The Astonishing Facts about Slavery


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Slavery is about power not race . . .

BLACKS OWNING BLACKS: We’ve all heard that warring African tribes sold their prisoners into slavery (for much of history it was to  Muslim slave traders), but just like their white counterparts some free black Americans had slaves.

“Owning slaves offered the opportunity for economic advancement for blacks (Schweninger, 22).  By the mid 1700’s, black artisans and shopkeepers owned slaves in the city, while free blacks also held slaves on farms in the country.  In the city of Charleston, free blacks nearly monopolized the jobs of barbers, bricklayers, shoemakers, tailors and dressmakers.  They prospered in their entrepreneurial jobs and were able to earn the capital needed to purchase slaves.

Another factor in black slaveholding was the development of a class of citizens referred to as “free persons of color.”  There were relationships between white masters and slave women from the beginning of African slavery in the colonies.  Often these relationships resulted in mulatto children born to the slave women.  In some cases, masters would treat these mulatto children as their own, and they might inherit property at the master’s death.  The mothers of the mulatto children would often be manumitted, or freed for a reason, at the death of the master.  The manumitted mulatto son or daughter would then become a part of the growing group of “free persons of color.”  On one occasion, “the amorous relationship between the slave Tabatha Singleton and her master survived the manumission decree…. He paid the rent for her tenement and eventually conveyed a house, lot, and two slaves to her” (Powers, 1994, 38).  For this reason and for other reasons, there were many female slaveholders in South Carolina, and particularly in Charleston.

From amorous relationships between masters and slaves (and free persons of color) there grew a distinct class of “brown” elites.  There was a difference in the way that whites regarded free dark-skinned blacks and light-skinned blacks.  Light-skinned blacks were considered closer to white in the social stratification in southern society.  A racial stratification developed into a three-tiered model with whites on the top, mulattoes and free blacks (of light complexion, mostly), and slaves.  Slaveholding free blacks were considered at the top of the second tier, the most respected blacks of all in white society.

A third factor in the development of black slaveholding was the desire of “free persons of color” to operate in the economic world of white slaveholders and to be as equal to whites as possible.  By the mid 1700’s to early 1800’s, most free blacks considered themselves more American than they did African, for almost all of them had been born on American soil, free or slave.  They wanted to live the same life as whites, and they saw slaveholding as a way to become more equal with their white counterparts.

An important fourth and final factor in black slaveholding was the economic profitability of using slaves to work in jobs and businesses owned by “free persons of color.”  “In a society that vested the ownership of one many in another, slaves represented another form of property held by free blacks.” (Powers, 1994, 39)  Early on in the colony of South Carolina, mulattoes were often trained as artisans and were able to earn the money to purchase slaves by working.  They were commercial masters who aligned themselves with the white majority in order to preserve the system of slavery. (Koger, 1985, 30)   As this practice progressed, the black slaveholders often had the same incentives as whites to own slaves.” TEACHING US HISTORY

DESPITE THE DEATHS OF 600,000 MEN IN THE CIVIL WAR SLAVERY DID NOT END ON THE CONTINENT. Native Americans had to be forced to give up slavery:

EUROPEAN SLAVERS CAME LATE TO THE GAME AND GOT OUT EARLY.  If you don’t know who William Wilberforce is you should: “He was only five feet tall and rather homely, by most accounts, but William Wilberforce had a smooth and powerful way of speaking. It wasn’t easy, but this Christian politician managed to talk the British Empire into abolishing slavery.” WILLIAM WILBERFORCE vs. SLAVERY

Westerners saw their slaves as an investment (still gross) but not as throwaway tools. Here’s an excerpt from a story on modern slavery comparing the going price for a modern slave to one in 19th century US:

“I live in New York — a three-hour flight down to Port au Prince, Haiti, and an hour from the airport — I was able to negotiate for a 10-year-old girl for cleaning and cooking, permanent possession and sexual favors. What do you think the asking price was?

TM: I don’t know … $7,500?

BS: They asked for $100, and I talked them down to $50. Now to put that in context: Going back to the time when my abolitionist ancestors were on their soapbox, in 1850, you could buy a healthy grown male for the equivalent of about $40,000.

TM: When I first read such big numbers, I was shocked.

BS: This is not to diminish the horrors that those workers would face, nor to diminish their dehumanization one bit. It was an abomination then as it is today. But in the mid-19th century, masters viewed their slaves as an investment.” READ MORE ABOUT THE MODERN SLAVE TRADE HERE: THERE ARE MORE SLAVES TODAY THAN AT ANY TIME IN HUMAN HISTORY

Here are 10 FACTS ABOUT THE ARAB SLAVE TRADE YOU DIDN’T REALLY WANT TO KNOW (preview: Black boys between the age of 8 and 12 had their scrotums and penises completely amputated to prevent them from reproducing. About six of every 10 boys  bled to death during the procedure, according to some sources, but the high price brought by eunuchs on the market made the practice profitable.)


Now if you have the time I HIGHLY recommend you watch this illuminating video on the history of slavery. You make think you know all about it but I think you’ll be surprised. Only watch it if you want to think. 🙂  I may not agree with everything  in it but . . .well, you’ll see.


16 responses to “The Astonishing Facts about Slavery”

  1. Wow! So sad that the slaves had live in such an inhumane existence. Many were bought and worked and treated fairly well, given homes with their families, decent food, and often gifted, but it seems the wealthiest slave owners often treated them more poorly…even horrifically. I know there is no real comparison to today’s society, but I am reminded of the disparities between how some wealthier corporations treat workers compared to the mom and pop places or smaller corporations. There is still so much growth for our nation to get through before humanity is delivered.


    • Sadly there are many comparisons you could make to modern times. In one of the articles linked the journalist details a time in Romania when a man offered to trade a down syndrome young girl (with slashes down her arm) to the journalist in exchange for a junk heap of a car worth less than $500!

      The slave trade is alive and well and in many ways far more brutal than it ever was (if we compare it to US slavery). The Muslim slave trade was far more horrifying with most slaves being killed when they became of no use. There is a reason that in the Muslim world there are few descendants of slavery (they didn’t survive or were castrated.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting points to consider Adrienne, not only physical slavery, but mental … far more damaging because the slave though eventually freed isn’t really free. I do not yet have time to watch the 40-minute video. Yes, slavery continues today in sophisticated and crude ways. Sad.


  3. Enlightening and educated post on a horrifying aspect of humanity. What we do to each other is so depressing. A part of human nature I don’t understand, but perhaps I don’t want to.


  4. The Known World by Jones (on blacks owning blacks) was interesting and enlightening. It is fascinating; we will do whatever it takes to differentiate ourselves…among ourselves. Groups within groups (within groups). And Wilberforce was awesome.


    • I watched a few episodes of Henry Lewis Gates’ Roots about celebrities and their slave ancestry, but wondered after a while why they couldn’t broaden the show to include people other than blacks since many white Europeans were kidnapped and brought to America as indentured servants. In history class they taught us that indentured folk were freed after 7 years but that often wasn’t the case. There were a lot of Irish slaves as well!


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