Slavery: Yesterday and Today

The institution of slavery was never a uniquely American thing. It’s a human thing. It’s a thing that each generation of humans must grapple with, but just as most Americans didn’t own slaves or even know slaves most of us in modern times fail to see the slavery all around us.

Some humans of every stripe like power. They go to the dark side. Evil exists in the hearts of men. All men. We choose. Daily.

Cotton was once king and demanded laborers in the field. Today sex and sneakers drive trade in humans. Let’s compare, shall we?

1. An estimated 29.8 million people live in modern slavery today

2. Slavery generates $32 billion for traffickers globally each year

3. Approximately 78% of victims are enslaved for labor, 22% of victims are enslaved for sex

4. 55% of slavery victims are women and girls

5. 26% of slaves today are children under the age of 18

6. An estimated 60,000 victims of slavery are enslaved in the United States.

  •  The 2013 Walk Free Global Slavery Index places U.S. at 134th out of 162 countries
  •  Rankings were determined based on three factors: a country’s estimated slavery prevalence by population, a measure of child marriage and a measure of human trafficking.

7. Iceland, Ireland and the United Kingdom tied for the ranking of 160 in the 2013 Global Slavery Index. However, even with the top ranking in the survey, these countries are not free from slavery. In the United Kingdom alone, there are an estimated 4,200 to 4,600 victims of slavery.

8. The country with the highest percentage of of its population in slavery is Mauritania with approximately 4% of the total population enslaved. This amounts to roughly 140,000 to 160,000 people enslaved — Mauritania’s total population is only a mere 3.8 million.

9. India has the largest number of slavery victims at a horrifying 14 million.

10. The top 10 per-capita slavery hot spots are:

Cote d’Ivoire



The face of modern slavery courtesy of Atlanta Black Star



“The level of slave exports grew from about 36,000 a year during the early 18th century to almost 80,000 a year during the 1780s.

The Angolan region of west-central Africa made up slightly more than half of all Africans sent to the Americas and a quarter of imports to British North America.

Approximately 11,863,000 Africans were shipped across the Atlantic, with a death rate during the Middle Passage reducing this number by 10-20 percent. As a result between 9.6 and 10.8 million Africans arrived in the Americas.

About 500,000 Africans were imported into what is now the U.S. between 1619 and 1807–or about 6 percent of all Africans forcibly imported into the Americas. About 70 percent arrived directly from Africa.

Well over 90 percent of African slaves were imported into the Caribbean and South America. Only about 6 percent of imports went directly to British North America. Yet by 1825, the U.S. had a quarter of blacks in the New World.

The majority of African slaves were brought to British North America between 1720 and 1780. (Average date of arrival for whites is 1890)


American plantations were dwarfed by those in the West Indies. About a quarter of U.S. slaves lived on farms with 15 or fewer slaves. In 1850, just 125 plantations had over 250 slaves.

In the Caribbean, Dutch Guiana and Brazil, the slave death rate was so high and the birth rate so low that they could not sustain their population without importations from Africa. Rates of natural decrease ran as high as 5 percent a year. While the death rate of U.S. slaves was about the same as that of Jamaican slaves, the fertility rate was more than 80 percent higher.

US slaves were further removed from Africa than those in the Caribbean. In the 19th century, the majority of slaves in the British Caribbean and Brazil were born in Africa. In contrast, by 1850, most U.S. slaves were third-, fourth-, or fifth generation Americans.


Slavery in the US was distinctive in the near balance of the sexes and the ability of the slave population to increase its numbers by natural reproduction.

Unlike any other slave society, the U.S. had a high and sustained natural increase in the slave population for a more than a century and a half.

In 1860, 89 percent of the nation’s African Americans were slaves; blacks formed 13 percent of the country’s population and 33 percent of the South’s population.

In 1860, less than 10 percent of the slave population was over 50 and only 3.5 percent was over 60.

The average age of first birth for slave women was around 20. Child spacing averaged about 2 years.

The average number of children born to a slave woman was 9.2–twice as many in the West Indies.

Most slaves lived in nuclear households consisting of two parents and children: 64 percent nuclear; 21 percent single parents; 15 percent non-family.

Mother-headed families were 50 percent more frequent on plantations with 15 or fewer slaves than on large ones. Smaller units also had a disproportionately large share of families in which the father and mother lived on different plantations for most of the week.

Average number of persons per household was 6.

Average age of women at birth of their first child was about 21.

Few slaves lived into old age. Between 1830 and 1860, only 10 percent of slaves in North America were over 50 years old.”



14 responses to “Slavery: Yesterday and Today”

  1. I can’t get into the rest of the article either, but the photos are fabulous! I used to teach To Be a Slave by Julius Lester. Do you know it? It uses quotes from former slaves to put together a good idea of what it was like to be a slave.
    It’s important to contextualize our world today by a broad knowledge of history, and that is lacking more and more. I’ve been thinking about that a lot reading your book especially since I am not going through the debates about the situation of the Apache.


    • The more you dig the crazier it gets. That’s the tough part about teaching history–you have such a limited amount of time to give extremely complicated and nuanced renderings of time, place and humanity.

      We still want to say “those people” are bad and “these people” are good but it’s never that simple. It’s not even simple when looking inward. 🙂

      And you live in Arizona!!

      I’m so happy you’re reading my book, but something happened last week that really made me realize how much I need to re-edit. I think I’ll do a post about it as it was a surprisingly positive realization about how far I’ve come in the last 15 years.

      I love my characters even more now that I’ve written 5 novels about them so this winter will be the time to yet again (but with better help) do an intensive re-editing on the one that started my journey. I feel I owe it to my characters (and readers) to present them with less silly typos and such!

      Such is the life of an independent writer! I’m truly grateful for every reader. Thanks, Luanne.



  2. To my knowledge there are no slaves in Britain, at least none from British descent. Of course we practically invented ‘wage slavery’ with our totally inhuman industrial revolution (I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Luddite by the way!) but that’s perhaps another story.
    But what gets me about all this is that whenever we are talking about national percentages the numbers get very silly indeed. For instance, I don’t know if you recall this but about a year ago (I think it was) several cities across Britain suddenly announced that they had “uncovered” an elaborate system of sexual slavery that had been operating quite flagrantly right under the noses of the authorities concerned. At first this shocked everyone: how could this be? Turns out that 100 percent of these cases involved immigrant communities who saw absolutely nothing wrong with the practice whatsoever!
    Interestingly enough the media chose to tell the story as if this was a society-wide endemic problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. These were tight knit neighborhoods into which the police had decided they had no need to venture, either that or they were justifiably scared – either way, for this sort of lawlessness to be passively condoned by the authorities was criminally insane. Girls as young as 9 were simply channeled into a system of prostitution that carried horrible penalties should they chose an alternative career path.
    When confronted with their lack of intervention the chiefs of police of Rotherham, Oldham and several other large towns and cities all cited the same pathetic defense: ‘We just thought it was part of their culture’. Well, yes of course, but ‘their’ culture should have been left upon the shores from whence they came!
    Sorry for the long comment but your article touched upon so many ridiculous assumptions mouthed by people who wouldn’t know a history book from a McDonalds menu.
    I wouldn’t usually allow myself to get so wound up about this subject because, as you rightly say, slavery is as synonymous with the human ‘civilization’ as is the act of sex itself, and with events currently spiraling out of control across Europe I feel compelled to speak out. NO society is perfect, but some are more evil than others.
    In spite of all the misinformation I am proud of my northern European culture and hate to see the fountain of liberty stomped into the dirt by people who hold no such values of individual freedom and self-expression.
    Again, sorry for this long-winded rant but your articles do do their job. Too many people simply allow the devious media to tell them what to think. We may not agree on everything, but as far as freedom of thought goes I think we see eye-to-eye. Please keep up the good work!


    • BRAVO!! Americans (and I suspect Europeans) have been brainwashed to be self-loathing. It’s easy when you trash history and replace it with opinions.

      Your story about the police reminds me of the American soldier who got in BIG trouble for stopping a young Muslim boy from being raped. The reason–it’s part of their culture.

      My aunt is a feminist who married a Sharia lawyer!!! Don’t get it.

      How is it that a person who respects the Constitution is now seen as a radical?? It wasn’t radical even 30 years ago.

      I love passionate people, BTW. Rock on.


      Liked by 1 person

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