the effort, however great may be the cost.  With a view to ascertain how far duty may be regarded as calling upon us now to follow in the footsteps of that nation, it is proposed to examine into the working of the act by which the whole negro population of the British colonies was, almost at once and without preparation, invested with the right to at determine for whom they would work and what should be their or wages — or were, in other words, declared to be free.


1 Macpherson, vol. iv. 155.

2 The export to the foreign West Indies, from 1783 to 1787, is given by Macpherson at nearly 20,000.

3 The causes of this diminution will be exhibited in a future chapter.

4 Mcpherson, vol. iv. 144.