American Exceptionalism and our “Peculiar Institution”: An Ethical and Statistical Problem With American Historians Whitewashing the Illegal Importation of African Slaves
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American Exceptionalism and our “Peculiar Institution”: An Ethical and Statistical Problem With American Historians Whitewashing the Illegal Importation of African Slaves
In his pious accolade reviewing two posthumous volumes of the late great George Fredrickson (New York Review of Books, December 4, 2008), the preeminent American academic historian of the Civil War, James MacPherson, of Princeton University, summed up succinctly, with his customary flair, the hegemonic view concerning the unexampled and implausible expansion of the African-American population in the U.S. until 1860. He failed to mention any smuggling at all after 1808. This error in African-American demography, arising from a consensus of neglectful studies based on tangible evidence and easily available records, leaves out what should be an obvious and crucial source for the incredibly rapid expansion of the slave population, namely the illegal and mostly undocumented importation of slaves. Instead, the squirrel scholars and bean counters have postulated a preposterous fertility and life expectancy of the slaves brought in, mostly by Yankees, before 1808.
In fact, more slaves may have been imported after 1808 than before. The extent of slave smuggling until the 8th U.S. Census of 1860, has been de-emphasized and virtually denied since the 1920’s, because of deliberately forgotten culpability on the part of the abolitionist North, their supposed altruistic motives stressed while denying Yankee mercantile relationships with Southern planters, based on the advantage to both of African slave labor. So close was the connection between New York City and Southern cotton planters, that the city itself seriously considered seceding with the South.
Both Northerners and Southerners have obscured the link between the financiers and merchants of northern cities and their plantation-owner counterparts in the South, who flourished both before and after the War- at least after the corrupt bargain that ended Reconstruction and occupation in 1876.
We cite three credible sources to support our theory: Senator Stephen Douglas, W.E.B. Dubois, and William Alexander Percy I. Douglas, one of the most astute and informed politicians of the time, opined that more slaves were imported in both 1859 and in 1860 than in any previous year. The greatest and earliest professional scholar on the subject, W.E.B. Dubois, the first African-American to earn a doctorate from Harvard, concurred with Douglas's judgment and further regretted towards the end of his life that he himself hadn't spent more time documenting it. Undoubtedly, Dubois had personally known a number of these illegal imports and knew many others within the black and white community who were familiar with illegally imported freed people.
In 1891, Dubois calculated that 250,000 slaves were smuggled into the U.S. from 1808 to 1860. Because of the illegal nature of that slave trade, there is scant documentation to refute the downplaying and minimization of it. But increasing evidence is coming to light even while the old evidence continues to be disregarded. In 1839, during the antebellum era, indeed when King Cotton was beginning to reign in the Deep South, the abolitionist Theodore D. Weld published American Slavery As It Is, in which he clearly details the methods by which the illegal slave trade into the U.S. was conducted:
"The fact that thousands of slaves, generally in the prime of life, are annually smuggled into the United States from Africa, Cuba, and elsewhere, makes it manifest that all inferences drawn from the increase of the slave population, which do not make large deductions, for constant importations, must be fallacious…the African slave-trade adds ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND SLAVES TO EACH UNITED STATES' CENSUS. These are in the prime of life, and their children would swell the slave population many thousands annually--thus making a great addition to each census.”
Weld’s figures, about 15,000 slaves annually, are much higher estimates than postulated by Stephen Douglas in 1860, and later by W.E.B. Dubois. A mean average for the period 1808 to 1860, however, can not be a reliable barometer of the illicit smuggling of slaves, as many annually variable factors influenced the trade including the dramatic rise of the cotton trade, European wars, and British Navy attempts to stop the trade.
In the spirit of mutual forgiveness, deciding to draw a curtain of oblivion on the hatreds and tragedies of the Civil War, historians from the North and South began to develop a new consensus after 1876. U.B. Phillips consolidated this consensus in his classic work, American Negro Slavery (1918), the first major work to marginalize the significance of the illegal slave trade,
“As to the dimensions of the illicit importations between 1808 and 1860, conjectures have placed the gross as high as 270,000. Most of the documents in the premises, however, bear palpable marks of unreliability. It may suffice to say that these importations were never great enough to affect the labor supply in appreciable degree. So far as the general economic regime was concerned, the foreign slave trade was effectually closed in 1808…At that time, however, there were already in the United States about one million slaves to serve as stock from which other millions were to be born to replenish the plantations in the east and to aid in peopling the west. These were ample to maintain a chronic racial problem, and had no man invented a cotton gin their natural increase might well have glutted the plantation labor market.”
Phillips’ trivialization of the illegal slave trade supports his theory that the slaves were well cared for, thus their reproduction, facilitated with relative ease due to an alleged atmosphere of congeniality, rose to the staggering number counted in 1860. His explanation:
“It is clear that for a variety of reasons American slaves had both higher birth rates and lower mortality rates than those elsewhere in the Americas…This growth was entirely the result of natural increase, for the small number of slaves smuggled into the United States was probably exceeded by the number who escaped from slavery.” (Slavery, 23, 94,147-148)
In 1950, Noel Deere had dared to suggest the possibility of over a million illegal slave imports to the U.S., but Curtin "demolished" him. Not one of the leading historians go above the figures carefully derived from the easily available documents cited by Philip Curtin, 54,000 (The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census, 1969), who "proved" U.B. Philips' opinion. Few if any historians have been willing to question Phillips.
Influenced by the growing civil rights movement, Kenneth Stampp laid the foundation for undermining the consensus in The Peculiar Institution (1956), but he ultimately failed to make the connection between the exploding slave population and his meticulous research on the low birth rates and high mortality rates of the slaves (in clear contrast to Philip's presumptions of paternalistic care facilitating high birth rates and low mortality rates). Since Stampp, this conundrum has been puzzled over by many scholars: Fogel and Engerman, Genovese, Fredrickson, among others.
Obadele Starks, in Freebooters and Smugglers (2007), projecting what he thought Dubois implied, states that over 700,000 slaves were smuggled in. David Eltis (Kent State University) considered by many as the highest authority on the subject, countered Starks and other revisionists, by stubbornly relying on the same sources used by Curtin. Eltis minimizes the numbers even further, suggesting that even Curtin's estimates are too high. Other "reputable" scholars such as Michael Tadman from the University of Liverpool also concur with this old consensus. We believe between 400,000 and 500,000 African slaves were smuggled into the U.S. during the fifty-three year span of the illegal trade. If we are right, about as many or more were illegally imported in to the U.S. afterwards as before 1808.
In addition to Douglas and Dubois, we have a third unique source, a most reliable oral tradition because it comes from a very literate Southern planter. My great-grandfather William Alexander Percy (Princeton, 1853) was one of the largest and most successful planters in the Mississippi Delta, and knew about the vast number of slaves smuggled in. He told this to his oldest son Leroy Percy, U.S. Senator from Mississippi, who in turn told his nephew and ward, my own father William Armstrong Percy II. Daddy finally confided to me, at age 15 when I was at Middlesex, after I’d asked him how late the Yankees had sold slaves to Southerners, to which he responded that vast numbers of slaves were still being imported in the 1850's from Africa via Cuba, where they were "broken in" before being smuggled into the States. This "breaking in" phase, Daddy contended, included disciplining the slaves, teaching them to plow, and familiarizing them with some words of English. I sincerely hope, but cannot prove that my great-grandfather didn't buy any of these illegal imports.
Almost three score years ago when I was fourteen, I went from “deep in the heart of Dixie”, Memphis, Tennessee, where your social rank depended on how many slaves your ancestors had owned and what rank they had in the Confederate Army, to Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts, the stronghold of Yankeedom, proud station on the Underground Railroad, home of Thoreau, Emerson and the Alcotts, where what mattered most socially was how many ancestors you had on the Mayflower and what books they had written., The Yankee boys (I was the only southerner, recruited for diversity, in my entering class of 1933) quickly taught me that the Negroes, as they called them, were just as good as we. They confidently asserted that it was the Irish, their predominant servant class, not the “negras” as I still called them, who were inferior. I, of course, was well aware of how awful the rednecks were. After all they had tossed out my father’s Uncle LeRoy as United States senator in 1912 -- the first direct election to the senate in Mississippi. Theodore Bilbo had been the campaign manager for their candidate Vardaman, and even my louche father recognized that his Uncle LeRoy’s greatest achievement during the 1920’s had been keeping the Klan out of Washington county, Mississippi, where the county seat Greenville was the center of the Delta. (See Revolt of the Rednecks, 1964) All gentlefolk knew how horrid lynchings were and how stupid, brutal, and corrupt the poor whites, on top since 1912, were. As my Uncle Will wrote in Lanterns on the Levee (1941), from that time forward the bottom rail (the rednecks whom he considered inferior to the blacks) was on top and was going to stay there. The upper class Southerners which included all my family (except my paternal grandmother who came from Scottish yeoman stock), didn’t protest segregation or the Democratic white primary. Nor did I know how brutal and lethal slavery had been, nor even how unfair and humiliating sharecropping was, until I came to study amongst the Damn Yankees in the frozen North.
When I went home on vacations, I began investigations into these northern boys’ claims. "Perfessah" Falls, as everyone dutifully called him, ran the rural school for blacks near my grandmother’s plantation. He told me that it was hard to keep the students in school, even though classes were suspended for the most intensive periods of cotton labor, planting and hoeing from spring until the fourth July and picking in fall. Their parents, without education themselves, saw little need for their children to receive schooling. Besides, children became useful on the farm at about age six when they could gather eggs, water cattle, and most importantly, pick cotton. In such hard times, as in the Depression, and even early, post-WW II South – especially on such poor soil as we had near Memphis – every hand was needed. Many didn’t attend school, "Perfessah" Falls claimed, to my astonishment, because they lacked clothes. That reminded me that during the summers I had seen on many plantations, many children totally nude up to puberty, as had also been common, as I later learned, in the days of slavery and reconstruction. But that was in the late 30’s, towards the end of the depression and when rural electrification was only beginning, courtesy of the T.V.A.
During these discussions my father, who saw nothing wrong with segregation except that it was enforced by rednecks instead of Bourbons (as upper class Southerners were called after The War), related how his uncle and guardian the Senator, who had died in 1929, had told him that his father Col. Percy, (Princeton, 1853) had related how slaves were being imported in great numbers up until the outbreak of the Civil War. Colonel Percy, like General Robert E. Lee, and other reasonable Southerners, opposed secession before most of them joined the Confederate ranks after the fact.
I thought that this claim about illegally importing slaves was dubious, but I never forgot it. Over the years I have worked on demography in medieval Sicily, Renaissance Europe, and more recently in ancient Greece and Rome. Such work and passing acquaintance with comparative studies of slavery convinced me that the extraordinarily rapid increase in the number of African slaves in the antebellum south, though doubtless undercounted, could not possibly have come about by natural increase – even if all the slaves had been treated as paternalistically and benevolently, as I had been taught to believe before I set foot in Concord and began to learn otherwise, as Fitzhugh, the greatest antebellum apologist asserted, who claimed most Southerners treated slaves better than the Yankees did the Irish mill hands who could be replaced at no cost. This dramatic increase could not even have been accounted for had all the slaveholders in the Old Dominion and other lesser states with worn out land had concentrated exclusively on breeding, which they rarely did. Fitzhugh stated that “[n]o man in the South, we are sure, ever bred slaves for sale.” While this may be somewhat discredited as the dubious claims of an ardent apologist, the existence of slave breeding between 1808 and 1860, infrequent as it was, cannot explain the anomaly of the increase of the American slave population. Never in all recorded history has a slave population grown so exponentially except, if one accepts the standard account, in the antebellum U.S. South and in Bermuda, an island with an idyllic climate, no harsh labor, and few germs or viruses.
In some West Indian islands, slaves were, in some periods, worked to death on average in seven years. Because they were so cheap before 1808, they didn’t need to be preserved much less bred, as was the case in late Republican Rome when Cato in De Agricultura, copying Carthaginian manuals, recommended brutal exploitation and no breeding for maximum profit. Slaves always had a longer life expectation in the U.S. and on the rest of the non-tropical North American mainland than in the Caribbean, Brazil or Late Republican Rome, but they weren’t superhuman breeders. Those who thought that slaves were mistreated in the same manner we have just described, working them to death with no special emphasis on breeding, are simply incorrect, if only because how expensive slaves became, especially between 1808 and 1860. It was not feasible to spend so much capital on slave labor and not protect in some considerable measure the health and care of the slave. This observation lends some credence to the notion that slave-owners were more humane than has been allowed, especially since Stampp’s denunciation (1956), but we do not exonerate those who did indeed treat their slaves brutally.
During the five decades of illegal importation virtually as many slaves were slipped to Cuba as to Brazil, in each of which harsh conditions occasioned low birth rates and high mortality rates, but so many more survived in Brazil than in Cuba. Obviously, a large portion of the slaves in Cuba were re-exported to the U.S. The tome by Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade (1997), has gathered more data about this trade than other previous works but he hasn't digested it or related it properly to that re-exportation. Both before and after the War for American Independence, and before the prohibition of slave importation twenty years after the ratification of the Constitution, slave breeding was usually encouraged in British North America, which already had a more normal ratio between males and females than in Brazil or the Caribbean. Cultivating cotton, the main crop after 1820, was less lethal than tobacco planting and tobacco less dangerous than sugar cane or rice. The threat to ship recalcitrant slaves down the Mississippi River from cotton to cane cultivation was often enough to get more cooperation from the victim, but some were actually shipped “down the River”. Treatment by masters as well as type of work and climate caused variations in life expectations and reproduction rates. For various reasons the censuses doubtless undercounted slaves, likely due to lack of diligence or the hiding of newly imported Blacks, but nothing legal can explain the extraordinary increase recorded by the census takers. “The policy of pretence that prevailed in connection with the [illegal] slave-trade was infinitely disgraceful to the nation.” U.S. authorities didn’t want to admit that they could not or would not stop the massive importation that may have peaked in 1859 and 1860, when no less than two slave ships was embarking from New York every month. Among others both W.E. Du Bois, and Senator Stephen Douglas, both made this claim. Du Bois claimed that between 1808 and 1860, approximately 250,000 illegal slaves were imported. (Gray, p.649) In 1861, the largest cotton crop ever would support the theory of Du Bois and Douglas that the illegal imports surged again along with their prices in 1859 and 1860.
(Spears, Gray, 649, IX)
Du Bois and even Lewis Gray, who estimated that the number of illegal imports slightly higher than Du Bois, at 270,000 in his History of Agriculture in Southern United States to 1860 (1933, p.649), may have both underestimated rather considerably. Cotton production increased at staggering rates throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, more than quadrupling between 1838 and 1859, and increasing over fifty percent in only five years between 1850 and 1855. A fifty percent increase in production would have required nearly the same increase in the work force. Such estimates could easily bring the number closer to 500,000. Even if the planters had had mechanical cotton harvesters roaring across their field, as one historian recently claimed in Wolf-Shenk’s generally well-received Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, natural increase and shipments from the Upper South together could never have supplied nearly enough hands to plant and chop all that cotton, no matter how good the weather or soil!
No published scholar has until now heard Colonel Percy’s tales. The Colonel was one of the greatest planters in the Mississippi Delta – the flood plain between the bluffs on which Memphis and Vicksburg were erected – 220 miles apart as the crow flies. It was the richest cotton producing area in the world in 1860, still being cleared and in desperate need of slave labor. Natchez, just south of Vicksburg, became the richest per capita city in the country. Where there is such a demand, a supply will almost always materialize. It is a law of economics. See how much liquor was consumed during prohibition? How much dope today? How many illegal immigrants do we have today? Much of the commodities and many of those people were smuggled in just as slaves were up to 1860, into the bayou lagoons and swamps along our porous gulf coast, and also across the Rio Grande into Texas.
Patrolling Africa, the American Navy proved ineffectual or disinterested in squelching the illegal activity. Until 1839, navy ships were not on regular patrol off the African coast, but rather drifted out sporadically with little result. Until 1842, other foreign powers policing the seas were unable to search any ship flying the American flag. In August of that year, America and Britain signed the Ashburton treaty to, “maintain in service, on the coast of Africa, a sufficient and adequate squadron or naval force of vessels, of suitable numbers and descriptions, to carry in all not less than eighty guns, to enforce, separately and respectively, the laws, rights, and obligations of each of the two countries for the suppression of the slave-trade.” (Article 8) The American Squadron was thereupon assigned to regular patrols along the coast of Liberia, yet it took the U.S. eight months from the signing of the treaty to get its first command in place. British ships were still forbidden to search American ships, but the idea of “joint cruising”, a British and an American ship patrolling together as a pair, had been strongly advocated in response. It came to pass, however, that this suggestion was rarely heeded. Furthermore, Commodore M.C. Perry, the first command officer for the Americans under the treaty, though he had received information of at least two ships actively transporting slaves to and from the coast, wrote in a letter six months after taking command, “I cannot hear of any American vessels being engaged in the transportation of slaves; nor do I believe there has been one so engaged for several years.” Worst of all, the Americans never managed to muster anywhere near as many ships as the English, and certainly not enough to be called “sufficient and adequate” to patrol the roughly 3,000 miles of coast to which they had been assigned.
Anecdotal evidence abounds from the records of revolts on ships bringing slaves directly from Africa (the Amistad) or indirectly from Cuba, where many were “broken in” as Colonel Percy said, before being transported to the states. In Texas a law gave “found slaves” to the finder if the true owner didn’t claim them. They were smuggled in like today’s “undocumented aliens” from Mexico and “found” bound in the woods. So lucrative was the trade that Georgia governor David B. Mitchell resigned his post to engage in the illicit practice, operating a smuggling business while serving as United States agent of the Creek Indians, an office more amenable to the trade, nestled in a remote landscape awash with rarely traveled paths seemingly perfect for the clandestine business. (Shively,Spears, 125)
There is no way that the vast increase in the slave population in Alabama, Mississippi and those parts of Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, and Texas, growing cotton could have come down the Natchez trail on foot or been shipped around from Baltimore, Newport News, Charleston or Savannah to Mobile and New Orleans. Nor could they have increased naturally so much on the cotton plantations of the Deep South – expanding exponentially as the fields were to keep up with the demand from textile factories in Great Britain, Europe and the North. Cotton was indeed king, and the labor supply had to be secured, as is the agricultural proletariat today, by illegal aliens coming in.
The price of slaves, especially in the Deep South, moved up much more than in the Upper South because the Deep South grew cotton and the soil in the Upper South became exhausted from overplanting tobacco.
In his old age, “ [W.E.B.] Du Bois wrote that he wished he’d looked more closely at the economics driving the slave trade rather than the laws governing it. Laws codify morality; economics ignore both.” A recent book, The Last Victims, pointed out that the importation of slaves accelerated in the last two or three years before the trade became illegal in 1808. Of course it did, because already in that short time since Eli Whitney had invented the cotton gin in 1794, one could see the need for more slaves, as they stole his ideas and disregarded his patents.
True, prices sagged from 1815 to 1830, but the demand increased much more after Andrew Jackson had more or less succeeded in emptying the South east of the Mississippi of Native Americans by the late 1830’s. He and two other speculators founded Memphis in 1819, which became rich from selling mules, slaves and cotton (it only became a major emporium for hard-wood after the end of slavery). The demand for cotton escalated most every year thereafter until 1860, and with it the demand for slaves. There may have been a slight decline in demand for imported slaves from 1808, when the importation became illegal, until the end of the war in 1815, in part because of the increase in imports just before 1810 and because of the wars. (Farrow, Lang, Frank, p.133)
With the Trail of Tears (1831), and other removals and massacres of Native Americans, and with the rapid spread of the textile factories in Great Britain and from it to France, Belgium and New England, the demand outstripped the supply of cotton, accelerating with each improvement in textile manufacture, from spinning jennies and flying shuttles, to power looms, etc., not to mention each improvement in financing, marketing, shipping and distribution. In 1859 and 1860 the plantation economy reached its fastest and most lucrative expansion and hence illegally imported more slaves than ever before.
Another recent book Complicity, by three journalists from Hartford, Connecticut is aware of Du Bois’ claim and regrets, but fails to investigate it properly. Fitzhugh’s classic antebellum tract that southern masters treated their slaves better than Yankee textile manufacturers treated their Irish immigrant workers, because slaves were valuable chattels, while Irish immigrants could starve and be replaced by others at no cost to the hard-hearted Yankees, was revived with extensive statistical “proof” by Fogel and Engelman in the much criticized Time on the Cross (Little, Brown & co., 1974). That work was upstaged and nuanced by Genovese’s Roll Jordan Roll, which however didn’t bother with statistics, saying that “400,000 grew to 4,500,000.” With or without statistics, the thesis about the benevolence of the masters and the well being of the slaves has its critics, but the most telling criticism is that illegal importation rather than natural increase explains the extraordinary growth in the slave population from 1808, to 1860.
Under their Tudor and Stuart monarchs, the English had become the chief textile manufacturers in Europe; fulling, spinning, and weaving at home the wool they had formerly exported to the Low Countries and increasingly using efficient watermills to do so, instead of putting out the raw materials to be worked by country folk in their idle hours and seasons at the cottage. Likewise, in commerce of the 16th and 17th centuries, the English had laid the basis of their overseas empire, replacing the Dutch, as the Dutch themselves had earlier replaced the Spanish and Portuguese as the chief carriers of world trade. Much of the capital that the English acquired was plowed back into intensive agriculture at home, imitating earlier Dutch methods in making their agriculture very profitable in both the Atlantic and Indian oceans.
Finally, in 1796, during the first true world war, the English allied with their former rivals, the Dutch--against Le Grande Monarch, Louis XIV. They founded the bank of England, which soon eclipsed its model, that of Amsterdam. So, at the conclusion of the war of the Spanish Succession in 1713-1714, the Treaty of Utrecht gained two thrones for the Bourbons but debilitated France in the bargain. Meanwhile, England had become Great Britain, united with Scotland by the Act of 1707, and emerged as the greatest manufacturer, commercial and financial power in the world, consolidating its position after a long contest with France for empire and trade by 1763.
During the 18th century and the Napoleonic Wars that followed it, England pioneered what we call the Industrial Revolution, a concatenation of inventions; the spinning jenny, the flying shuttle, and the power loom—all three continually improved—and transformed the textile industry. In time, factories replaced the cottages and small water barrels with ever-upgraded coal-powered machines. Thus, endless demand for cotton surged—cotton boll fiber being much better than wool for the new machines. It wasn't until the 1820's that cotton replaced sugar as the leading commodity in world trade. But Napoleon, when he queried indignantly, " does the destiny of the world turn on a barrel of sugar" as his embargo of British goods faltered, blamed it on Russian taste for sugar as he failed to grasp that the main new export from Britain was cloth. Even his own quartermasters, desperate to save money, bought machine-made smuggled cloth from the British for uniforms.
African slaves were essential both for sugar and cotton. During the war, the British, having established a virtual monopoly of the slave trade, suddenly prohibited the exportation of slaves from Africa just when cotton production was beginning to escalate not only in British factories, but after 1820 in northern France and Belgium. There, excess British capital could be invested with much higher rates of return than in Britain itself, where factory sites, wages, government regulations, and taxation were driving up costs.
Furthermore the application of steam power moved from the mines that had supplied the megalopolis of London with coal for heating, because they had exhausted all the wood. While it was first used in the 17th century to pump water out of the mines, as it became more efficient it was applied to transport, especially river-boats and trains, and to power the textile factories.
The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 made that commodity cheaper than wool. After Andrew Jackson removed the Indians west of the Mississippi, the Deep South along the Gulf Coast saw the greatest agricultural boom in history, the Cotton Kingdom that fed Europe's ever more voracious and efficient factories, which spread to Germany, Austria, Northern Italy and Northern Spain, as well as to New England, by the 1840's; and all of which employed the latest devices so that some mills outpaced those of England.
This chapter traces the unparalleled expansion of the Cotton Kingdom which devoured slaves almost as voraciously as the far less salubrious and more demanding sugar plantations in the Caribbean and Brazil, which continued to expand as the prosperous European bourgeoisie, and even some of the more well-placed factory workers demanded sugar for their tea, coffee, and biscuits. The demand for slaves from the plantations in the New World was met with an ever-increasing supply, eagerly shipped to the African coast by kingdoms and tribes whose prosperity and even existence depended upon it.
First, we document the expansion of cotton and sugar production in this chapter. Then in the next, we discuss the slave labor force that worked them. About the production, exports and prices of those commodities, there is not much doubt. About slave demographics there is no consensus whatsoever, because that trade unlike the others, was illegal and therefore lacks documentation. There are however, many detailed price lists for slaves.
The iron and steel industries, like textiles, premiered in Great Britain and grew apace with the steam engines for factories and the metal needed for railroads and steamships, at first on rivers and canals, and later to supplement ocean-going vessels. It wasn't until that iron and steel overtook textiles in value, production and world trade. The expansion of iron, steel, and coal, increased demand for sugar and cotton because that phase of the Industrial Revolution exploded before 1860. The Secessionists made their worst mistake in thinking that England and France would be forced into supporting the Confederacy to keep their factories from shutting down, not realizing that iron and coal had supplanted cotton, just as cotton had supplanted sugar by 1820.
Slave Intensive Commodities of the American South 1808-1861
From the advent of Arkwright's factory system at Derbyshire in 1771, until well into the 20th century, Great Britain produced most of the world's cotton cloth. After the War of 1812, plantations of the Deep South became the premier suppliers of raw cotton for the ever more efficient mills of Manchester, otherwise known as "Cottonopolis", until interrupted by the American Civil War. Previously, no other cotton exporters, India, Egypt, Brazil, or the West Indies, ever contended with the seemingly inexhaustible supply of burlap covered cotton bales streaming out of southern ports. As bales of cotton, becoming more standardized in weight from 400 to 500 pounds, crossed the ocean to Liverpool from New Orleans, Mobile, Charleston, and Savannah, another commodity essential to southern cotton culture was dispatched from West Africa to Cuba and then onto the American mainland via the Gulf of Mexico; black slaves by the tens of thousands were increasingly smuggled in every year (1808-1861) mostly from Spanish Cuba to supply labor on cotton plantations spreading across the American South. While cotton is foremost in any discussion about American slavery after 1820, other crops were important too. The other four staples of the south, in order of importance were, tobacco, sugar, rice, and hemp.
During the antebellum years, the cotton exchange between the United States and Great Britain, as well as the traffic in African slaves, fostered the development of transatlantic shipping on an unprecedented scale, setting the stage for the international finance capitalism we recognize today. In his landmark scholarly work, Capitalism and Slavery (1944), Eric Eustace Williams claimed that the enslavement of Africans provided the impetus for Britain's imperial wealth during the Industrial Revolution. While this situation was obvious in antebellum America, a similar claim can be made for the role Northern interests played in illegally procuring slaves for the South after 1808, and the enormous wealth that was created because of it in the five odd decades before the Civil War.
Almost without exception, from 1814 until 1861, at least 2/3rds of the entire American cotton crop was annually exported to Liverpool, billions of bales then traveling by rail (after 1831) to the mills of Manchester. In fact, until 1843, more cotton was exported to mills in France, mainly in Lille, than was kept in the U.S. for production in New England mills.
By 1860, Britain could boast nearly 3,000 cotton factories while the U.S. had in operation just over 900. From 1800 to 1860, British demand for cotton rose an astounding 1000%, the greater bulk of this supplied from the slave-worked plantations of the Deep South. Thus, during the Industrial Revolution of the early 19th century, the role of the United States was mainly as a supplier of raw material, namely cotton, of which hundreds of millions of bales of were shipped with increasing frequency to Liverpool until the outbreak of war between the States in 1861. Liverpool, formerly Europe's focal point for the Atlantic slave trade, became the epicenter of the exploding cotton industry, often re-exporting raw American cotton to mills in Russia, Belgium, and Prussia, while Britain's own mills in Lancashire County produced cotton goods for the majority of the world. (Hammond, 252; Ellison, Cohn, 22)
From 1780 to 1820, as British factories utilized new spinning and weaving technologies, raw cotton was primarily imported from the West Indies and Brazil. For almost two centuries, from the inception of cotton cultivation at Jamestown in 1607, cotton exports from the North American colonies were insignificant, preempted by Maryland and Virginia tobacco, and rice and indigo from Georgia and the Carolinas, Southern commodities satisfactorily profitable for British merchants and investors.
The piddling few thousand bales of cotton exported from South Carolina and Georgia to London and Liverpool before 1786, was of negligible quality, as separating the seeds from rough short-staple variety of American "uplands" cotton fiber was too labor intensive and costly. After "sea-island", or "long-staple" cotton with its longer, finer, less enmeshed fibers, was introduced to coastal South Carolina in the late 1780's by way of the West Indies. British merchants soon fastened onto this higher quality American cotton and the American export market for cotton began to bloom. However, cultivating Sea Island cotton necessitated technical skill few planters possessed and the geographical limitations of this staple compounded its inadequacies in meeting the demand for raw cotton as technology in the mills improved and manufacturing output soared. The success of the coastal plantations and newly found profitability of Sea Island cotton was not lost on farmers in the hills of Carolina and Georgia, who began to plant short-staple, or "uplands" cotton, rightly predicting the volume of the cotton trade to increase.
The young Yankee quick-study named Eli Whitney invented the saw-gin at the Georgia home of General Nathaniel Green's widow--the lady herself suggesting a crucial component for the machine--during the spring of 1793. Whitney's cotton gin effectively removed the sticky seeds from the short-staple fiber, and operation of the new machine performed by a single slave replicated the amount of work that fifty slaves by hand could achieve in a day. Since the cultivation of long-staple Sea Island cotton was problematic, production of that crop fell sharply thereafter, thus inaugurating short-staple uplands cotton as the main crop destined to feed the mills. The U.S. exported less than a half million pounds of raw cotton to Liverpool in 1793, even as word of Whitney's cotton gin radiated excitedly outward from Georgia. A year later, the gin now patented and widely imitated, over one and a half million pounds was shipped. By 1812, the adaptation of southern cotton supplied a sharp rise in demand from the Lancashire mills. Many farmers and planters, gentry and yeomen alike, abandoned their corn, wheat, or tobacco crops and turned to uplands cotton. Cotton culture migrated west to the hills of South Carolina and Georgia, spreading north to North Carolina and Virginia. By 1804, the Louisiana Purchase had conclusively established the Mississippi River as the central artery for American commerce, and settlements in the Deep South of the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama territories followed soon after.
Coincident with the transformation wrought by technology on the demand for cotton, was the steady ruination of arable land in the South by the widespread practice of tobacco farming without manuring or rotating fields. A"one-field" system, though ruinous to the soil, was practiced almost without exception by 17th and 18th century tobacco planters, rotation on plantations foregone in the interest of speedier profits, a model type of outland cultivation with African slave labor integral to its application, as the cotton planters of the 19th century were soon to imitate. Though the institution of plantation slavery was widely perceived as a counterproductive anachronism by1800, the appearance of Whitney's gin quickly convinced planters to decide otherwise. The same soil-eroding methods of cultivation used by tobacco planters was carried on by cotton planters, who, if successful, moved their plantation operations further south and west when the deleterious effects of their planting methods depleted the soil. By the late 1840's, the one-field system practiced by cotton planters had exhausted much of the soil in the coastal states of Virginia and Georgia. This tendency spurred a constant migration of slaves for the plowing of virgin fields on new plantations. From 1830 to 1860, Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and Georgia, each exported annually an average of 25,000 slaves to the Deep South, including Texas and Arkansas. Agriculture in the south moved and expanded, coinciding with a constant demand for new slaves to meet the contingencies occasioned by the spread of new plantations and the ever-present demand for cotton from Great Britain.
Beginning in the 1840's, overstock of American cotton in British warehouses led to depreciation of prices, even while the prices for African slaves steadily rose in the same period. Of course, the wealthiest within the southern planter caste could more readily afford the rising price of slaves than yeoman farmers, and gentry. In the 1840's, consolidation occurring within the plantation system became more noticeable, as smaller farmers found it increasingly difficult to make profits for a few reasons: rising prices for slaves, an inability to compete with the purchasing power of the planter elite in buying land, the increasing efficiency of the larger plantations, and a reliance of the lower caste or white yeoman farmer on the larger plantations for supplies and operational necessities. Stampp succinctly states, " the yeoman labored in competition with the slaves." As a result, many of the smaller cotton farms and their slaves, especially in the Deep South, became extensions of vast cotton holdings under new ownership by a minority of aristocratic planters. This tendency, reflective of the advantages held by the planter elite, was nonetheless an anomaly. Most of the slave-holders in the antebellum south owned fewer than ten slaves and theses planters held the majority of the slaves.
(Stampp, 238,428; Hammond)
Before 1793, most U.S. states had curtailed the importation of African slaves, and many of the Northern states had abolished slavery altogether. However, the expectations of profits from cotton, freed by Whitney's invention, created an instant and uproarious demand for African slaves that didn't cease until the cannons boomed at Fort Sumter in 1861. In 1807, a year before the U.S. officially ended participation in the transatlantic slave trade, nearly 2/3rds of the American cotton crop, almost 95 million pounds, was exported to England. 1808 was a dire year for maritime commerce, especially for American merchants, north and south. Contemporary opinions expressed incredulity at Jefferson's strangulation of the economic life-blood of the country, forbidding trade with England and Napoleonic France while simultaneously abolishing the slave trade to southern ports. After Jefferson's Embargo, less than 15% of American raw cotton was squeezed through to Liverpool. The cotton merchants fought back in 1809, with much of the cotton smuggled overseas in disregard of the Embargo. Future scrutiny into transatlantic smuggling on the part of American merchants in these years (1807-1814), may unearth the beginnings of maritime and mercantile collaboration that connect illicit smuggling of cotton (and other goods) to Britain, with the routine trafficking of slaves into the U.S from Africa via Cuba.
The irresolute lifting of Jeffersonian embargoes saw sales of stockpiled surplus cotton; 111% of the crop was exported in 1810. The New York market index for cotton prices fell annually from 22.5¢ a pound in 1806 to 10.5¢ in 1811; conversely Liverpool prices leaped from 14.5 shillings in 1807, to 22 shillings the next year, falling to 12.5 shillings by 1811. Sporadic sales of cotton to England in these years, notwithstanding the official prohibition of the transatlantic slave trade, nonetheless inspired still more American investment in the cultivation of cotton. By 1821, cotton had become the leading U.S. export, winning out over both tobacco and wheat.
In 1815, Congress declared the importation of slaves into the U.S. an act of piracy punishable by death. Regardless of the laws, illegal slaves continued to pour into the country from the virtually un-policed waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Slaves were marched overland in coffles, headed north from the shoals and bayous of the Gulf towards fenced cotton fields on hundreds of majestic manorial estates and thousands of smaller farms. These slaves were often assimilated into the legal interstate traffic in domestic slaves that meandered southward from Virginia and Maryland, by land, or shipped by river or sea around Florida.
Both circuits converged in the Deep South, the majority of slaves were installed in the largest cotton operations there, while a smaller percentage were taken to work on tobacco, sugar, rice, and hemp plantations. The greatest concentration of slaves worked the largest cotton plantations that sat on the fertile alluvial soils of lush river valleys coursing through Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The slave traffic to the Deep South, legal or otherwise, was kept in perpetuity not only because new plantations created the demand, but also to replace those slaves who had perished from malaria and yellow fever in the humid mosquito-infested watersheds. The cotton bonanzas of the 1850's made painfully apparent the widening gap between British, European, and Yankee demand for cotton and the supply of African slaves to work the cotton fields. Despite the constant influx of slaves, by legal or illegal means, the Southern plantation system was beleaguered by labor shortages, a testament to the incredible proliferation of cotton culture in the decade before the war.
Before the cotton trade began to boom in conjunction with mass cultivation of the Mississippi Valley in the early 1830's, bales of cotton moved slowly along rivers, the inland traffic terminating in the central coastal ports of Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and New Orleans. This wayward river traffic, mostly carried on flatboats, was sluggish and expensive although a handful of steamships had begun service between inland ports in South Carolina and Georgia by 1826. After 1830, cotton production in the western states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, nearly equaled that of the Atlantic coast states. Five years later, these states surpassed the production of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, producing 6/11ths of the entire U.S. crop. By 1835, over a hundred Lancashire mills housing nearly 100,000 power looms, processed at least 350 million pounds of American cotton, manufacturing about 83,000 pounds of yarn and almost 2 million ft. of finished textile products from all of their imported cotton.
(Jeremy, 103;Hammond, 247; Clough, Cole, 407; Ellison, Table II)
President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal policy greatly affected the spread of cotton culture in the Deep South. Choctaws vacated the upper valleys of the Pearl River in 1830, the Chickasaws left the northern Mississippi Delta in 1832, Creeks left Alabama the same year, and finally the Cherokee's sad exodus in 1835 opened a large portion of the Tennessee River Valley for cotton cultivation. During the years of Indian Removal, land speculation varied wildly as future deeds were contingent on the exit of the natives. This situation was further exacerbated by fluctuating, unpredictable cotton harvests, an annual cause of worry especially for British recipients. These developments, accompanied by the continual progress of technological innovation in the textile industry, resulted in growing popular demand for cotton manufactures as prices steadily fell, factors that contributed in no small measure to the Panic of 1837, an economic meltdown usually blamed on general market uncertainties caused by Jackson's war against Nicholas Biddle and the 2nd Bank of the United States. Much of the uncertainty this episode created can be traced directly to the unprecedented expanding infrastructure of the cotton industry, and all of its peripheral industries.
In the 1840's, cotton created definite prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic, even as complications arose through the decade regarding supply and demand. British merchants and industrialists chafed at their reliance on America as virtually their only supplier of raw cotton. British investors were perennially risking their money blindly, never knowing if whether the cotton crops across the pond would be blighted by parasites, scorched by heat-waves, or washed out by downpours. The Panic of 1837 had motivated British merchants to seek alternative sources for cotton imports but the raw cotton Britain received from India was deemed inferior to American, and from 1840 to 1845, close to three billion pounds of southern-grown cotton crammed the Liverpool harbors and Manchester warehouses. In fact, by 1845, the British bought up so much cotton that their overstock equaled nearly nine months of extra consumption. The rate of American cotton production was beginning to outpace British demand. As a result, cotton prices dropped to their absolute historical nadir in 1845, 5.63 cents and 4 pence a pound respectively. Another contributing factor to depreciating prices of cloth was the expansion of cotton mills in continental Europe, due to the 1843 British Parliamentary repeal of laws prohibiting mill machinery exportation.
From 1833 to 1842, about 19,000,000 acres of land were sold mostly to plantation owners across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. In the same decade those states yielded nearly 10,000,000 bales of cotton, nearly 3/5ths of the total U.S. crop. Cotton culture spread like wildfire, creating an insatiable demand for African slaves. In 1836 alone, over 250,000 shackled slaves were marched to their new owners overland down from the Natchez Trace, and from Virginia and Maryland; many of these were continuously parceled out from barracoons along the Gulf Coast in which the slaves were corralled after being legally shipped to Cuba and illegally re-exported thereafter to Florida or elsewhere along the Gulf Coast. Rising clamor for more African slaves to work on new plantations in the Deep South dramatically increased the value of these slaves on the auction blocks. Slavery in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee, rose almost 90% between 1830 and 1840. The annexation of Texas in 1845 added to the swelling African population. By 1850, the average cotton plantation was about 400 acres, while many covered an area well over 1,000, and a few over 10,000. Between 1850 and 1860, the area of cotton cultivation in the foremost cotton producing states increased 16.4%. The total cotton crop itself increased more than 100% in the same decade. The reciprocal demand for slaves to meet this frenzied production caused slave prices to skyrocket. Prices and demographics in regard to the slaves for the period 1808 to 1862 are analyzed in greater detail in Chapter II.
The Revolutionary War, and to a lesser extent the War of 1812 and the Seminole Wars, caused Southern agriculture to decline, crippling rice, tobacco, and sugar, indigo and flax. After Whitney's gin introduced the rapid spread of cotton culture, the production of tobacco, sugar, and rice languished somewhat, bowing before King Cotton in 1821. Nevertheless, though not as prosperous as it was before 1775, tobacco cultivation spread from Virginia's coastal plains to North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and even Georgia. Tobacco production spiked dramatically in the 1850's due to the discovery of Bright yellow tobacco and tobacco output overall made a profitable comeback in the last antebellum decade. Even so, tobacco export profits for the decade were about 5% of cotton's. The 1850 U.S. census estimated that about 350,000 slaves were involved in tobacco production on plantations and in factories. By 1860, tobacco plantations large and small held a median average of 20 slaves compared to 37 slaves per cotton plantation.
(Goodman 194, 1960; Eliot, 254, 1860)
Cotton plantations shared the rich alluvial soil of the Mississippi River and its bayou country with an increasing number of sugar operations that ranged along the river over a hundred miles north of New Orleans. About 95% of antebellum sugar production took place in Louisiana. Sugarcane culture advanced north into the watershed of the Red River in the 1840's after King Cotton's prices tumbled with the Panic of 1837. Many sugar planters of the time wrongly predicted that sugar would displace cotton in domestic and export value, thus its cultivation spread despite the fact that cotton continued to dominate the market. Nevertheless, the Red River demarcated the limit of sugar production. Some of the more affluent cotton planters in the Deep South grew both staples. Sugar production was much more labor intensive and unhealthy than cotton and the unfortunate slaves engaged in sugar cane culture had higher mortality rates. Slaves who expired from disease or heat exhaustion were often replaced by the circuit of illegally smuggled slaves taken upriver from New Orleans, or further south from Galveston, Texas. While slaves were imported into the sugar parishes, a significant number of them were exported from them to cotton plantations as the value of slaves continued to increase through the antebellum era. About 150,000 slaves were laboring in the cane fields as reported by the U.S. census of 1850. Sugar attained its highest productivity and profitability in the first half of the 1850's, when over 1.5 million hogsheads, each with about 50 gallons of sugar, rolled off the docks of the Mississippi into waiting steamboats. [Stampp, 46, 1956; Schmitz, 14-15, 1977]
In contrast with relatively profitable tobacco and sugar plantations was the struggling rice industry in the low country of South Carolina and Georgia, which hosted the lion's share of rice production for the nation. By 1850 about 125,000 slaves were knee-deep in its cultivation. At about the same time, steam power encouraged rice culture along the Mississippi river, but Louisiana's role as a rice producer declined rapidly after 1861. On the whole, rice farming was unprofitable until the very cusp of the Civil War. Rice farmers rarely earned over 6% profits against their operating costs though this percentage would increase upwards until a halt in 1861. Its mosquito-infested paddies were as deadly as the sugar plantations.
(Swan, 322, 1973)
Along the Missouri River, in a region known as Little Dixie, an often overlooked staple, hemp, was produced steadily throughout the antebellum period. Hemp was used mainly for rope-making and for the burlap that covered bales of cotton. Its production involved about 60,000 slaves by 1850, as compared to nearly 2 million slaves working in the cotton fields.
About the accuracy of the first eight U.S. censuses, professors can quibble as much and as long as they want. Purchasers and mongers of illegally imported slaves would surely want to hide their illicit investments from prying eyes. But, because all slaves counted as 3/5ths of a person, politicians then as now, would want the largest count possible to increase representation in the House of Representatives, increasingly tilted towards the North, and for other federal benefits distributed by population count. We can assume that under-counts of most disadvantaged groups prevailed then as now, but hardly that the percentage of under-counts varied much from census to census. Thus, we can start with the census figures in 1790 to calculate changes from decade to decade, whether the exact numbers are precise doesn't particularly matter. What we cannot know is what percentage of the extraordinary growth in the overall count must be assigned to illegal imports, which we will call the X-Factor, and what to natural increase. Generally speaking, the numbers assigned to smugglers and traffickers by experts has decreased as the decades have gone by. The Y Factor is the birth rate of the slaves, and the Z Factor is the mortality rate. Over the decades, the apologists have decreased X and correspondingly increased absurdly Y and reduced Z. The closer these historians wrote in relation to the smuggling period, the higher numbers and percentages that they assigned to the illegal slave trade. Today it is virtually ignored. One writer believed that more were relocated to Liberia than were smuggled in between 1808 and 1860!
Most recently, we have gone from "zero", to over 700,000. The "zero" came from one of our leading historians, James McPherson. True in a review, obviously hastily done, but in a most prestigious journal, The New York Review of Books. The 700,000 comes from a relatively unknown professor, Ernest Obadele-Starks, Freebooters and Smugglers (University of Arkansas Press, 2007), based on a crude projection of the figures the author believes were implied of the greatest student ever on the subject, W.E.B. Dubois. It is interesting that both authors are African-American, but only Starks accentuates the active role that Africans took in both aiding and profiting from, as well as resisting and disrupting the trade. His book has been lambasted by the "authorities", historians like David Eltis, and Engels and Fogerman. Of the two estimates, Stark's compared with McPherson's, the latter is infinitely better than the former.
Whites, both northern and southern, consciously, unconsciously, or subconsciously, have tried to whittle down the guilt of all white Americans by minimizing the monstrosity of this illegality. In doing so they have created an exceptionalism so incredible that they have introduced the notion of pan-African fertility carried over into the U.S. that should more than justify the worst fears of the Ku Klux Klanners about African sexuality as well as the greatest of all exaggerations of Fitzugh, and other ante-bellum and post-bellum defenders of our "Peculiar Institution": the happy, well-fed, housed, clothed, and cared for darkie. Never in all human history had slaves had it so good as they must have had in the antebellum South to multiply so rapidly without imports. They must have reproduced as fast as the whites that they lived amongst, who, even with considerable immigration from Europe and enriched by seizing new lands from the Indians, hardly kept pace with the growth of their slaves.
Regarding the number of illegally imported slaves to the American South from 1808 to 1860, there have been three stages of analysis. The first stretched from Senator Stephen Douglas to W.E.B. Dubois' The Suppression of the African Slave Trade; both experts, the astute politician and the ground breaking scholar, had high estimates for the numbers of imported slaves. Douglas claimed more had been smuggled in during both 1859 and 1860 than in any previous year. The recent extrapolator of Dubois's projections claimed over 700,000.
The second stage, the so-called revisionists, representing a benign view of the Old South, glorified and excused its Peculiar Institution. The greatest of the revisionists was U.B. Philips, who in 1918, established the pattern for historians thereafter, by downplaying the number of those illegally imported between 1808 to 1860 to be virtually insignificant. This was the era of D.W. Griffiths landmark , The Birth of a Nation, continuing through its most popular novel, Gone With the Wind, made into an even more successful film. My Uncle Will's best-selling Lanterns On the Levee (1941) exonerated sharecropping and the virtues of the Old South. The movements called the Agrarians and the Fugitives also continued to extol the Southern culture, which Stampp so thoroughly condemned.
As late as 1956, in The Peculiar Institution, Stampp noted that the high estimates of slave importations between 1810 and 1820 run as high as 60,000, [which we think is a great exaggeration]. Not until 1819 did Congress authorize the use of armed cruisers to patrol the coast of the U.S. and West Africa. A year later, another statute made participation in the African Slave Trade piracy and imposed the death penalty. Thereafter, the federal government made fitful efforts at enforcement but its patrol system was always inadequate, and the executive department often showed little real interest and more vigorous action. During the 1850's, the illicit commerce reached such proportions as almost to constitute 'a reopening of the slave trade.' "
Stampp's analysis of the brutality of the Peculiar Institution with its minimal maintenance, high morbidity and mortality undermined the lyric romanticism of the revisionists,
"[They] kept their negroes out of doors in most inclement weather…a condition of more complete indifference toward the invalids and disregard for the elementary rules of santitation could scarcely be imagined…the combination of lower living standards, greater exposure, heavier labor, and poor medical care gave slaves a shorter life expectancy and a higher mortality rate than whites. The census of 1850 reported average ages of 21.4 for negroes and 25.5 for whites at the time of death. In 1860, 3.5 % of slaves and 4.4.% of the whites were over sixty. The death rate was 1.8% for the slaves and 1.2% for the whites…these statistics discredit one of the traditions about slavery…only 1.2% [of slaves] were over seventy…the life expectancy [of twenty year old negro slaves] was 17.5 years and of whites 19.2…deaths among infants under five numbered 98 for whites and 201 for negroes [in Charleston]…in Mississippi where the negro population only slightly exceeded the white, negro infant deaths numbered 2,772 and white infant deaths numbered 1,315."
Stampp sums up his chapter as follows,
"[I]n spite of the high mortality, the Southern slave population between 1830 and 1860, grew by natural increase [my italics] at a rate of about 23% each decade. The director of the 7th Census gave the only possible explanation [my italics]: " the marriages of slaves…take place upon the average much earlier than those of the white or free colored and are probably more productive than either."
"[T]hough antebellum white families were also large, slave women had to bear many more children than white women [my italics] to make this natural increase [my italics] possible. For a slave mother gave birth to two or three babies in order that one might grow to be a "prime hand" for her master."
Stampp obviously failed to account for illegal imports. He mistakenly assigned a great number of smuggled slaves for the early years of the prohibition, 1808 to 1820, when the opposite was true. More slaves were illegally brought in from 1850 to 1860 than any other period. He therefore was twisted to proclaim that slave mothers out-produced whites, though he emphasized their high morbidity and mortality rates and extreme deprivation. Unlike the revisionists, Stampp explained high rates of morbidity and mortality, but marveled at how high the reproduction rates must have been, because they had a much lower life expectancy than the whites due to poor maintenance as well as overwork and cruelty. So their reproduction rates must have been truly astounding as he realized. Stammp mistakenly assigns the number of slaves
The third stage began with Philip Curtin, who reduced by sleight of hand the total number of imported slaves from 1808 to 1860 to 54,000. Curtin's 1969 assessment of the illegal trade more or less agreed with trend-setting statements made by U.B. Phillips in 1918. Curtin arrived at his figures by using only surviving records, ignoring the fact that smugglers, their customers, and those in charge of enforcing laws against it, and everyone profiting from it, tended not to leave records. The federal, state, and local governments naturally didn't keep records either, ignoring and even abetting the illegal trade. Moronically, he used only written records. Curtin's estimates, more or less have held up to the present day with minor modifications. This is because most scholars like him are squirrels, only collecting what records exist, ignoring those that weren't kept or that have been destroyed (which is the case for the illegal slave trade). Of the various efforts since, Fogel and Engermann tried to use statistical methods but they were largely refuted by Herbert Gutman. So far, as we've seen no one has made the deductions necessitated by Stampp's figures, to show the enormity of the numbers illegally imported.
In this paper we are estimating at least 400,000 were imported in the fifty-two year span between the 1808 prohibition of the transatlantic slave trade and the Union blockade of Southern ports in 1861. Perhaps as many as six or seven hundred thousand may have been landed on American shores which may be able to be deduced by estimating the numbers re-exported from Cuba and other havens in the West Indies, and accounting for those already in Florida and Texas before they became states, and the remaining Gulf Coast territories before they were granted statehood. Only a small minority of Bozale, or "salt-water" slaves, perhaps one tenth, were brought directly from Africa. The primary assumption of this thesis results from the sound estimates that almost as many were shipped to Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean as to Brazil. However, many more survived in Brazil than in Cuba, though conditions for the slaves there were no better. Cuba couldn't possibly have supported as many slaves as Brazil, so the large number must have been re-exported to the U.S. after 1808.
Re-exportation: The Illegal Slave Trade From Cuba to the United States, 1808-1862
Philip Curtin estimated that Cuba imported almost 500,000 slaves between 1811 and 1870 (The Atlantic Slave Trade,1969). His curious bracket has no chronological significance since both the start and end dates reflect no pivotal historical occurrences within the slave trade. We are primarily concerned with the history of the illegal slave trade to the United States via Cuba, which began on New Year's Day, 1808, when the U.S. Congress prohibited the importation of slaves from Africa. To clarify the importance of slave trafficking to Cuba in relation to the re-exportation of slaves to the U.S., our analysis of the time-line necessarily extends to 1865. The ending of the American Civil War tends to obscure the almost total decline of slave importations to Cuba in this year, an oversight obviated even more by the tremendous peak year of African slave imports to Cuba in 1859. This is an interrelated phenomenon that has not been properly addressed in the endlessly stultifying scholarship on African slave demographics for the antebellum U.S. If we are to believe data provided by the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, Curtin's numbers are significantly off the mark in calculating imports to Cuba in the 19th century. The database increases the number to more than 713,000 disembarked in Cuba between 1808 and 1865. Nearly a quarter of a million slaves imported to Cuba in these periods were not accounted for by Curtin or his protégé David Eltis, whose estimates inform nearly all recent scholarship on Cuban slave demographics.
Gannet and Olmsted's Cuban 1907 Census Report showed that a slave population of 436,500 constituted nearly 60% of Cuba's total population (1,007,624 ) in 1841, By 1861, despite increasing importation of African slaves to Cuba, its slave population had dropped to about 367,400, 43% of the total (1,396,530). The Union blockade of the Confederacy in 1861, the 1862 Anglo-American agreement to search and seize suspected slave ships flying the American flag, and the Emancipation Proclamation are said to have drastically quashed imports of African slaves to Cuba to virtually nothing by 1865. Historians cite the high price of slaves as the reason for the drop off in Cuban slave imports after 1859, but in actuality slave prices in Cuba dropped after this year, from over 800 pesos to under 600 pesos in 1863. Besides, by 1865, prices for slaves in Africa were still comparatively much less expensive relative to the peso, an exchange still worth 100% or more in profits for negreros depositing their captives in Cuba. Slave trafficking in the 1850's was carried often on swift Baltimore clippers, but also increasingly on steam-powered vessels that could hold over a thousand slaves. Even with the perceived success of British naval attempts to stop the trade, more slaves landed in Cuba in 1859 than in any year previous. The volume of Africans arriving in Cuba in the 1850's might seem ordinary if not for the observation made by Bergad, Garcia, and Barcia that of all slaves sold in Cuba after 1845, the "majority of [them] were born in Cuba." (Garcia, et al, 38).
The volume of slave imports to Cuba is most dramatic in the same years in which the New Orleans Price index for slaves indicate higher American prices than prices in Cuba. Therefore, slave traffickers and dealers who purchased slaves in Cuba in these periods made even larger profits when they resold the slaves in the U.S. Even though Cuban prices for slaves were sometimes higher than in the U.S., incentives for re-exportation were still lucrative as demand for slaves soared in the Deep South and Texas.
It is no wonder that slave importation to Cuba dried up after 1859, especially as those who were carrying on the illicit traffic, Americans foremost, had largely vanished from the seas after the Union blockade and the Anglo-American Treaty of 1862 (Lyons-Seward Treaty) that finally ended the inviolability of slave ships flying under the protection of the American flag. In 1859, over 27,000 slaves disembarked in Cuba. By the end of 1865, 722 Africans were brought to port. Today's scholars wax moronic on the reasons for the obvious drop in the numbers of slaves going to Cuba after 1860, but their ingenuity often fails to equate their dramatic decline with the sharp decrease in re-exports following the emphatic end of slavery in the United States.
Given the recent spate of scholarship about the high incidence of American owned, operated, and financed slave ships from Africa bound for Cuba, and also the few but not insignificant (the tip of the iceberg) documented instances of American slavers voyaging from Cuba into Gulf ports, and bayous from Florida to Texas, the connection between American complicity with the illegal slave trade and the Cuban slave market is now more easily made than in previous years. Indeed, authorities on the slave trade that have minimized the importance and size of the illegal slave trade to the United States after 1808 are being undermined by their own resources, especially since 19th century slave manifests and cargos are now continually added to the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database.
Challenges to the consensus on the illegal slave trade indoctrinated by Philip Curtin should be encouraged by the scholarly fortitude that W.E.B. Dubois employed in his irrefutable Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America 1638- 1870 (1896). Scholars ever since, who have veered away from DuBois' meticulous research, and for whatever reason, be it puritanical nationalistic visions of American history or sheer racism, continue to trivialize the illegal slave trade into the United States from 1808 to 1860. Token reminders of this folly are futile academic attempts to explain the 4.5 million Africans in the U.S. Census of 1860 (how so few in 1807 could breed so many by 1860!). Curtin suggested with questionable stinginess, that perhaps only 54,000 illegal slaves had made it into the U.S. from 1808 to 1860, allowing for barely a thousand slaves a year.
In 1972, extrapolating from Curtin's deductions, prominent expert Jack Eblen opined, amazing as it sounds, that "the amount of illegal importation cannot have exceeded by much the amount of population loss attributable to escape and emigration." This "authority" deduced that "the average black woman in the antebellum U.S. bore seven children", even while conceding "very high, perhaps unreasonably extreme, infant mortality levels", and that the crude death rate of the American black population was "approximately treble the rate general to present day Africa." This is a ludicrous theory about antebellum slave fertility, while slave mortality rates, best implied by Kenneth Staamp in the Peculiar Institution, negate his conclusion.
Other seeming authorities, such as British slave trade experts Kenneth Morgan and Michael Tadman, both vociferously disallow any significance to an illegal slave trade into the United States. On our side of the Atlantic, the Curtin consensus is supported most visibly by the foremost authority in the U.S. today, David Eltis. Eltis, oddly enough, is a principal investigator for the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, but he has minimized the numbers of illegal slaves even further than Curtin had allowed for, citing only a total of 6,100 illegal slaves entering the U.S. illegally from 1808 to 1865, further confounding demographers of the antebellum south. Eltis is comfortable with the assertion that few more than six thousand Africans were imported (117 per year !) because it is the total number of slaves recorded on the register of documented slave voyages to the U.S. after 1808. As if slave smugglers or their customers kept records! Eltis also attacks the extrapolation from W.E.B. Dubois by Obadele Starks (Freebooters and Smugglers, 2007) that postulates a total of 786,000 slaves imported illegally.
Eltis' trump card is a peremptory statement that the U.S. Census of 1870 shows "less than one tenth of 1% of the black population of the United States was African born," therefore Starks must be a raving mad African-American revisionist. While Starks' numbers may be over-grandiose, Eltis fails to mention that the status of Africans was completely different in the 9th Census (1870), when they became free individuals ostensibly protected by the Constitution, than in the 8th (1860), where they had virtually no legal rights and counted as 3/5ths as a person in determining the population per congressional representation in the South. Any African-born former slave in their right mind would have described themselves as native-born in 1870, especially with the memory of emancipation still fresh in their minds. "Inasmuch as ex-slaves who were born in Africa and smuggled into the United States could not be counted in a state's population of citizens on which congressional representation for the state was based, the Southern states had motivation to show as few African-born blacks as possible in the 1870 census." (Tenzer, 17)
The evidence is far from empirical as Eltis suggests. Sadly, the actual circumstances of the illegal slave trade to the United States have been severely extenuated by this historian and many others. Incredibly, Eltis states that since he personally has researched some of the 1,100 volumes of correspondence kept in Britain's Slave Trade Department of the Foreign Office, that no further inquiry is needed. He arrogantly asserts that no correspondence suggests that British officials ever suspected that slaves were headed to the mainland of the United States. This is certainly preposterous and Sian Rees book about the British Navy's African Squadron (Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships That Stopped the Slave Trade, 2009) clearly dispels such nonsense.
The scantiness of the corroborating evidence linking the illegal slave trade to the American mainland is because slaves were brought primarily to Brazil before 1830, when it was still legal to import them there, while other slavers headed illegally mainly to Cuba where slaves were often re-exported to Galveston, New Orleans, etc. Eltis also greatly overestimates the efficacy of the British African Squadron that policed the West African coast. Furthermore, the British and American naval presence in the Caribbean was not a serious deterrent to slave trafficking from Cuba to the U.S. Slavers in the Gulf could easily pretend to be sailing from any of the mid-Atlantic states as part of the perfectly legal "coast-wise" trade. Eltis is disingenuous on a grand scale, as are many historians on the issue. (Olmsted, Gannet,Cuba: Population, History and Resources, 1907; Eblen, Growth of the Black Population in Ante-Bellum America, 1820-1860, 1972; Eltis, The U.S. Transatlantic Slave Trade 1664-1867: An Assessment, 2008)
The British occupation of Havana in 1762 introduced for the first time unrestricted free trade to Cuban merchants and planters who had previously been stifled by Peninsular monopolies on all exports and imports. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 restored Spanish sovereignty and enlightened despot Carlos III of Spain, realizing the economic potential of his most prized Caribbean possession, decided to end the asiento system of slavery in Cuba, thereby abolishing existing monopolies on the slave trade. By 1792, the reforms of Captain General Luis De Las Casas had liberalized the slave trade, opening it to ships of all nations, while stimulating Cuba's economy by giving tax breaks to the coffee, cotton, and indigo industries. Sugar producers were remitted export duties and all taxes on Cuban sugar entering Spain.
Civic improvements in Cuba were also part of Las Casas' reforms as roads, bridges, schools, asylums, and public buildings were constructed, all with the support of slave labor. Las Casas, allied with native merchant slave-dealers (negreros), administered the distribution of slaves to the areas of Cuba where they were needed the most. The importation of slaves steadily increased from the start of Las Casas' tenure, from 2,718 slaves in 1790, with an additional 13,295 brought in by 1792. The number of slaves arriving in Cuba fell after 1792, plummeting to just around 2,184 slaves in 1793. A general drop in slave imports lasted until the turn of the 19th century. By this time, Havana, with sugar as its most lucrative export, had become the third largest city in the Americas behind Mexico City and Lima.
After 1791, when the Haitians successfully revolted on Saint Domingue, formerly supplier for 40% of the world's sugar and 60% of its coffee, sugar became the principal export of Cuba. The bloody insurrection on that neighboring island, only 50 miles to the west, alarmed many Cuban slave-holders, thus importation declined until 1800, though many French planters fleeing from the Haitian turmoil went to Cuba with their slaves, some 30,000 of them from 1795 to 1805. Also during this time, the latest sugar mill technology and tools imported from British Jamaica began to spread across Cuba. The successful suppression of a number of slave uprisings in Cuba, coupled with the Treaty of Amiens between Napoleonic France and Great Britain signed in early 1802, resulted in a short period of international stability whereby Cuba began to import slaves from Africa with confidence. An 1804 Royal Decree from the weak Carlos IV (whose kingdom by then was almost entirely run by his rapacious wife Maria Luisa), stipulated that Cuba grant twelve years of free trade to Spaniards importing Bozale or "saltwater" Africans, and six years to foreigners doing so.
Sugar prices rose in 1802 from about 11¢ a pound to about 14¢ until 1805, and exports were steadily rising annually even while slave prices dropped sharply in the same period from about 435 pesos in 1801 to about 300 pesos in 1804. The large influx of slaves in 1802 and 1803, at least 23,000, up from only 2,748 in 1801, saturated the market for slaves in the ensuing years, and slave imports dwindled even further when European hostilities resumed in 1804, the year Napoleon declared himself Emperor of the French. Napoleon's treacherous invasion of Spain in 1808 effectively stopped imports to and exports from Cuba; barely a thousand slaves were landed at Havana in 1809. Meanwhile, Great Britain and the United States had both passed laws prohibiting the export of slaves from Africa, a factor that can be considered in the overall reduction of slave imports to Cuba in 1808 and 1809. However, Napoleon's Peninsular War raged in Europe until 1814, and slave ships arrived with more frequency in Cuba despite restricted trading conditions.
New Orleans slave prices excelled Havana prices from 1805 until some months after the U.S. Prohibition of the Slave Trade Act of January 1st, 1808. The number of legally slaves imported to the U.S. halted in this year, but many extra slaves were brought into Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans before the ban, nearly 46,000 recorded in 1807 and 1808. The slave population in Georgia nearly doubled from 1800 to 1810, and quadrupled in the Mississippi Territory in the same decade. American slave traffickers were taking advantage of hundreds of miles of un-policed Gulf Coast line. They were also already maneuvering within the geo-political ambiguities that arose from the Louisiana Purchase, such as the inconclusive boundary of New Spain in Texas, the disputed territory of West Florida, and the Sabine Free State.
In 1808, the U.S. Navy ordered Commander David Porter to New Orleans to lead a small flotilla of gunboats for the interception of slave ships in the Gulf. Porter was almost as successful capturing slavers from 1808 to 1810 as the entire U.S. Naval Squadron was when sent to Africa in 1820. But Porter's capture of the American slaver Amiable Lucy, bound from the West Indies (no specific island is mentioned in the Supreme Court ruling) to Louisiana in 1810, proved to be his last prize until the 1820's. Britain's policing of the slave trade after 1808 was not forcefully applied in their West Indies possessions until after 1834. Until then, Barbados, Dominica, Trinidad, and Demerara, all remained part of an intra-colonial slave trade. Regardless of where the slaves on the Amiable Lucy were originally from, the U.S. federal government used the case to create a legal loophole, one of many more to come during the antebellum period, that afforded American slave smugglers so3/5/10me measure of protection from prosecution, and allowed them in many cases to reclaim their confiscated ships along with their slave cargoes. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall and Governor Claiborne of the Louisiana Territory intervened in the Lucy case, protecting the slave property of the American-owned slaver on grounds that the 1808 Prohibition Act had no jurisdiction within the Territory of Louisiana. From 1810 on, U.S. judges were sympathetic to captured slavers, especially if those detained had served in the U.S. Navy. Determined American slave traffickers, not particularly worried about the legal consequences, were plying their trade just two weeks after prohibition went into effect in 1808, evidenced by two American schooners from Rhode Island, carrying 167 slaves, that were captured off of Cape Verde by the HMS Derwent of Britain's Africa Squadron.
The number of slaves arriving in Cuba from Africa spiked dramatically from barely 1,000 in 1809 to a total of almost 14,000 by 1811, just a year after the international disruption in commerce occasioned by the war and three years after the prohibition of the African slave trade. Even after the 1811 uproar of panic and uncertainty on behalf of Cuba's planters was communicated abroad to the liberal Cortes in Spain, after certain Peninsulares had proposed abolishing slavery in all the Spanish possessions, the imports of slaves totaled well over 8,000 by 1814. A steady, though diminished influx of slave imports to Cuba (1812 to 1814), despite the restrictions and hazards of shipping during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, can be attributed to the interests of mostly American and Spanish smugglers who were largely indifferent to the consequences of the 1808 Prohibition of the Slave Trade, and they continued to ply their trade from Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico with little to no hindrance from British or U.S authorities, whose presence in the Gulf was minimal and largely ineffective in policing the trade. (Hubert H.S. Aimes, The History of Slavery In Cuba, 1511 to 1868, 1907; Barcia, Bergad, Garcia, The Cuban Slave Market 1790-1880, 1995; Foner, A History of Cuba and its Relations with the United States,1962)
The 1812 Constitution of Cadiz assuaged worried Cuban planters and merchants by insuring the continuance of the slave trade while also enlarging the representation of colonial interests in the Spanish Cortes. However, the position of the Cortes changed frequently and the vacillating priorities of the hapless Spanish crown¬¬¬¬¬, their unwilling obeisance to Great Britain's stern Parliamentarians (supported by the sometimes unwilling might of the Royal Navy) made it a paramount issue for Cuban planters as the contradictions and indecision of the Cortes regarding the slave trade embroiled Cuba in a series of financial panics on behalf of the Creole landholders who saw any action that would suppress the slave trade as disastrous to their livelihood, leading to the financial ruin of the island itself. The profits entailed by sugar and tobacco production were, therefore, more expedient than the constant threat of slave insurrection. As the slave trade to Cuba continued unabated, though harried by the whims of the Cortes, many planters and merchants who were invested in slavery looked to the United States as a potential guarantor for their interests. Spain's submission to anti-slavery pressures from Great Britain ignited a fervor that spread in Cuba as Creole planters clamored and conspired for annexation to the United States, putting the mother country in an uncompromising and sometimes dangerous diplomatic quandary lasting until 1858, when filibuster leader William Walker was shot dead from a Cuban firing squad under the command of the Spanish Captain General.
In all diplomatic conversations where Cuba was concerned, slavery was the raison d'etre of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Spain in the first half of the 19th century. It was assumed by some Cuban slave interests, Creole planters and Peninsular bureaucrats alike, that if Cuba were annexed to the U.S., the island could participate more freely in the slave trade, protected by the British inability to board suspected slave ships flying the American flag. To maintain slavery in Cuba, in opposition to native liberal reformers, the U.S. federal government actively worked with Cuban slave-holders, aiding the suppression of political agitators for Cuban independence from Spain. Cuba's wealthy sugar planters and the American slavocracy worked towards annexing Cuba as a protectorate of the United States in order to "prevent the abolition of slavery on the island, acquire new land suitable to the slave plantation system, and to increase the South's political power in the Union." (Foner, 31, II) In 1822, a liberal deputy in the Spanish Cortes who advocated ending slavery in Cuba sparked threats from Cuban slave interests who suggested that "the deputy who would ask for the abolition of slavery in Cuba ought to have his tongue cut out."(Foner, 103, I) Meanwhile, the U.S. government also exercised its power in retaining the status quo for Cuba, that was keeping Cuba submissive to a weak Spain and thus buying time to annex the island at an opportune time when that object was less likely to cause a world war. The "Spread-Eagle Doctrine" of annexation was an important prerogative and sometimes a dangerous obsession with every American president from Jefferson down to Buchanan.
Cuba's commercial relations with the U.S., whom the former relied upon for flour, rice, fish, pork, and other goods, were mutually beneficial to their fledgling economies. Despite heavy Spanish taxes on American imports, Cuba's relationship with the United States was incredibly profitable. The volume of Cuba's trade with the U.S. surpassed that with Spain as early as 1798. This lucrative commercial relationship, though constantly harried by jealous Peninsulares abroad, and often by the loyalist colonial government at home, expanded prodigiously in the 19th century, especially so after 1820 when both American cotton and Cuban sugar exports simultaneously became their dominant exports.
For Cuban slave holders, the sugar-derived wealth and free trading privileges garnered by 1818 had come with an ominous precedent, namely the Anglo-Spanish Treaty of 1817, which immediately accorded an end of the slave trade to all Spanish possessions above the equator, and all below by 1820. The anguish felt by Cuban sugar producers, whose labor source was threatened at the very moment production was becoming profitable beyond belief, is remarkably similar to the situation American cotton planters found themselves in after 1808, when the importation of African slaves was prohibited just as Eli Whitney's cotton gin, along with continual improvements in cotton manufacturing and the rising demand for good cotton cloth, was beginning to make production tremendously lucrative. However, these were momentary distractions. The slave-holders of both Cuba and the U.S. circumvented the restrictions on the slave trade by influencing and infiltrating the bureaucracies that policed the laws. Thus, after 1817, a triangular illegal trade in African slaves flourished between Africa, Cuba, and the United States. American slave smugglers had already been collaborating with slave dealers in Cuba since 1808. The Anglo-Spanish Treaty, while allowing Britain's Navy legal jurisdiction to apprehend, board, and arrest slavers flying the Spanish flag, also initiated the full collusion between America's Cotton Kingdom and Cuba's sugar slavocracy.
In strictly numerical terms, based on the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, the treaty seemed somewhat effective as slave importation to Cuba dropped significantly from 1818 to 1821. Havana was the central terminus for slave traffic in both the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, and that port remains the locus for the analysis of slave demographics in Cuba. Still, as the trade was technically illegal, many of the slave cargoes that docked at Havana weren't documented at all, just as many other Cuban ports where slaves were unloaded, Matanzas, Santiago, Cienfuegos, Cardenas, etc, also failed to record the illicit disembarking of slaves, many of whom were unloaded at coves and bayous directly on the beach. With 2,316 miles of Cuban coastline to canvass, it is not surprising that the 30 or so Royal Navy ships stationed in the West Indies captured only 65 slavers from 1821 to 1838. The supposedly empirical evidence provided by the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database does not tabulate eyewitness observations of the illegal slave trade in action, even as estimates of the volume of illegal slave traffic prepared by the British Foreign Office in Cuba during the era (1808 to 1865) are disregarded or erroneously revised by historians such as Curtin and Eltis. The database calculates that slave imports to Cuba never reached a higher number than 26,290 in 1859. Many contemporary reports suggest otherwise. For example, in 1838, Royal Navy Commander Alexander Milne of Britain's West India Squadron reported from Havana that,
"40,000 Slaves are landed yearly in Cuba…the risk of landing [them]is not great. Our current cruise has been a very stupid one, not having caught any slavers, having seen one a long way off which escaped by the aid of a dark night. [W]e are blockading a Harbour near Havanah on a dead lee shore, it becomes somewhat tiresome. The three harbours are Mariel, Cabanas & Bahia Honda, which I suppose to be the places where the slaves are landed[.] The villains are so cunning & so cautious that they are rather difficult to find, but more difficult to capture."
(Beeler, John. Maritime Policing and the Pax Britannica:The Royal Navy's Anti-Slavery Patrol in the Caribbean,1828-1848, The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord, XVI No. 1, (January 2006), 1-20.)
A narrowing of destinations for African slaves became obvious as Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Peru, all Spanish possessions, declared independence from 1811 to 1821. Except for Peru, all of these countries had abolished slavery before 1830. This left Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Brazil anomalies, all still steadily welcoming illegal slavers and their African contraband in the face of a professed international commitment to halt the trade altogether. Brazil's declaration of independence from Portugal in 1825 and Britain's support of it resulted in Brazil officially relinquishing the slave trade in 1830, though it was only effective for two years before illegal slave trafficking began to surge there. Nonetheless, after 1830, Cuba, Brazil, and the United States remained the principal destinations for African slaves in the western hemisphere.
Unfortunately for Cuban tobacco, coffee, and cattle merchants, Spain's loss of Mexico and Peru in 1813 and 1821 respectively, necessitated a heavier burden of Spanish taxes on all Cuban trade except for sugar, the production of which required far more slaves than any other commodity on the island. This imposition, along with the Anglo-Spanish Treaty, affected the price of slaves in Cuba, which rose significantly higher than New Orleans slave prices from 1820 to 1832. The financial panic of 1819 retarded U.S. agriculture and manufacturing growth until 1823, undoubtedly influencing the higher Cuban price. However, the relative price for slaves on the African coast was 7£ per slave between 1815 and 1826, an all-time low lasting over a decade. Slaves surged into Cuba from as few as 2,000 disembarked in 1814, to over 25,000 in 1817. Though slave smuggling was profitable regardless of the price on either side of the Gulf of Mexico, the price rise in Cuba somewhat devalued the American bounty from the illegal slave trade to the U.S. for twelve years. Still, re-exportating slaves from Cuba became easier for the Americans after the Adams-Onis Treaty transferred Florida to the U.S. in 1821, thereby removing harried Spanish colonial administrators from the territory who may have compromised the illegal traffic with official complaints. Besides the minimal Spanish presence, Florida had been home only to a few thousand Creek and Seminole natives, and a small but growing contingent of runaway slaves from Georgia and the Carolinas.
U.S. Consul to Havana in the early 1820's, Jack Warner, purchased a third of Key West via a Spaniard, quickly re-selling it to American slave-ship captain Pardon C. Greene, the wealthiest inhabitant of Key West until 1838, and in whose salvage business warehouses on the island may well have camouflaged the storage of slaves from Cuba. Key West, only 90 miles north of Cuba, was important in the early years of the illegal slave trade when piracy flourished in the Gulf. The scarcity of inhabitants in Florida was an incentive for smuggling slaves there from Cuba from 1808 to 1822 (when it was recognized as a U.S. territory), a tantalizing prospect for slave traffickers as the enormous profits involved were well worth risk of encountering pirates who would steal their bounty. Florida's total population numbered only 34,000 by 1830, when the first official census was conducted there.
In fact, after a steep decline beginning in 1817, the number of slave imports to Cuba rallied after Key West was solidly in American hands, rising from about 9,000 in 1821 to almost 12,000 in 1822. However, Commodore David Porter, arch-nemesis of piracy, returned to the Caribbean in 1822 and took command of the U.S. Navy's Mosquito Squadron, prosecuting the illegal slave trade around Key West with unflagging vigor, often engaging in violent sea battles with pirates and smugglers. His enforcement of prohibition put a small dent in the overall trade, but posed no real threat to Cuba's re-exportation of slaves to the U.S. during 1822 through 1825.
At this time, Spanish reprisal of Cuban revolutionaries and restriction on her Cuban trade, coinciding with the 1823 arrival in Havana of the despotic Captain General Vives, had reversed the surge of slave imports, which fell precipitously from 12,000 to just over 4,000 that year. But, 7,000 more slaves were brought into Cuba in 1824, and at least another 13,000 in 1825. Commodore Porter was no longer a force to be reckoned with in the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico after 1825, having resigned his commission after being reprimanded for invading Puerto Rico with 200 soldiers to jail-break one of his men wrongfully imprisoned for being a pirate.
Today, commonly held perceptions concerning Caribbean piracy in the early 19th century often discount that many of the freebooters were American seamen and frontiersmen, intent on appropriating slave cargoes from other slave smugglers, the latter traveling from Cuba en route to the U.S. What confusion and horror the slaves must have felt (!) after being seized by tribesmen in Africa, marched up the Congo to be stored in a barracoon on the river, forced onto a slave ship, manacled in agony during the Middle Passage to Cuba, led from an indiscriminate port or some obscure beach to be barracooned once again on a sugar estate, then taken back to a port or beach to be loaded onto a slave dealer's ship for re-exportation, whereby pirates may or may not have later boarded the ship, forcing the slaves to transfer to their own cargo holds. Regardless, a short journey across the Gulf of Mexico or up the Atlantic coast would follow, then a last disembarking and barracooning on the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, where they were finally sold and made to march overland through swamps and forests towards whatever cotton, sugar, or rice plantation awaited their labors in the Deep South. The duration of this journey, from Africa to the U.S. and all points between, may have lasted from a few weeks to a few months.
On the east coast of Florida, Amelia Island, Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River, were all strategic slave depots; Amelia Island until 1817, when the U.S. military occupied the island, forcing the smugglers and pirates to disband. Galveston Island, nominally a part of Spain until Mexico attained full independence in 1821, had become a port of ill-repute rife with American slave smugglers and pirates who transported slaves obtained from Cuba seventy miles north to the Louisiana border for sale to indiscriminate cotton planters. Illegal trafficking was occurring also in New Orleans at this time, where corrupt customs inspectors were bribed into allowing the illegal re-exportation of slaves from Cuba. The Mexican ports of Matagorda Bay and Brazoria, Texas also became important way stations for slaves from Cuba by the early 1820's. The trafficking of illegal slaves into the U.S. became entrenched and flourished even though the Monroe administration made it a capital offense punishable by death in 1820. The U.S. navy's African Squadron, five ships sent to patrol thousands of miles of African coastline in 1820, captured only eleven slave ships in almost two years, liberating for better or worse, about 573 Africans. This mostly ineffective African Squadron was recalled in 1822 by the Monroe Administration, whose spirit of uncooperativeness with Britain underlined the U.S. refusal to grant the British the right to search and seize suspected slave ships flying American colors. A U.S. anti-slave trade naval force did not return to African waters until two decades later in 1842. (Thomas, 616)
From 1816 to 1821, African slaves were a lot more expensive in New Orleans than in Havana, 800$ for a prime-age male in 1816 to almost 1100$ by 1821, These five years saw the second largest uninterrupted influx of slaves to Cuba during the period (1808 to 1865), though the numbers dropped drastically, from over 25,000 about 5,000 slaves per annum from 1817 to 1821.
In 1823, a European military coalition of conservative autocrats, the Holy Alliance, destroyed liberalism in Spain, and with this expunging of constitutionalism, caused a new era of martial law in Cuba that lasted until 1878. The 1812 Constitution of Cadiz was repealed in Cuba and the military dictatorship of Captain General Vives and his army of 40,000 loyalist soldiers began to persecute and eradicate would-be reformers, abolitionists, and Cuban liberationists. Vive's tyrannical methods in suppressing these groups were later praised by U.S. President John Quincy Adams, who felt, as many others in Congress did, that the liberation of Africans in Cuba would surely cause a chaos of African insurrection on the cotton plantations of the South. Underscoring this sentiment was the resounding Monroe Doctrine of 1823, directly influenced by relations with Cuba, which emphatically communicated American unwillingness to meddle in the political affairs of European colonies in the Caribbean. Therefore, Cuba could keep slavery as an institution and continue to import slaves with the blessing of the President of the United States.
From 1825 on, the Permanent Executive Military Commission under command of the Captain General Vives, governed Cuba with a heavy, intrusive hand. The Captain General quickly became principal overseer of the slave trade to Cuba, and thus also became its most corrupt and handsomely bribed enabler of the trade, along with a retinue of local governors, treasury employees, judges, lawyers, customs officers and inspectors. The flow of slaves to Cuba from Africa was consistently robust during Vive's tenure, over 20,000 new slaves came in during his first two years (1823 to 1825), and thereafter never dropped lower than 12,000 slaves per annum, rising to over 20,000 in 1829, and down to around 15,000 in 1832, the year Vives' tenure in Cuba ended. Incidentally, in 1832, Cuban slave prices dropped lower relative to the New Orleans price, an American price advantage that would last a decade. Cuban corruption that abetted slave trafficking was mirrored in maritime bureaucracies at U.S. ports, supported by federal diplomatic policy that helped to sustain a thriving trade in illegal slaves to Cuba.
Amusingly, the Wikipedia entry for Vives (culled from a dubious 1901 cycle of American biographies) portrays the fairly brutal Captain General as one who "managed to maintain order and preserve the island of Cuba for Spain without troubles or any sort of violence." This could not be farther from the truth. Vives' inquisitorial methods broke up corruption in the colonial administration of Cuba, but he reconstituted it for his own enrichment by condoning "flagrant administrative abuses," most egregious of which was profiting from the trade in illegal slaves from every port in Cuba. (Quiroz, 483) To crush slave insurrections planned by liberal Creoles who desired Cuban independence, Vives engineered covert assassination plots, and he condemned rebels, blacks and whites alike, to perish in firing squads. Out of twelve Captain Generals from 1823 until 1869, only two consciously attempted to curb slave trafficking in Cuba. (Quiroz, 487)
By 1827 Cuba had surpassed Jamaica as the world's largest cane sugar supplier, accounting for 19% of the world's supply of all sugar by 1840, 25% by 1850, and roughly a third by 1860 (the British West Indies, Brazil, the East Indies, and the Mediterranean also contained a myriad of sources for sugar cane). Cuba's biggest customer was the United States, who imported over 65% of total Cuban exports by the end of the Civil War. At that time, semi-mechanized sugar mills using new steam engines and able to process an average of 441 tons of sugar were becoming prevalent in Cuba, totaling almost a thousand by 1860. In the same year, 64 fully mechanized steam-powered mills had been implemented, processing about 1, 176 tons of sugar. The first animal-driven sugar mills required the produce of 300 to 400 acres, but by 1860 the average sugar mill processed about 1500 acres. In 1860, the year that Cuban slave imports began declining to virtually nothing by 1865, approximately 296,000 slaves were working 1,365 sugar mills, while 74,000 slaves toiled on Cuba's other commodities. (Tomich, ; Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, )
19th century Cuba became the central artery for an illegal slave trade from Africa, partly because of the expanding Cuban sugar industry but perhaps more so because of exploding cotton production in the U.S. The U.S. supplied over 1/3rd of Great Britain's total cotton imports as early as 1811, and by 1860, at least 2/3rds of Manchester's raw cotton, almost 5,000,000 pounds of it, came from the U.S. (U.S. commodities are examined in greater detail in chapter one). Demand for slaves in the cotton growing regions of the South and Southwest diverted African Bozales (who had been "seasoned" and roughly acclimated to slavery) from Havana, Santiago, and other Cuban ports across the Gulf into New Orleans, Galveston, and Florida, as well as through many other minor ports of call, bayous, shoals, and cays along the Gulf Coast. An often hidden corollary to this profitable scheme was an understanding between corrupt U.S. and Cuban officials that allowed slavers relatively easy egress into Havana and other Cuban ports and thenceforth into the U.S. From 1808 to 1861 the expanding American frontier offered slave traders, many of them cotton planters themselves, politically ambiguous territory without official supervision from which to conduct their illegal business from Cuba.
President Andrew Jackson's personal nominee for U.S. Consul to Havana, Nicolas P. Trist, arrived in Cuba in 1833. Trist, married to Thomas Jefferson's granddaughter, was highly favorable towards slavery and deliberately aided slavers in disguising their ships and protecting their cargoes. His customs rubber-stamp approved fraudulent registration documents for slave ships that flew different flags, switching nationalities, to elude the anti-slave trade squadron ships. To avoid arrest if stopped by a British cruiser, slavers could fly the American flag, and if stopped by an American cruiser, Spanish or Portuguese flags would be flown.
By 1830, an independent Brazil, supported by Great Britain, agreed in principle to enforce a prohibition ending their slave trade. Therefore, Brazilian nationals conducting the African slave trade were now pirates, along with the rest of Europe's smugglers; after 1830 all flags except for the U.S. and the Portuguese (the latter had not updated an 1817 anti-slaving agreement with Britain) were technically susceptible to prosecution on the high seas by Britain's Royal Navy. Portugal again abolished the transatlantic trade in 1836, but this was another dead letter until a Parliamentary decision in 1839, sanctioned by Queen Victoria, gave the British navy unilateral powers for the seizure of Portuguese slave ships. Thus, after 1839, the American flag became for slave traffickers the only remaining national flag that guaranteed some measure of immunity from British interference. This circumstance rendered American involvement in the slave trade more conspicuous than ever, and the situation became a source of international embarrassment for the federal government as American slavers caught red-handed with slaves began to stream into New York escorted by British warships. To make matters worse, destinations for smuggled African slaves had dwindled further due to Britain's abolition of slavery on all of her Caribbean possessions in 1834.
Consul Trist flagrantly refused to comply with the prohibition of slave trafficking in Cuba for eight years, 1833 to 1841. Coinciding with Trist's arrival was a surge in the New Orleans slave price index compared to Cuban slave prices on the whole, an incredible price escalation lasting until 1842. Prime-age male slaves were about $700 per slave in 1832, and over $1,300 by 1837, falling to about $600 in 1842, when Consul Trist was finally officially investigated and recalled to the U.S. for his illicit activities, though he was never demoted or punished for them.
The volume of slave imports to Cuba leaped to over 25,000 slaves in 1835, sustaining to no lower than 19,000 per annum until 1841. In 1835, Queen Regent Maria Cristina, entangled in a military contest with the Carlists because of the Bourbon argument over dynastic succession for the Spanish crown, reluctantly signed the Spanish Equipment Clause with Great Britain in exchange for their support against the Carlists. In fact, Queen Regent Maria Cristina personally received approximately a million pesos annually from the largesse of profits plundered from the slave trade by Cuban treasury officials. The Clause allowed both the British and Spanish navies permission to board each other's vessels and arrest their crews if any supplies or equipment for the purposes of furnishing a slave cargo were found onboard. Though the risk of apprehension by naval authorities increased for slave smugglers after 1835, the Equipment Clause had no appreciable effect on the volume of Africans landing in Cuba, where over 21,000 slaves per annum arrived from 1835 until 1838.
Meanwhile, fierce peninsular loyalist, Captain General Miguel Tacon, also used slave trafficking profits for his own purposes from 1834 to 1838, taking "his half-ounce of gold for every slave landed on the island illicitly", netting him over 430,000 pesos during his tenure. Tacon made financial arrangements with bank directors and slave traffickers so that in exchange for "voluntary donations, private depositors were granted preference in the consignment of seized illegal slaves under established rules and responsibilities." (Foner,176; Quiroz, 485)
Slave trafficking from Cuba, as opposed to the legal "coast-wise" trade that emanated from Maryland and Virginia, was extremely lucrative for Americans who collaborated to sell slaves smuggled from Africa to Cuba, thenceforth into New Orleans and Galveston. By the 1840's, a single smuggling operation could gross over $200,000. After sailing from Baltimore, Newport, Providence, Boston, Portland, and other Yankee ports, slavers often first stopped in Cuba to re-register their ships under an assumed name, and then obtained "false bills of sale of vessels [and] a double set of papers" (Rees, 194) for fraudulent conversion of ownership when flying whatever flag suited their circumstance. Sometimes, the slave ships were burned or scuttled after returning from Africa to cover their tracks. This was no great loss, especially since the sale of the slave cargo netted everybody more than a fortune, wealth shared by the slave dealer, the captain and his crew, the customs clerks, U.S. marshals, and district attorneys, etc. The legal domestic slave trade was very often confused with the illegal trade. Ships from the Atlantic Coast traveling around the Florida peninsula were often indistinguishable from those traveling up from Cuba. Still, the logistical difficulties in ensuring the legality of any given slave that entered a port or crossed state lines were too easily bypassed by counterfeit certification of the slaves drawn up by the trafficker or dealer. Bogus documentation issued by corrupt Cuban and American customs bureaucrats for the purpose of importing illegal slaves, poses sharp questions about the validity of census information regarding slaves who were transported in the "legal" domestic trade.
American and British laws for policing the slave trade were at cross-purposes. The hierarchical network of federal corruption in the U.S. gave slave smugglers a rather long leash from 1808 until 1862, when U.S. Captain Gordon was executed by the federal government for the crime, the first and only U.S. citizen prosecuted to the full extent of the forty-two year old law that had made slave smuggling a capital crime. The difference in policy was clear: slaves liberated by the British were "Recaptives" and became subjects and the responsibility of the British Empire, while slaves who were unlucky enough to be "liberated" by Americans were promptly re-sold as slaves in legal slave markets within the states. Captains in Britain's Africa Squadron found themselves entangled in protracted international legalese concerning the property rights of American slavers. Britain's right to search and seize American vessels suspected as slavers was repeatedly denied by the U.S. Congress until 1862. (Freebooters and Smuggler, Starks, 2007; Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships That Stopped the Slave Trade, Rees, 2009)
In 1846, Ezra Seaman, prominent economist and theorist, estimated that over 100,000 slaves were illegally imported to the U.S. from 1830 to 1840. (Tenzer, ) In that decade, according to the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, 186,179 slaves arrived in Cuba, more than at any other time during the 19th century. There were many factors for the increased importance of slavery after 1830, not the least of which was Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal policies that resulted in the mass exodus of Chickasaws, Creeks, and Cherokees from Mississippi, Alabama, and the Tennessee Valley by 1835. Speculative land ventures in these emptied-out areas, often contingent upon future cotton profits, was a major reason behind the Panic of 1837, the year that New Orleans slave prices shot to their highest, over $1,300 for a prime-age male slave. Not until 1859 did U.S. slave prices top those of 1837. Slave prices rose in contrast to U.S. cotton prices, which fell about 7¢, from almost 16¢ per pound in 1834 to only 9¢ per pound in 1837. Also, by this time the Texas Revolution was underway, where in 1836, slave-dealers and expansionist military adventurers defended themselves at the Alamo from Santa Anna's Mexican army who threatened their right to import slaves. There were at least 5,000 slaves in Texas at the time Santa Anna was captured by Sam Houston's men in 1836. In 1837, the British Foreign Office recorded slavers departing Havana bound for the Republic of Texas. Mexican authorities in Havana corroborate these instances of slave transshipment from Cuba to Texas. (Starks, 136)
1837 was the beginning of a steep decline in the numbers of slaves arriving in Cuba, from well over 21,000 per annum, dropping to about 4,000 by 1842. 1842 was a turbulent year in Cuba, the year when British Consul to Havana, David Turnbull, was forced to sail from Cuba back to Britain, because of the commotion and "intense hatred" he had caused among elite Creole planters. With an eye towards emancipation, Turnbull, an ardent abolitionist acting on the directive of Lord Palmerston, had proposed a census of slaves in Cuba, an imposition that would have revealed the extent that smuggled slaves had added to the population. Creole slave-holders had always been granted ample discretion by the colonial government in securing their wares, as a "conniving understanding between between planters, slave traffickers, and corrupt officials facilitated the clandestine and systematic arrival of bozales, who were swiftly taken to private estates where authorities seldom enforced their inquiries." (Quiroz, 481)
The Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 renewed U.S. cooperation with Britain to suppress the slave trade, and so the African Squadron returned to patrolling the West African coastline, this time with four ships instead of five, commanded by a succession of disinterested commanders who in following the example of Naval Secretary Abel Upshur, did "not regard the success of their efforts [in suppressing the slave trade] as their paramount interest." (Sooldalter, 35) Rather, protecting the commercial interests of the U.S. from the British was more important than stopping slave ships. The U.S. African Squadron's arrest record was abysmal until the election of Abraham Lincoln.
In 1842, because of a U.S. tariff imposed on Cuban sugar, slave prices in Cuba began to exceed New Orleans prices until 1844. Before Cuba's African slave trade ended for good in 1867, the absolute nadir for Cuba's slave imports came in 1846, when 432 slaves disembarked. This was due in large part to the stringent abolitionist policies begun by the relentless British Consul Turner who had gone to great lengths in stirring up slave revolts in Cuba. Great Britain passed landmark economic legislation in 1846, directly influencing the slave trade thereafter. The Sugar Duties Act of 1846 was a liberal experiment that wholly embraced free trade, or at least tariffs on foreign-grown sugar were reduced and phased out by 1851. It created a higher demand for slaves in Cuba and importations were back up to over 8,000 by 1839. The Sugar Duties Act also incurred a demand for sugar throughout Europe despite the best intentions of the Anti-Saccharines, and prices rose accordingly from about 5¢ per pound in 1845 to over 8¢ in 1846. This measure put a spotlight on the perceived morality of importing slave-grown produce, igniting abolitionist fervor, even as some opponents of it were understandably afraid that free trade would bankrupt the West Indies, as it did, especially since free-labor British sugar production in the Caribbean, inefficient and inconsistent since 1834, had to compete with slave-intensive sugar cultivation in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Brazil.
The most sinister of all the Cuban Captain Generals, Leopoldo O'Donnell, reported for duty in 1843, bringing with him a savage intolerance for abolitionists like David Turnbull. O'Donnell employed his army in massacring slaves who rebelled numerous times at Matanzas sugar mills during 1843. In 1844, word leaked out of a large-scale conspiracy led by liberal Creoles, free blacks, and slaves. O'Donnell brutally nipped the revolution in the bud, by arresting over 3,000 people, condemning hundreds to death, imprisoning nearly two thousand, and exiling many others. His zero-tolerance purges of Cuban liberalism lasted throughout his tenure, spanning a time when the fewest slaves were landed in Cuba, about 31,000 from 1843 to 1848. International reactions to O'Donnell's methods were not approving, provoking Lord Aberdeen to threaten Spain with naval force. The Cortes capitulated somewhat, renewing their commitment to stop the trade in 1845 with a treaty, promising to incarcerate anyone involved for up to eight years. Still, the Cuban slavocracy largely ignored the treaty after considering the wording in Article 9, which restricted officials in "proceed[ing] against or disturbing slave proprietors in their possession of slaves under pretext of their origin, [meaning that] once the slaves had been introduced illegally into the plantations, there was no legal way to recover them or proceed against their owners." Though slave-imports during O'Donnell's Captaincy were generally lower, he still received bribes from slave-holders and dealers alike, netting him over $500,000 by the time he left in 1839. (Foner, 212, 221)
All of the treaties, manifestos, and diplomatic posturing in the era of the illegal transatlantic slave trade had little effect on the illegal importation of slaves from Africa. In conclusion, the main proofs of the re-export of many if not most of the African imported to Cuba after 1808 is that:
1) The African percentage of the Cuban population decreased from 58% in 1841 to 43% in 1861. Although, far fewer Europeans than Africans arrived there during that period (both categories may well have had comparable reproduction and mortality rates).
2) The dramatic decline of the arrivals from Africa after 1859, when over 26,000 slaves per annum dwindled to 722 in 1866. Of course it took awhile for the slavers to even learn about the outbreak of war and the blockade in 1861, which many may have expected to end soon. In any case there were doubtless on hand so many in 1860, being seasoned and broken in that the inventory was more than enough to supply the needs for Cuban plantations for almost a decade however high the mortality rate and low the reproduction rate was for that number of years.
3) The relatively very light skin and other genetic traits of Europeans of the Cuban population after 1860, and even before 1880, when all immigration from Africa ceased and European immigration increased.
4) With the rapid improvement of productivity in sugar industry, a much smaller labor force could produce much more molasses, raw sugar, and refined sugar, so that the need for new Africans steadily diminished.