Slaves In 19th Century America



There is no doubt that all slaves were treated inhumanely, but this specific group of slaves were forced to endure a different type of cruelty than what your average working slave did. In this group of slaves, the women slaves would generally be raped by their masters quite frequently and were forced to give birth to slave children up to as many as fifteen times. They were forced to breed and stripped of their freedom entirely. I am describing the lives of slaves on breeding farms. In spite of slaves being a major contributor to the successful economy during the nineteenth century in America, they were still treated barbarically and inhumanely.

Forced Breeding

Slaves that were chosen for the purpose of breeding were selected strategically. They were selected based on impressive physical traits. In fact, large male slaves were even imported to breed quality workers for the fields. In the case of the women slaves, they were expected to have multiple births or their value would be diminished. Consequently, childbearing started at the ripe age of thirteen years old so the women slaves would have enough time to have the abundance of children that was expected from them. Some of the fathers of the slave children were slaves themselves, and some were the plantation owners. In an interview from 1937,  W.L. Bost, a slave, stated that, “... they [slave owners] take them very same children what have they own blood and make slaves out of them,”. Not only were the slaves forced to breed, but sometimes they were even forced to breed with their own family members. Hoods were often used to prevent the slaves from knowing who they were mating with. The plantation owners did not care if the slaves were related, all that mattered was that they could create more slaves for them to profit off of. As a result of the forced breeding of slaves, the population of slaves rose in turn. As a matter of fact, “By 1861 it [the South] had five times as many slaves as it had during the Revolution, and was producing two billion pounds of cotton a year,” (Kottke). Not only did plantation owners breed slaves to have more workers, but also because the more slaves they had, the more political representation they gained, even though slaves were only counted as ⅗ of a person.

In addition to the forced breeding, slaves were also forced to endure sexual abuse at the hands of their owners. The women slaves had no other option but to engage in sexual relationships with their masters, unless they wanted to face severe punishment, such as beatings or starvation. Sexual abuse became such a common occurrence because it was considered a, “... wise investment strategy for cashstrapped slave owners interested in increasing the number of their slaves, even if they had to wait for the infants to become productive,” (Bridgewater 119). This pattern of abuse occurred because of the laws that made the father the legal owner of the child, not their mother, which allowed the plantation owners to enslave their own children and the mother could not stop it. Therefore, the cycle of sexual abuse continued.

Being Sold

A child slave would be sold when they were around 8 to 10 years old. The price they were sold for depended on their height and frame. On the occasion of being sold, the younger women slaves were advertised as “good breeding stock” when being sold. Not only could slaves be sold, but they could be mortgaged as well, like a piece of property. The slave owners would mortgage the slaves and then convert the mortgages into bonds that could be sold all across the world. Slave owners would do this because they, “... wanted to import capital into their states so they could buy more slaves,” (Kottke). This motive of wanting to buy more slaves was responsible for most if not all decisions made by slave owners during this time period. Once the slaves were sold, they would be shipped either by railroad or by boat to the new plantation they would work on. Both of these methods of shipment ensured that the slaves arrived in adequate condition, therefore making them worth more money.

The children that were created as a result of breeding were doomed for a life of grueling work and terrible abuse. The children would stay on the plantation they were born into with their mother for the first eight to ten years of their life until they were ultimately sold to another plantation. For most of those children born into slavery, they would never see their parents or siblings again after they were sold. They would never know any sort of life of freedom, only a life of captivity and abuse. This is just one of the numerous reasons as to why slave breeding was extremely cruel.

Reasons For Breeding

The breeding of slaves was purely economical, in that slavery provided cheap labor which is why it was so popular in America. Slaves became worth a lot of money. In 1860, it was estimated that the total value of American slaves was $4 billion. Likewise, the birth of black child slaves was increasing Virginia’s capital stock by 4% annually. Slaves were worth more than anything else to slave owners. This was why, breeding more slaves was so important to slave owners, because more slaves means more money. Slaves were seen as a dollar sign by their masters, not a human.

While the breeding of slaves was not directly caused by America’s end to participating in the slave trade, it definitely enabled it and helped to grow the popularity of slave breeding. After America stopped partaking in the slave trade, “The slave states of the upper South, where the land was exhausted after two centuries of use, now became slave "breeding grounds" for new plantations on the southern frontier,” (Northup 1). The United States. would buy almost all of their slaves through the slave trade and without that access to slaves, the only way to get more slaves was by breeding them. This is why slave breeding became so popular in America, because it was the only way to get more slaves, which plantation owners so desperately wanted.

Affect on America

Slave breeding, as well as slavery itself, had a major impact on the United States. They transformed the country into a capitalist and industrialist economy. America went, “... from being a colonial, primarily agricultural economy to being the second biggest industrial power in the world- and well on its way to becoming the largest industrial power in the world,” (Baptist 4). Another impact is that the United States had the ability to compete with other countries because slave breeding/slavery provided cheap labor. It is clear that slave breeding and slavery benefited the United States greatly, but it was not done morally and was at the expense of African Americans. In spite of slave breedings major effect on America, their existence is rarely ever acknowledged. It is a cruel part of our country's history that is being overlooked and forgotten. “The slave breeding farms are mostly left out of the history books except those that deny their existence,” (Spivey).

America’s economy in the 1800’s was so successful mainly due to slavery, but despite the slaves major importance and contribution they were not treated with an once of kindness or respect. While we learn about slavery as an event of the past, the prejudice and racism towards the African Americans during the 1800’s still exists in our world today. African Americans, among people of other races as well, face discrimination frequently. Whether it be by getting attacked for their race, being called racial slurs, or getting unfair treatment, racism is still prevalent in our society. We all need to do better and learn from our countries' prior mistakes and not repeat them now.