Slavery and Interstate Commerce in Appalachia

As mentioned before, I am undertaking a new project that involves the study of slavery in Catoosa County. In order to do so, I am building a sturdy base by examining historiography related to slavery in the ‘Deep South’ in comparison to slavery in Appalachia. Today I came across Wilma A. Dunaway’s Women, Work, and Family in the Antebellum Mountain SouthAlthough slavery is not the main focus of the book, Dunaway does provide some keen insight into slavery in Appalachia as she explains its effect on women and the family. Take for example this passage: 

Census returns and personal narratives of African-Americans provide conclusive evidence that white Appalachians contributed significantly to the interstate traffic in slaves…Appalachian slaveholders routinely commodified black laborers in two ways. One of every three Upper South slaves was sold annually, most through the interstate slave trade, but fewer than one-third of all Appalachian slave sales were transacted locally. Instead, two of every five Appalachian owners sold slaves to traders engaged in interstate trafficking, many of whom made regular annual or biannual circuits throughout the Upper South.In addition to itinerant traders, some Appalachian entrepreneurs engaged in the practice of buying up local slaves for export. In reality, about 1 of every 154 Appalachian households acquired part of its income from slave trading activities. Much more often than selling, Appalachian masters engaged in commercial trading by hiring out their slaves on a profitable basis. Since one-fifth of the Appalachian narratives record instances of slave hiring, it is evident that Appalachian masters leased out slaves more frequently than other southern slaveholders….

The slave trade was structurally integrated into Appalachian community and town life. Even when their own slave populations were small, Appalachian towns provided the locus for the congregation of buyers and sellers; the p ens, jails, and depots; the exchanges and auctions blocks that supported the slave trade….

This is definitely food for thought.

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12 thoughts on “Slavery and Interstate Commerce in Appalachia

    1. She is quoting herself in books she wrote that were published 2003; The African American Family in Slavery and Emancipation and Slavery in the American Mountain South.

      She consults a lot of primary source documentation. She is usually pretty good about posting her sources online as well.

  1. It is evident that Appalachian masters leased out slaves more frequently than other southern slaveholders…

    Would Dunaway (or you) argue that this is because Appalachia didn’t lend itself to the large-scale, plantation type agricultural model, but instead was small- to mid-sized farms where the need for labor was seasonal rather than year-round?

    1. I definitely think so. I’m working on a post now about slave use in manufacturing in Appalachia as well, I could definitely see slave owners renting their slaves out to manufacturers.

  2. Isabel

    I’m curious is you’ll keep doing this research for modern day human trafficking/slavery in the same area. It is still a growing enterprise. It just happens out of sight a little more than before.

  3. Probably the definitive work on the slave trade within the United States including the economic importance of the leasing of slaves is Frederic Bancroft’s classic Slave Trading in the Old South (originally published in 1931. I highly recommend getting the 1996 reprint with an introduction by Michael Tadman http://www.amazon.com/Slave-Trading-South-Southern-Classics/dp/1570031037/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1436398435&sr=1-1&keywords=slave+trading+in+the+old+south )

        1. It’s index is organized by states, cities, and topics rather than regions so you may be able to recognize what’s useful to you on Appalachia better than I but I’d still say it’s essential reading regardless. Bancroft was too young to observe slavery personally, but he did do his research when people who had been involved in every aspect of it as adults, including former enslaved people, were alive and he interviewed people from every aspect.

          1. Thanks for the tip. Unfortunately for me, I do not have wide open access to a research library anymore. I’ll have to run down a copy somehow.

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