The Slave Trade

Stereoview showing slaves in a cotton field in the southern United States, 1860s

Stereoview showing slaves in a cotton field in the southern United States, 1860s

Courtesy of Library of Congress

More than ten million Africans were forcefully imported as part of the transatlantic slave trade between the 1600s and early 1800s. The majority went to the Caribbean and South America. At least 388,000 were brought to the United States before U.S. law banned importation in 1808.

Steamboat Model, 1850s

Mississippi steamboats helped unite the nation by forming networks of people and goods, and supported the business of slavery by bringing cotton and slaves to market. These vessels also enabled enslaved and free black river-workers to carry news of family and friends up and down the river.

Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection

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Slavery and the debates about its morality continued. The end of legal importation and the economic viability of cotton in the Deep South contributed to the development of a thriving internal slave trade in the United States.

Virginia to Louisiana

Before the Civil War the U.S. internal slave trade accounted for the forced migration of up to a million enslaved people from the Upper South to the cotton plantations of the Deep South. The eighty-three enslaved people onboard the Lafayette were shipped from an Alexandria, Virginia, slave market for sale in New Orleans, Louisiana.

 

Manifest from the slave ship Lafayette, 1833

Alexandria, Virginia, slave pen exterior, 1861–1865

Alexandria, Virginia, slave pen exterior, 1861–1865

Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art; image source: Art Resource, NY

Alexandria, Virginia, slave pen interior, 1861–1869

Alexandria, Virginia, slave pen interior, 1861–1869

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Black New Orleans

Antebellum New Orleans was home to a diverse population of whites, creoles, and enslaved and free blacks. As early as 1818, visitors commented on the mix of cultures in the city's public squares where hundreds of people of African descent gathered every Sunday afternoon to sing, play musical instruments, and dance.

Benjamin Latrobe drawing showing an African-inspired musical instrument seen at Congo Square, New Orleans, 1819

Benjamin Latrobe drawing showing an African-inspired musical instrument seen at Congo Square, New Orleans, 1819

Courtesy of Maryland Historical Society, item ID# MS 2009

Benjamin Latrobe drawing of Market Square, New Orleans, 1819

Benjamin Latrobe drawing of Market Square, New Orleans, 1819

Courtesy of Maryland Historical Society, item ID# 1960.108.1.14.17

Slavery Spreads West

Texas entered the Union as a slave state in 1845, leading many southerners to migrate across the Mississippi taking the institution of slavery with them. In 1856 James Wilson took twenty slaves, including Hiram Wilson, to Texas to establish a stoneware pottery. After Emancipation, the freedmen founded a successful pottery and the free black town of Capote.

Hiram Wilson, founder of Wilson Pottery, Capote, Texas, 1860–1884

Hiram Wilson, founder of Wilson Pottery, Capote, Texas, 1860–1884

Courtesy of General Photograph Collection, UTSA Special Collections

Jar made by freed black potters at Wilson Pottery, Capote, Texas, 1869–1884