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100 Years Ago

Black History
Civil War
Gold Rush
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Banning of Slave Imports

The British Empire’s abolition of international slave trading in 1808 (passed by Parliament in 1807, effective 1808), followed quickly by the United States’ prohibition on the importation of slaves (passed by Congress in 1807, effective 1808), was a turning point in the fight to ban the practice. Napoleon’s final demise in 1815 by the British and her allies, gave the British the opportunity to exert substantial influence during the peace negotiations to promote an end to slavery. The pressure succeeded and slave trading was banned by most of the European countries.

The Ashburton Treaty of 1842 with the United States gave monitoring powers to the anti-slavery nations, enabling them to further eliminate the practice by patrolling Africa’s west coast. In 1845, England and France joined together to replace this consortium of nations with their own powerful naval forces giving them the same right to search suspicious vessels. Although this did not end the slave trade, it reduced it dramatically. This caused a shortage of slaves which resulted in better ship conditions for those unfortunates who continued to be enslaved.

The 1808 U.S. ban on slave trading stopped the legal importation of slaves causing a serious shortage of slave labor to tend rice, tobacco, sugar cane, and cotton fields of the agricultural south. To meet this need for workers a new and repulsive industry was spawned, slave-rearing. Although slave-rearing took place before the ban, (as evidenced by the following advertisement), it did take on a more important economic and commercial role in the early 1800s, with Virginia becoming the largest exporter of human slaves to other states. A Charleston, South Carolina, 1796 advertisement said: "...they are not Negroes selected out of a larger gang for the purpose of a sale, but are prime, their present Owner, with great trouble and expense, selected them out of many for several years past. They were purchased for stock and breeding Negroes, and for any Planter who particularly wanted them for that purpose, they are a very choice and desirable gang."

John Randolph, who would later play a part in the history of this area, said on numerous occasions during the tariff debates of 1824, "...that if the decrease of value in slave labor (in Virginia) continued and the slaves did not run away from their masters, the masters would have to run away from their slaves." Allan Nevins, in his book "Slave Trading in the Old South" says that Randolph’s comment was a serious figure of speech from his (Randolph’s) point of view, for he, being an emancipationist could not think of selling his Negroes, although they were increasing in value.

In a South Carolina case in 1844 it was recorded that a "Mr. Gist did not disguise the fact that he wanted to sell [two Negro girls] because they had an objectionable habit of eating dirt, and which, in his opinion, rendered them unprofitable as breeding women." The degradation of women to machines producing workers, with the ultimate separation and sale of their offspring, may have prompted these women to eat dirt to avoid such a fate. An advertisement in the "Louisville Weekly Journal", May 2, 1849, states: "I wish to sell a Negro woman and four children. The woman is 22 years old, of good character, a good cook and washer. The children are very likely from 6 years down to 1 1/2. I will sell them separately to suit purchasers." Many slave owners, in an attempt to be humane, did attach restrictions to their sale announcements. The "Cambridge Chronicle", Maryland, October 25, 1834, "A young Negro man, of good character, living in the neighborhood of Cambridge - Also a Negro woman, about thirty-two or thirty-three years old, with a girl child five or six years old, residing in the neighborhood of Vienna. They will not be sold to go out of the county; and (are to) have a choice of masters."

'Black History' segment written in June, 1998 by David Lodge


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