American Abolitionists and Antislavery Activists:
Conscience of the Nation

Updated February 14, 2017










l to r: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips




Fact Sheet: History of Slavery and Abolition in the United States


We present here a fact sheet on slavery and the abolition and anti-slavery movements in the United States.  We hope this will give you an overview of these issues and give you a greater depth of understanding of these important topics.

 

Slavery in British Colonial North America – 1619-1776

 

20 million Africans were captured for the slave trade.  More than half died before they reached the coast.[1]

 

10-12 million Africans were sold into slavery by African-to-European slave traders.  Some estimates run as high as 15 million.[2]

 

European slave traders shipped more than 11 million across the Atlantic; 9.6 million reached the Americas.  More than 60 percent came from West Central Africa and the Bight of Benin.[3]

 

Between 1 million and 2.2 million enslaved individuals died during shipment to the New World.  It was called the “Middle Passage.”  It took as long as 10 weeks.[4]

 

Approximately 400,000 enslaved individuals were brought to the British North American colonies and the United States by the African slave trade before it was outlawed in 1808.

 

African Slave Imports into British North America and the United States, Including Louisiana[5]

 

1620-1700

20,500

1701-1760

188,600

1761-1770

62,668

1771-1780

14,902

1771-1790

55,750

1791-1800

79,041

1801-1810

114,090

1761-1810   Louisiana imports

10,200

1810-1870

  51,000

Total

596,751

 

Countries that transported enslaved individuals to the New World:

            England, France, Spain Portugal, Netherlands, United States.[6]

 

August 20, 1619, is the approximate start of slavery in the British North American colonies.  “Twenty and odd Africans were sold by a Dutch ship in the Jamestown colony.”  About four percent of the total slave trade went to the British North American colonies.  Half of the slaves were men, less than twenty-five percent were children.

 

The first Fugitive Acts were passed in the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1630.

 

December 1641 is the date of the first Slave Law in the British North American colonies.  It was Section 91 of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties.  In 1661, Virginia laws made all Black indentured servants to be servants for life.

 

Agricultural crops that utilized slave labor in North America:

Tobacco – Virginia, Chesapeake region, beginning Seventeenth Century

Corn – Virginia, Chesapeake region, beginning Seventeenth Century; later cultivated in Georgia and Mississippi

Rice – Low country of South Carolina, Georgia, 1725-1860s

Indigo – Coastal South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, 1740s-1790s

Long staple cotton – Sea Islands, Georgia

Short staple cotton – Sea Islands, Georgia, Lower Mississippi Valley, Middle south Carolina through East Texas, 1790s-1860s; short staple cotton utilized half the slaves in the South[7]

Sugar industry – sugar cane; South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Southern Louisiana, Lower Mississippi Valley[8]

 

Number of enslaved individuals in England at the time of the ending of slavery:  15,000[9]

 

Slavery in the United States – 1776-1860

 

Total number of enslaved individuals in the British North American colonies and the United States between 1619 and 1865:  5 million

 

Number of U.S. Presidents who owned slaves: 12

They were: George Washington (between 250-350 slaves); Thomas Jefferson (about 200); James Madison (more than 100); James Monroe (about 75); Andrew Jackson (fewer than 200); Martin Van Buren (one); William Henry Harrison (eleven); John Tyler (about 70); James Polk (about 25); Zachary Taylor (fewer than 150); Andrew Johnson (probably eight); Ulysses S. Grant (probably five).[10]

Number of U.S. Presidents who owned slaves while in office: 8

They were: George Washington; Thomas Jefferson; James Madison; James Monroe; Andrew Jackson; John Tyler; James Polk; Zachary Taylor[11]

 

When George Washington inherited Mt. Vernon in 1752, it had 18 enslaved individuals.  At the time of his death in 1799, he owned 200 enslaved individuals.[12]

 

Thomas Jefferson was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769.  His first act was to try to free the enslaved individuals in the colony.[13]  Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826.  This was the 50th anniversary, to the day, of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  By then, he had only manumitted 5 of the many enslaved individuals he owned.  After his death, these enslaved individuals were sold to pay his debts.

 

After the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, the production of cotton became much more profitable. 

 

The beginning of the Second Middle Passage.  Between 1790 and the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, more than one million enslaved individuals were sold and moved to the deep south to work in the cotton fields.  This was the largest forced migration in American history.  Countless generations of enslaved families were separated forever.  The breeding of enslaved individuals for labor and for sale became ever more widespread.  More than three and a half million individuals were born into slavery.

 

Between 1790 and 1832, Virginia Governor Randolph estimated that 260,000 enslaved individuals were sold and moved to the deep South.  This is approximately 6,000 per year.[14]

 

In 1790, the first United States Census showed 757,181 Blacks, among whom 697,624 were slaves, 59,557 were free.  Blacks were 19.3% of the population.[15]

 

In 1800, the second United States Census showed 1,001,436 Blacks in the U.S.  This was 18.9% of the total population.  There were 893,041 slaves and 108,395 free Blacks.[16]

 

In 1810, the third United States Census determined that there were 1,191,364 slaves and 186,446 free Blacks.  They were 19% of the total population.[17]

 

In 1820, the fourth United States Census reported that there were 1,538,038 slaves and 233,524 free Blacks in the United States.  This was 18.4% of the country’s population.[18]

 

In 1830, the fifth Census of the United States indicated there were 2,009,043 slaves and 319,599 free Blacks in the United Sates.  This was a 30% increase from 1820.  Blacks constituted 18.1% of the national population.[19]

 

In 1840, the Census of the United States indicated that there were 2,487,455 slaves living in the United States.  There were also 386,303 free Blacks, for a total of 2,873,758.  This was an increase of 26.62% from 1830.[20]

 

In 1850, United States Census figured show that there were 3,204,313 slaves in the United States.  This was an increase of 28.82% since 1840.  There were 434,449 free Blacks, for a total of 3,638,762.  Blacks comprised 15.7% of the total U.S. population.

 

Slavery in the United States - 1860

 

Total population of the United States in 1860, according to census reports: 31,443,321[21]

The total number of enslaved individuals in the United States in 1860:  3,953,760

Enslaved individuals as a percentage of the US population in 1860:  13%

Increase in enslaved individuals in the US from 1850 to 1860: 23.39%

Number of free Black persons in US in 1860: 487,970

Proportion of Blacks in the US in 1860 who were enslaved: 89%

 

There were 8 million Whites living in the South.[22]  383,637 of them owned slaves.  The price of a healthy field hand slave was approximately $1,200-1,800.

 

Number of slaveholding states in 1860: 15[23]

Total population of these slaveholding states in 1860: 12,240,000

Number of enslaved individuals in the US in 1860: 3,953,696

Number of free Blacks in slaveholding states in 1860: 251,000

Enslaved individuals as a percentage of the total population in the South:  32%

 

Number of slaveholders in the South in 1860: 383,637

More than 75% of Southerners did not own slaves.

In South Carolina and Mississippi, 50% of all families owned slaves, 88% owned 20 or fewer, 72% owned fewer than 10 enslaved individuals, 50% owned fewer than 5.

10,000 Southern families were considered large slaveholders.

 

The enslaved populations by state in the South in 1860 were:[24]

Alabama:  435,080

Arkansas:  111,115

Florida:  61,745

Georgia:  462,198

Louisiana:  331,726

Mississippi:  436,631

North Carolina:  331,059

South Carolina:  402,406

Tennessee:  275,719

Texas:  182,566

Virginia:  490,865

 

The enslaved populations by state in the Border States in 1860 were:[25]

Delaware:  1,798

District of Columbia:  3,185

Kentucky:  225,483

Maryland:  87,189

Missouri:  114,931

 

Enslaved population in major Southern cities in 1860:[26]

Augusta, Georgia:  3,663

Charleston, South Carolina:  13,909

Louisville, Kentucky:  4,903

Mobile, Alabama:  7,587

Nashville, Tennessee:  3,226

New Orleans, Louisiana:  13,385 

Norfolk, Virginia:  3,284

Petersburg, Virginia:  5,680

Richmond, Virginia:  11,699

Savannah, Georgia:  7,712

Wilmington, North Carolina:  3,777

 

According to the Constitution, enslaved individuals were counted as three-fifths of a person for tallying representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

These states had 45 congressional representatives and 14 senators.  The enslaved individuals residing in the South gave the South a disproportionate representation in Congress.  The reason that the slave states could dictate national policy was the direct result of the millions of enslaved individuals living within their borders.[27]

 

Number of enslaved individuals who escaped in 1850:  1,011 (1 for each 3,165 held in slavery, or about one thirtieth of one percent)[28]

 

Fugitive slaves in 1860:  803 (one slave per 5,000, or one fiftieth of one percent)[29]

 

Number of enslaved individuals who were freed by manumission, 1860:  3,000[30]

Number of enslaved individuals who were manumitted in 1850:  1,309[31]

 

Increase in population of enslaved individuals in the United States: 

Number of enslaved individuals in the United States in 1790:  697,897[32]

Number of enslaved individuals in the United States in 1860:  3,953,760[33]

This is a 567% increase in 70 years.

 

Number of Blacks who emigrated to Liberia between 1820 and 1856:  9,502, of whom 3,676 were free-born[34]

 

Total Economic Value That Slavery Contributed to the United States

 

The total value of the contribution of five million slaves to the United States economy between 1776 and 1865 was TBD.  This comprises TBD% of the total value of the United States industrial and agricultural economy.

 

The total economic value of the four million slaves in the United States in 1860 was worth more than all factories, railroads, buildings, and the entire economic output.  The only thing more valuable was the value of the land itself.

 

Slave Revolts

 

There were sixty-five recorded North American slave revolts.  The three best known were led by Gabriel Prosser (1800), Nat Turner (1831) and Denmark Vesey (1822).

 

Slave Narratives

 

Between 1760 and 1967, more than 200 slave narratives were published in England and the United States.  Among them are autobiographies of former slaves, Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup, William Wells Brown, Josiah Henson, Moses Roper, Austin Steward, etc.  Between 1936 and 1938, more than 2,200 former slaves were interviewed by the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).[35]

 

Abolition and Anti-Slavery Movements in the United States

 

There were no anti-slavery societies, newspapers, or magazines before the American Revolution.[36]

 

Quakers originated the anti-slavery movement in the North American colonies.[37]

 

Rodger Williams and Chief Justice Samuel Sewall, who wrote The Selling of Joseph (1700) were the first colonists to oppose slavery.[38]

 

In 1827, there were approximately 130 anti-slavery societies in the United States: 106 were in the slave South.[39]

 

In 1835, there were 225 abolitionist and anti-slavery societies in the United States.[40]

 

In 1837, there were 1,006 abolitionist groups in the United States.[41]

 

In 1838, there were an estimated 1,406 abolitionist and anti-slavery organizations in the United States, with approximately 115,000 members.[42]

 

By the beginning of the Civil War, it is estimated that there were 255,000 individuals, both Black and White, involved in the anti-slavery and abolitionist movement in the United States.

 

America was the second to the last country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery.  Brazil was the last country, ending slavery in 1888.

 

Freeing of Enslaved People, by State[43]

 

In 1774, Rhode Island prohibited the importation of slaves into the colony.  In 1775, it enacted a law declaring children of slave mothers will be born free.

In 1778, Virginia prohibited the importation of slaves from Africa.

Massachusetts abolished slavery in the Bill of Rights in 1780.

In 1780, Pennsylvania prohibited the introduction of slaves into the state and decreed that children born of slave mothers would be declared free.

In 1783, Maryland prohibited the importation of slaves.

In 1784, the state of Connecticut prohibited the introduction of slaves and declared children of slaves born after March of that year would be declared free at the age of 26.

In 1792, New Hampshire abolished slavery.

In 1799, New York abolished slavery.

The United States abolished, by Federal law, the importation of slaves from the African trade in 1808. 

In 1820, New Jersey abolished slavery.

In 1850, slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia.

 

Emancipation of Enslaved People during the Civil War

 

500,000 enslaved individuals left their places of enslavement when the Union Army entered slave states.  Many of them followed the Union Army or escaped behind Union Army lines.  Many of these individuals volunteered as laborers for the Army.  They were cooks, teamsters, builders, engineers, etc.

 

180,000 African Americans served in the Union Army during the Civil War.  40,000 were killed.

 

Congressional Apologies for Slavery

 

On July 29, 2008, the United States House of Representatives issued an apology for slavery in the form of House Resolution 194.  The resolution:

“(1) acknowledges that slavery is incompatible with the basic founding principles recognized in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal;

(2) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow;

(3) apologizes to African Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow; and

(4) expresses its commitment to rectify the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African Americans under slavery and Jim Crow and to stop the occurrence of human rights violations in the future.”

 

On June 18, 2009, the United States Senate issues an apology for slavery in the form of Senate Concurrent Resolution 26.  The resolution provides:

“(1) apology for the enslavement and segregation of African-Americans. The Congress

(A) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws;

(B) apologizes to African Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws; and

(C) expresses its recommitment to the principal that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society.

(2) DISCLAIMER. – Nothing in this Resolution—

(A) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or

(B) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”

 

Fact Sheet Bibliography

 

Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860; Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1864.

Dumond, Dwight Lowell. Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1961.

Long, E. B., with Barbara Long. The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac, 1861-1865. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1971.

Miller, Randall M., and John D. Smith, Eds., Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery, New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Rodriguez, Junius P., ed. Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, and Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2007.

 

 


 

 


 


 

Footnotes

[1] Dumond, p. 4; Rodriquez, pp. 497-498.

[2] Dumond, Dwight Lowell. Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1961, p. 4; Rodriguez, Junius P., ed. Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, and Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2007, pp. 497-498.

[3] Dumond, p. 4; Rodriquez, pp. 497-498.

[4] Dumond, p. 4; Rodriquez, pp. 497-498.

[5] Miller, Randall M., and John D. Smith, Eds., Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery, New York: Greenwood Press, 1988, p. 678.

[6] Dumond.

[7] Miller & Smith, pp. 34-36.

[8] Miller & Smith, p. 37.

[9] Dumond, p. 5.

[10] http://hauensteincenter.org/slaveholding/ downloaded 2/28/2015.

[11] http://hauensteincenter.org/slaveholding/ downloaded 2/28/2015.

[12] Dumond.

[13] Dumond.

[14] Dumond, p. 68.

[15] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860; Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1864, p. ix.

[16] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. ix.

[17] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. ix.

[18] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. ix.

[19] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. ix.

[20] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. ix.

[21] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. 599.

[22] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. vii.

[23] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. vii.

[24] Long, p. 702.

[25] Long, p. 701.

[26] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. xiii.

[27] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. ix; Dumond, p. 70.

[28] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. xvi.

[29] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. xvi.

[30] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. xv.

[31] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. xv.

[32] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. viii.

[33] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. viii.

[34] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. ix.

[35] Miller & Smith, p. 698.

[36] Dumond, p. 16; Drake, p. 5.

[37] Dumond, p. 16; Drake, p. 5.

[38] Dumond, p. 16.

[39] Miller & Smith, p. 3.

[40] Dumond, p. 189.

[41] Dumond, p. 189.

[42] Dumond, p. 189.

[43] Bureau of the Census. Population of the United States in 1860, p. xiv.