The Role of the Slave Jail in American History


To put slave jails in perspective, there are a few other terms I’ll need to explain; breeding farms, Partus Sequitur Ventrem, coffles, Lumpkin’s Alley, the African burial ground, and slave rings. I’ll provide an example to put it all in context. Robert Lumpkin bought three lots in Richmond, VA in 1844 that would become America’s most infamous slave jail, nicknamed “The Devil’s Half-Acre.” It was already a holding facility for slaves but Lumpkin took it to a brand new level.

Richmond was at one the second largest center in America for the sale of slaves, trailing only New Orleans. Virginia had a surplus of slaves due to a decline in tobacco production and the practice of slave breeding. Unlike Charleston, SC which was the largest center for receiving African slaves. Virginia (along with Maryland) was dedicated to the breeding of slaves. The forced, continual mating of slaves for the purpose of bearing children that could later be sold.

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Many of these children were America’s attempt at eugenics, an attempt it rarely talks about. If it comes up at all in history books, it describes laws preventing the “enfeebled” from marrying and sterilization of the poor, immoral, and disabled. They don’t mention the breeding of the biggest, strongest black “bucks” with the perceived best breeders. Colonial Americans broke with the British tradition where children followed the father’s heritage. They instead implemented, Partus Sequitur Ventrem under which children born to slaves would be what the mother was; ensuring that children of slaves would also be slaves. Not gaining their freedom as in other forms of servitude and slavery in most parts of the world. The same law established that white men could not be found to have raped their slaves.

View at Medium.com

Virginia slaveowners would bring their excess slaves to the Richmond slave markets for sale to Southern plantations. At the same time, agents of the largest traders would solicit individual farms and plantations; offering to sell their slaves for them. Farmers that had failed to properly rotate their crops were experiencing low yields and the sale of their often inherited slaves was like found money. After their purchase at the slave market, they were housed in slave jails. Although Lumpkin was the largest of the jailers in Richmond, there were multiple slave jails in the same area; similar to seeing multiple bail-bondsmen in the same neighborhood, close to a nearby jail. In what was called, “Lumpkin’s Alley,” multiple slave jails were located. All just a few blocks from the present-day capitol building. Multiple slave jails were often located near the large slave markets with Lumpkin’s Alley being an example.

Today, Richmond has multiple train lines running through it but they didn’t exist in the early days of organized slave trading. Slaves headed to Florida, or New Orleans might be sent by boat. Slaves headed West or Southwest had to walk. Some to what is now West Virginia where they could catch a boat. Others to points as far away as Georgia and Alabama. Slaves were paired together with iron rings around their necks, fastened with an iron or wooden bar, then chained to the other slaves in what was called a “coffle.” The jails would hold the slaves until there were enough to make the trip worthwhile. Coffles were herded by men on horseback with whips, guns… and dogs. After a time, railroads were built (primarily by slaves) and coffles diminished, not to to the humanity of the slaveowners but because a more productive method was found.

View at Medium.com

Back to Robert Lumpkin’s jail, and how it earned its nickname; the Devil’s Half-Acre. It wasn’t because Lumpkin was the largest slave trader in the area for over twenty years, although he was. It was because of the harsh conditions and Lumpkin’s cruelty. You may have seen images of how slaves were packed into slave ships for the Middle Passage. Lumpkin did something similar but on dry land. Slaves were packed sometimes literally atop one another in a cramped space with no toilets and almost no access to the outside. Many slaves died of sickness and starvation; others from beatings and torture. The dead were cast into mass graves and barely covered. This area was called the African burial ground and can be found today by those knowing to look. Lumpkin’s Jail reeked of dead bodies, human excrement, sweat, and smoke; its nickname, the Devil’s Half-Acre is well deserved.

Modern-day Richmond (like many Southern cities) is struggling with how to commemorate its history. Corporate and government leaders are trying to preserve the past while keeping it from sounding harsh. Some of the same people are struggling with their Confederate statues. There had been some talk of “not using Lumpkin’s name and making him famous again.” No such concern exists for the Confederate Generals who still line Richmond streets. Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, and Stonewall Jackson have permanent places on Richmond’s Monument Avenue, forbidden by a new law from being removed.

Lumpkin bought a light-skinned slave girl named Mary at age twelve. She bore five children by him and at some time they married. He sent his even lighter-skinned daughters to fine schools; ensuring they got the best education available. All while he maintained a “whipping room” where slaves laid on the floor, bound at their ankles and wrists, and were beaten; sometimes until dead. I give Lumpkin no credit for his slave wife. He ran with a crew of other slavers who also married their slaves who bore them children. Before the Civil War ended, Lumpkin sent Mary and their children to Pennsylvania where they couldn’t be sold back into slavery to pay his debts. When Lumpkin died, she inherited his land which she ultimately sold to a Baptist minister, Nathaniel Colver, looking to establish an all-Black seminary. That site later became Virginia Union University.

Though Lumpkin’s jail was the largest in Virginia. One company, Franklin & Armfield, applied modern business practices to slave trading. They had multiple slave-depots (jails) along their various routes. If you pictured these jails as regional warehouses from which they shipped their goods across the South; you’d be on the right track, They utilized all manner of transportation, although the unlucky slaves headed to Atlanta, walked the whole way. Coffles followed the Cumberland Road to Wheeling, VA (now West Virginia) and the Ohio River where they boarded steamboats. On other routes, they might reach a train station and be packed in cars until they reached their destination. After Isaac Franklin and John Armfield got rich dealing in human misery, they retired and became socially prominent members of their prospective societies.

Temporary slave jails were also a fixture of the slave markets. Filled to the brim at the beginning of the day of each sale. Gradually emptied until all the slaves had been sold. The evidence of the largest slave markets in Richmond, VA, New Orleans, LA, and Natchez, MS has all but been erased. Efforts to memorialize those sites have mostly failed or been sanitized so as not to expose current visitors to a “better forgotten” past. From my home in Orlando, the nearest large slave market I could discover is in Saint Augustine, two hours away. Though its existence was well documented, some chose to deny it was used for that purpose. Even in 1914, embarrassed locals refuted their history.

“I have seen the legend of the old slave market. I want to state that this is a fabrication, to pander to the morbid tastes of a certain class that come or came down to our section with the hope and desire to see only the revolting and objectional side of the picture. This market when I knew it stood near the plaza if my memory serves me, and only fish meats and vegetables were sold there.” — J. Gardner

If you live in the South, you’ll likely be more successful tracing slave markets. Once you locate those, rest assured there was an accompanying slave jail, even if temporary. American history can only be learned from if all of its aspects are fully and accurately represented with slave jails being a part of the story.

The Devil’s Half-Acre (Lumpkin’s Slave Jail)


To properly put Robert Lumpkin’s slave jail in perspective, there are a few other terms I’ll need to explain; breeding farms, Partus Sequitur Ventrem, coffles, Lumpkin’s Alley, the African burial ground, and slave rings. But first, give me a moment to put it all in context. When Robert Lumpkin bought the land in 1844 that would become infamous for his slave jail. It was already a holding facility for slaves. For what purpose you might ask?

Richmond was at one the second largest center in America for the sale of slaves, second only to New Orleans. To put it charitably, Virginia had a surplus of slaves due to a decline in tobacco production and the practice of slave breeding. The forced, continual mating of slaves for the purpose of bearing children that could later be sold.

View at Medium.com

Many of these children were America’s attempt at eugenics, an attempt it rarely talks about. If it comes up at all in history books, it describes laws preventing the “enfeebled” from marrying and sterilization of the poor, immoral, and disabled. They don’t mention the breeding of the biggest, strongest black “bucks” with the best breeders. Colonial Americans broke with the British tradition where children followed the father’s heritage. They instead implemented, Partus Sequitur Ventrem under which children born to slaves would be what the mother was; ensuring that children of slaves would also be slaves. Not gaining their freedom as in other forms of servitude and slavery in most parts of the world. The same law established that white men could not be found to have raped their slaves, making rape a legalized practice.

“All children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother.” -Virginia House of Burgesses

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Virginia slaveowners would bring their excess slaves to the Richmond slave markets for sale to Southern plantations. At the same time, agents of the largest traders would solicit individual farms and plantations; offering to sell their slaves for them. Farmers that had failed to properly rotate their crops were experiencing low yields and the sale of their often inherited slaves was like found money. After their purchase at the slave market, they were housed in slave jails. Although Lumpkin was the largest of the jailers in Richmond, there were multiple slave jails in the same area; similar to seeing multiple bail-bondsmen in the same neighborhood, close to a nearby jail. In what was called, “Lumpkin’s Alley,” multiple slave jails were located. All just a few blocks from the present-day capitol building.

Today Richmond has multiple train lines running through it but they didn’t exist in the early days of organized slave trading. Slaves headed to Florida, or New Orleans might be sent by boat. Slaves headed West or Southwest had to walk. Some to what is now West Virginia where they could catch a boat. Others to points as far away as Georgia and Alabama. Slaves were paired together with iron rings around their necks, fastened with an iron or wooden bar, then chained to the other slaves in what was called a “coffle.” The jails would hold the slaves until there were enough to make the trip worthwhile. Coffles were herded by men on horseback with whips, guns… and dogs. After a time, railroads were built (primarily by slaves) and coffles diminished, not to to the humanity of the slaveowners but because a more productive method was found.

View at Medium.com

Back to Robert Lumpkin’s jail, and how it earned its nickname; the Devil’s Half-Acre. It wasn’t because Lumpkin was the largest slave trader in the area for over twenty years, although he was. It was because of the harsh conditions and Lumpkin’s cruelty. You may have seen images of how slaves were packed into slave ships for the Middle Passage. Lumpkin did something similar but on dry land. Slaves were packed sometimes literally atop one another in a cramped space with no toilets and almost no access to the outside. Many slaves died of sickness and starvation; others from beatings and torture. The dead were cast into mass graves and barely covered. This area was called the African burial ground and can be found today by those knowing to look. Lumpkin’s Jail reeked of dead bodies, human excrement, sweat, and smoke; its nickname, the Devil’s Half-Acre is well deserved.

Modern-day Richmond is struggling with how to commemorate its history. Corporate and government leaders are trying to preserve the past without having it sound harsh. Some of the same people are struggling with their Confederate statues. There had been some talk of “not using Lumpkin’s name and making him famous again.” No such concern exists for the Confederate Generals who still line Richmond streets. Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, and Stonewall Jackson have permanent places on Richmond’s Monument Avenue, forbidden by a new law from being removed.

Lumpkin bought a light-skinned slave girl named Mary at age twelve. She bore five children by him and at some time they married. He sent his even lighter-skinned daughters to fine schools; ensuring they got the best education available. All while he maintained a “whipping room” where slaves laid on the floor, bound at their ankles and wrists, and were beaten; sometimes until dead. I give Lumpkin no credit for his slave wife. He ran with a crew of other slavers who also married their slaves who bore them children. Before the Civil War ended, Lumpkin sent Mary and their children to Pennsylvania where they couldn’t be sold back into slavery to pay his debts. When Lumpkin died, she inherited his land which she ultimately sold to a Baptist minister, Nathaniel Colver, looking to establish an all-Black seminary. That site later became Virginia Union University.

What some would consider a good ending to the story of Lumpkin’s slave jail is that it become an obscure footnote in history. I submit the story must be told so that the mistakes of the past never be repeated. Some, in what I regard as a cruel joke, now refer to the land as God’s Half-Acre due to its new purpose. I think the original name is far more accurate and history must be told. What do you think?

Cof-fle: a line of animals or slaves fastened or driven along together


Imagine you were taking a trip from Richmond, VA to Atlanta, GA. Except the year is 1828; the Southern railways (which would be built mostly by slaves) was just beginning construction. There were no cars. The boats which might go around Florida to get to New Orleans had no inland stops. Steamboats were going up and down the Mississippi river but there were no connecting waterways. Also, imagine you were a slave.

You didn’t ride in wagons or stagecoaches. You walked, approximately 600 miles, with ill-fitting shoes or none at all. To prevent you from escaping, there was an iron collar around your neck with a padlock to keep you from removing it. The collar was connecting you to a bar with another collar on the other end. That collar was around another slave’s neck making you a pair. Chains connected the pairs so that none could run away.


There’s no shame in being unfamiliar with the term coffle, although it was once in common use. They typically started in areas with an abundance of slaves like Virginia or Maryland. Agents would go from farm to farm, asking if the owners had slaves they wanted to sell. Slaves would be gathered at slave pens, jails where they would await the collection of enough slaves to make the trip worthwhile. A coffle might contain as many as 300 slaves, kept in line by men with whips and guns on horseback… and dogs.

The coffle would march as much as 20–25 miles a day, the trip would take approximately three months. The coffle consisted mostly of young men and women between 17–25 years old, hardy enough to make the trip. Slave women were hardy enough to do all manner of slave work but were also breeders, worth more than their male counterparts. There were also children; babies carried by their mothers or older children who walked on their own.


One company, Franklin & Armfield, applied modern business practices to slave trading. They had multiple slave-depots (jails) along their various routes. If you pictured these jails as regional warehouses from which they shipped their goods across the South; you’d be on the right track, They utilized all manner of transportation, although the unlucky slaves headed to Atlanta, walked the whole way. Coffles followed the Cumberland Road to Wheeling, VA (now West Virginia) and the Ohio River where they boarded steamboats. On other routes, they might reach a train station and be packed in cars until they reached their destination. After Isaac Franklin and John Armfield got rich dealing in human misery, they retired and became socially prominent members of their prospective societies.


Slaves generally weren’t allowed to talk during their forced march. They were often allowed, even encouraged to sing. One such song was discovered by the black abolitionist William W. Brown and published in 1848.


SONG OF THE COFFLE GANG

This song is said to be sung by Slaves, as they are chained in gangs when parting from friends for the far off South — children taken from parents, husbands from wives, and brothers from sisters.

See these poor souls from Africa,
Transported to America:
We are stolen, and sold to Georgia, will you go along with me?
We are stolen and sold to Georgia, go sound the jubilee.

See wives and husbands sold apart,
The children’s screams! — it breaks my heart;
There’s a better day coming, will you go along with me?
There’s a better day coming, go sound the jubilee.

O, gracious Lord! when shall it be,
That we poor souls shall all be free?
Lord, break them Slavery powers — will you go along with me?
Lord, break them Slavery powers, go sound the jubilee.

Dear Lord! dear Lord! when Slavery’ll cease,
Then we poor souls can have our peace;
There’s a better day coming, will you go along with me?
There’s a better day coming, go sound the jubilee.

So much American history is missing. Lost would not be the correct word as its disappearance was quite intentional. History books don’t tell of the regular marches of slaves across the South and to the West. Fortunes made, women raped, children abused. We have some idea of how many slaves died crossing the Atlantic during the Middle Passage. No such statistics tell of the slaves died and or killed while undergoing a dangerous trek. Slaves were the exact same thing as money and coffles were apt to be robbed. Bullets flying in every direction. If you’ve never heard of the word “coffle?” The appropriate question to ask would be, why?

America Has a Big Race Problem: It Can’t Acknowledge It Has One


Not only is America incapable of admitting to its race problems. It has developed a whole new language of discussing race in a kindler gentler way so as not to offend those who would prefer not to think of themselves as racist. America used to at least recognize it had a horrible history regarding race. That too is changing as history books in some cases refer to “immigrant labor” as opposed to slavery. Bill O’Reilly, a self-proclaimed historian, refers to how “well-fed” the slaves were that built the White House. Slavery itself is being rewritten as a mere labor arrangement where the “workers” were provided free housing, food, and health-care. America is finding it harder to admit it even had a race problem.

For those willing to concede America once “had” a race problem. They consider it a thing of the past. Solved by the Emancipation Proclamation, or Brown vs The Board of Education, or this Civil Rights Act or that Voting Rights Bill. America has never solved its race problem or rids itself of systemic racism. It has only given it different names. Slavery was replaced by “The Black Codes”, which was replaced by “Jim Crow” which was replaced by redistricting and gerrymandering and voter suppression.

History meanwhile has ignored or forgotten the most heinous acts committed against people of color. We all know about “Custer’s Last Stand”.How many know about the “Devil’s Punch Bowl” in Natchez, MS where 20,000 Black men, women, and children died. Imprisoned by Union troops in a concentration camp after the Civil War ended. History doesn’t mention “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma where a thriving community was attacked on the ground and from the air. Over 35 blocks of property were burned and destroyed. Over 300 Black citizens killed and 800 hospitalized. 10,000 Black people were left homeless. Over 6,000 were arrested for up to 8 days. Despite the carnage, the official death toll was listed as “39” by the Oklahoma Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Orange County, Florida including Orlando, was claimed to have suffered the “largest mass shooting in American history” at the Pulse Nightclub shooting with 49 innocent people killed. As horrible as that was, it wasn’t even the worst mass shooting in the County as hundreds of Black people were killed and the rest of the Black population driven out of Ocoee, FL when some tried to vote in the 1920 Presidential Election. Ocoee stayed all-white for over 40 years afterward. America omits the inconvenient mass shootings in Elaine, Arkansas or E. St. Louis, Missouri or Mountain Meadows, Utah where Mormons dressed as Indians and killed 140 unarmed men and women. This is the history America doesn’t teach you when the victims are of color. It has redefined mass shootings to exclude more than a couple of shooters or apparently, race-motivated murder. It allows them to forget it had a race problem.

The problem that continues today stems from demographics. Those that wish to, “Make America Great Again” really mean to re-establish White control which is quickly fading. The reason they forcefully claimed “Barack Obama is the worst President in history” is not based on empirical data. They ignored the fact he saved an economy that was hemorrhaging jobs when he took office. He saved the auto industry. He served in grace despite the hate leveled against him. He established health care benefits for over 20 Million additional Americans. They conspired against him on his first day in office. For those who hate him, he has one inherent flaw. He is Black.

The secret to maintaining White control, even as White’s will soon be a minority in this country, is to control the vote. The tactics now closely resemble those used after reconstruction. Impose voter restrictions, enact poll taxes (although we now give them another name). Position polling places where it will be harder for some to vote than others. Provide limited access to minority voters hoping to dissuade them with long lines. America can deny the inherent racism in policies designed to disparately affect minorities; as long as we can claim it’s for another reason. We all know the almost non-existent voter fraud isn’t the real reason for these laws. What America can’t acknowledge is, that it’s all about race.

America has long not wanted to appear racist. Now I find that it no longer cares about keeping up the facade. Putting aside for a moment the racist background of President Donald J Trump, and his father Fred who was once arrested at a Klan rally. His Campaign CEO was Steve Bannon, former head of Breitbart News, who proved that racism has gone mainstream. That he is racist is beyond dispute. His personal comments and those he approved of in the media outlet he controlled; showed his hatred of Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Catholics, Women and more. When Hillary Clinton discussed the specifics in a nationally televised speech, surely America would say this was too much. A man with his background cannot stand. After a couple of days of being a story, the storm faded as the media preferred to chase Trump’s evolving immigration policy and Hillary’s Emails. One Trump campaign manager was lambasted for an assault on a woman, another ousted because of his close ties to Putin. These apparently were terrible offenses. A racist heading up the Trump campaign, not a problem.

The list of things America won’t address because it can’t acknowledge its race problem is long. Unequal funding for schools. Disproportionate suspensions and expulsions of minority students. Voter suppression. Mass incarceration. Inequitable policing. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America, you have a race problem and it’s time you acknowledge it.

The Fallacy of “Good” Slave Owners


America is a great country and therefore needed a great history, the one that existed just wouldn’t do. Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America, it was quite inhabited when he landed. Not only had the Indians been there long enough to have been considered Native Americans. Africans had visited American shores multiple times as indicated by Christopher Columbus and others.

Before Columbus: How Africans Brought Civilization to America

The biggest stain on the legacy of America is its original sin… slavery. Of the early Presidents of the United States, twelve owned slaves during their lifetime, eight while they served as President. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that “all men were created equal” while having owned over 600 slaves over his lifetime and taking one for his long-term mistress at the age of 14. Even if you consider that a girl of that era might be considered a woman and not a child, someone you own cannot give consent. The potential penalty for saying no is too high; being sold away or even death. There is only one word to describe a master taking a slave for a sexual relationship which is rape.

Most of the revered “Founding Fathers” were slaveowners. John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, and a few others were not. Fourteen of the twenty-one white men generally considered as the Founding Fathers owned slaves including; Ben Franklin, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and George Washington. Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death,” while he simultaneously deprived slaves of theirs. He couldn’t even justify his own position which he admitted in a letter to John Alsop of the Society of Friends (Quakers). He shrugged off his ownership of slaves as a matter of convenience.

“Would any one believe that I am master of slaves by my own purchase? I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them. I will not — I cannot justify it, however culpable my conduct.”

Given the fact that almost all of our early leaders held slaves captive, also bought and sold them. The men who the country needed to build up as heroes, had their flaws minimized or erased. The whole institution of slavery and the way it was practiced in America was literally “whitewashed,” made to seem not as bad as it was. Along with diminishing the heinous nature of slavery, the myth of the good slave owner was created and deemed applicable to almost all who owned them. That myth was born of necessity as the truth would not do.

One of the criteria that made one a good slave owner was whether they freed their slaves after death. Jefferson freed only two, one of whom paid him $200. George Washington freed his slaves after death (the only President that did) although his death did not free Martha’s slaves. She freed hers within a year as each slave had a great incentive to see her dead which would result in their freedom. George was therefore considered a good master. He happened to have notoriously bad teeth. His dentures were not made of wood as most stories say but of human teeth taken from his slaves we’re to believe he loved so much. Surely an important man like himself had greater need of those teeth than his slaves?


Thomas Jefferson may have done more to promote cruel practices related to slavery than any other American. He negotiated and fought for inclusion in the Constitution that the import of slaves from Africa wouldn’t end for at least twenty years, (Article One: Section Nine). People have spun this as an attempt to begin the process of ending slavery. In truth, it was a protectionist measure to increase the value of domestic slaves in areas with an abundance like his native Virginia and Maryland to the detriment of states like South Carolina who imported the bulk of their slaves. Jefferson’s policies promoted the forced breeding of slaves with the systemic rape of females whose children were ultimately sold to stock Southern plantations. The actual end of slavery didn’t take place for fifty years after the act by President Jefferson ended the International Slave Trade. That act enriched him far more relatively than any current violations of the Emoluments Clause.

Before Columbus: How Africans Brought Civilization to America

The best case for a good slaveowner among the founders would be John Jay. Jay’s father, Peter, was one of the largest slaveowners in New York. As early as 1777, John Jay proposed the abolition of slavery there. He helped establish the New York African Free School which he supported financially during his lifetime. When Governor of New York, he signed a bill that established that children of slaves would be born free in 1799. Yet he profited from the slaves he owned, and as well as he may or may not have treated them, they lacked freedom. His slaves could earn their freedom through good works and of course, providing a sufficient return on their investment. He might not have been the worst slaveowner, may have been one of the best. But does that make him good?

“I purchase slaves and manumit them at proper ages and when their faithful services have afforded a reasonable retribution.”

The truth is that the curve on which slave ownership is measured goes only from bad to worse. No slave, under the best of circumstances was exempt from the possibility of being sold away, separated from their families, at the whim of their master. They were subject to having their mates selected for them to breed the best slaves for sale or forced to submit to their master’s desires. They could legally be beaten, or killed, and had to live each day of their life carrying that weight. America typically only scratches the surface of the history of it becoming a great nation. It was slavery that made much of that possible yet slavery is a painful sore whose scab dare not be ripped off. There never was such a thing as a good slave owner, only some not as bad as the rest.

The Black Codes: The Period Between Slavery and Jim Crow


At the end of the Civil War, there were between 3–4 million slaves in America. They were freed in stages. The Emancipation Proclamation, announced January 1, 1863, in the middle of the war; freed only those slaves in states that seceded from the Union. That action immediately freed between 25,000 to 75,000 slaves in territory already held by the Union. Slaves in Confederate-held territory were still slaves, they had to escape to Union-held territory to gain their freedom.

For all practical purposes, the war ended April 9. 1865 when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. States had to sign individual surrender documents with the last of those signed May 26, 1965. About 250,000 slaves in Texas had technically been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation but until the end of the war, there was no one to enforce it so they stayed slaves except for those who escaped. They gained their actual freedom on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers notified them the war was over. The delay was part of an agreement to allow the slaves to harvest the cotton crops before telling them they were free. Juneteenth is now officially recognized as a holiday or special observance in 46 of 50 states.

The 13th Amendment was the document that officially freed slaves nationwide. It was passed by the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865, and President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint resolution for ratification. On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated and Vice-President Andrew Johnson of Tennessee became President. Johnson had remained loyal to the Union although he held staunchly segregationist views. He replaced Lincoln’s first Vice-President on the ticket for Lincoln’s unexpectedly shortened second term as a concession to those with Southern sympathies. Ratification of the 13th Amendment required a certain number of states to individually agree which occurred December 6, 1865. As part of each Southern state’s agreement to be readmitted to the Union. They had to agree to the terms of the 13th Amendment and it was this on a state by state basis that actually freed most of the slaves in territory not held by the Union. So what happens to 3–4 million people without property or jobs?

You rarely hear about the hundreds of thousands of slaves that starved to death. In historian Jim Downs’s book, “Sick From Freedom,” he concludes that a quarter-million slaves either slaved or suffered serious illness from lack of food.


Many of the slaves stayed on their existing plantations and agreed to work for wages. The sharecroppers were offered unfair agreements under which most actually owed their former masters at the end of the year and were forced by indebtedness to remain, free in name only. Others were sent to “contraband camps” near Union bases. The nation mostly looked the other way as former slaves faced starvation and disease. Many expected slaves to simply die out including one white religious leader whose name has been lost in time.

“Like his brother the Indian of the forest, he must melt away and disappear forever from the midst of us.”

In many areas of the South, the newly freed slaves outnumbered white people. Having received the right to vote, run for office, own property, and more. The Reconstruction Period saw great advances for some freed slaves while others were faring far worse. They were only able to make those gains because of the continued presence of federal troops. One of the reactions was the formation of terrorist organizations including the Ku Klux Klan who sought to keep blacks from voting and to address any form of insult they felt the need for action. Tuskeegee Institute estimates the Klan killed over 1,500 people (including 300 white) between 1865–1867. The other reaction was individual states imposing “Black Codes” with the encouragement of President Andrew Johnson who saw this an issue of “states’ rights” and not the business of the federal government.

The Black Codes were simply an effort to reimplement slavery as best they could under the law. Mississippi and South Carolina issued the first Black Codes. In Mississippi, former slaves were required to show proof of employment each January. If they left their employment before the end of the year. They would forfeit their wages and were subject to arrest. In South Carolina, if blacks worked in any other occupation besides farmer or servant, they were subject to an annual tax. Failure to pay would lead to forced servitude on a plantation. Blacks were unable to own guns and knives.

Preventing blacks from voting was one of the major themes of the Black Codes. Laws were passed requiring ownership of property. Poll taxes and unpassable literacy tests were en vogue. Other measures including scaring voters away or just killing them,

The 13th Amendment eliminated slavery except for those convicted of crimes. The Black Codes encouraged America’s first efforts at mass incarceration with the result being hundreds of thousands of blacks being forced into slavery under the guise of law and order. Vagrancy violations were punished by forced work, orphans were sent to plantations against their will. Parents had to demonstrate their ability to support their children or they could be removed, ultimately sent to a plantation. Legalized slavery by another name.

Republicans reasserted some control and passed a Civil Rights Act (over Johnson’s veto) and the14th and 15th Amendments which granted some measure of equality. Any rights gained were only sustained by the continued existence of federal troops which were hated by the Southerners hindered by their presence. After a contested Presidential Election in 1876, Southerners agreed to let Republicans win the election (Rutherford B. Hayes) that was almost certainly won by Democrats, in return for the removal of those federal troops. To complete their end of the bargain. Hayes gave us, “Posse Comitatus” which ensured those federal troops could never return. That gave way to a wave of terror, caused the end of Reconstruction, and the introduction of Jim Crow laws which replaced the Black Codes.

View at Medium.com

One could make the case that ending slavery was conducted like the end of segregated schools, “with all deliberate speed.” Slavery was replaced by the Black Codes which was replaced by Jim Crow. Many of those laws have been replicated in more subtle forms including the ability to suppress votes of “urban” voters whether by redistricting or outright suppression. Modern-day mass incarceration and the lack of will to restore voting rights is another means to the same end. Knowing America’s history is one way to recognize patterns and fight the reimplementation.

Partus Sequitur Ventrem — The Rule That Perpetrated Slavery And Legalized Rape


“That which is brought forth follows the belly (womb)”

This was the legal doctrine that made any child of an American female slave a slave as well. It meant any white fathers had no financial responsibility for their progeny. They were free to rape their slaves at will as there were no laws against that either. With no concern for any children that might come from the forced union. In fact, there was a market for mulatto and octaroon children who would be purchased to work as domestics. Some owners (Thomas Jefferson) used their half-white slaves as their concubines, finding them more attractive the closer they were to white. Sally Hemings was Jefferson’s wife’s half-sister, the product of her father raping a slave. Then again the master might sell their offspring to keep the peace with their wives who might be annoyed at little slave children running around who favor their husbands.

English common law held that a child’s legal status followed the father. Men could be forced to provide at least nominal support for even their illegitimate children. English courts preferred for the fathers to take responsibility, sometimes providing apprenticeships, so the community didn’t have to care for the child. Those laws no longer applied across the ocean. The colonies went rogue and adopted new laws in 1662, freeing them of any responsibility for the tan slave children they were creating. It also kept the number of free black children low as any child born to a female slave was also a slave.

Not talked about in proper society were the children of free white women and black slaves. White women who weren’t sure what color the child might be could get a legal abortion those days. “Cottonwood” was a remedy known to slaves who sometimes refused to have children after being raped or as often as the masters would like. Some women would be forced to have over a dozen children if they survived as death during childbirth was relatively common. The rare slave would be offered their freedom if they produced enough children. Sometimes the dark child of a white woman was abandoned or given away. Usually just sold off although technically they were legally free.

There was a growing population of free blacks in America. By the year 1810, over 10% of blacks in the upper Northern states were free. In Virginia at the same time, just over 7% of blacks were free; mostly through manumission but a few being born to white women. Then cotton increased the need throughout the south for labor and suddenly slaves weren’t being freed so much but sold. The price of domestic slaves had gone up because America had made importation of slaves illegal. That move, spearheaded by our old friend Jefferson but envisioned in the Constitution (Article One: Section Nine) was about protectionism and making Virginia slaveholders who had excess slaves rich but harming South Carolina slave owners who had been importing cheaper slaves from Africa.

Partus Sequitur Ventrem is a Latin term but its application was uniquely American. The Founders codified into law a means to further dehumanize those who they enslaved, walking away from all responsibility. Another lesson in American history.

I’m Trying To Write Fiction But History Keeps Coming Out.


I’m working on a novel, it’s at least historical fiction although it straddles a couple of other genres including sci/fi fantasy. It covers a period of time between the early 1800s and the present so it required a lot of research. It also takes place in four continents of which I’ve only been to two of them so, “a lot of research” is a bit of an understatement. My plan is to be traditionally published which means getting representation by a literary agent, finding a publisher, editing, editing, and more editing. The bottom line is the novel might not see the light of day for two years or more if ever. I’ve found I can’t keep the history I’ve uncovered inside me that long. It’s like the song lyric, “I’ve got a praise and I’ve gotta let it out!”

Most of what is forcing its way to the surface is American history although from time to time I might let a little European, African, or Central American history slip out. I thought I had a good grasp on American history but I’ve found almost everything I thought I knew was wrong, especially if it had to do with slavery. I’ve taken to asking the question, “How did slavery impact that situation?” The answer almost always turns out to be that slavery had a great impact. An example would be the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. The act provides that US Troops cannot be deployed to enforce domestic policies on American soil. My presumption was that it was to prevent a military coup as happens in other nations. I watched an episode of “West Wing” titled Posse Comitatus in which the fictional President Jed Bartlet had to work around the act to assassinate a despot who had visited the United States. No mention of slavery whatsoever. One day I asked myself what did Posse Comitatus have to do with slavery? The answer was it was implemented to ensure that Federal troops never return to the South where they had protected the freed slaves after the Civil War. Another low spot in history, the Compromise of 1877 allowed for the removal of those troops which ended Reconstruction and ushered in Jim Crow.

American history is like that, what’s taught puts the best spin on things so we can still look to the Founding Fathers as heroes and not see them also as flawed men. George Washington didn’t have wooden teeth buy had dentures made of teeth pulled from slaves among other materials. Thomas Jefferson gave each slave family one blanket every three years (except when he was President when the overseer of Monticello gave them none). The Constitution which established that the International Slave Trade could be ended after twenty years was not setting the stage for ending slavery. It was an allowance that South Carolina could keep importing African slaves before Virginia and Maryland slaveowners could implement protectionist measures to keep the value up of domestic slaves, often forced breeding involving marriages approved of by the masters or flat out rape.

I keep plugging away on my novel. But forgive me if from time to time a little history slips out because I can’t keep it contained.

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Thomas Jefferson Did More To Promote Domestic Slavery And Slave Breeding Than Any Other President…


While the current trade war between Donald Trump and China keeps making the news. There’s another trade war guided by Thomas Jefferson we never heard about. That one led to protectionist pricing and massive exportation of what became Virginia’s greatest export, not tobacco but slaves.

Jefferson is considered by some the “Father of the Constitution,” though he didn’t write a word of it. He was serving as the Minister to France at the time and wasn’t present at the Constitutional Convention. It was James Madison who drafted the Constitution including the Bill of Rights. Jefferson was still a great influencer having mostly written the Declaration of Independence and drafts for the Virginia Constitution. His drafts didn’t arrive in time to be considered in the actual document but became part of the foundation for the Bill of Rights when Madison composed them. His views on gun rights made their way into the Constitution. A close reading suggests his views on guns might be tied to slavery and the need for owners to maintain order.

“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms within his own lands and tenements.”

The Constitution contained a clause that Jefferson made full use of to enrich not only himself but also fellow Virginia slaveowners. The clause was a compromise with South Carolina which allowed them to continue importing African slaves for no less than twenty years. By the time of the American Revolution, a combination of burned-out fields due to poor crop rotation and a loss of their best customer (Britain) meant that Virginia, in particular, had too many slaves while South Carolina and other Southern states more reliant on rice and sugar, barely had enough. Charleston had become the largest port for receiving African slaves which they were getting relatively cheaply. This reduced the value of Virginia slaves which farmers were breeding (I’ll come back to that) and selling to states with greater needs.

If Jefferson and other Virginians and some New Englanders had their way. The International slave trade would have stopped right along with the adoption of the Constitution. The clause that gave Southern states a twenty-year-pass was to entice the Southern states, especially South Carolina, to join the union. Keep in mind, none of those illustrious founding father wanted to get rid of slavery. They just wanted to limit it to the home-grown kind and keep the prices up. Thomas Jefferson who owned over 600 slaves in his lifetime was chief among them.

“The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.”

Constitution of the United States; Article One; Section Nine

For the next twenty years, Virginia and South Carolina (with Maryland a distant third) competed to provide the rest of the nation with slaves. Virginia and Maryland selling off their excess, South Carolina reselling the Africans fresh off the boat. South Carolina knew they had a short window to work with.

Nobody knew at the time that some unruly slaves in Saint Domingue (later Haiti) led by Toussant L’Ouverture would take over the place and give Napoleon such a bad taste in his mouth he soured on America with all its black people and arranged to sell off France’s holdings there with The Louisiana Purchase in 1803. White folks had already been encroaching on land north of New Orleans and west into Tennessee, Kentucky, and elsewhere. Fertile land was begging to be farmed, with the help of slaves of course. Who had slaves? Virginia, Maryland, and South Carolina.

Back to that trade war. Though the stage had been set with the finalization of the Constitution in 1787. It only provided that the international slave trade could not be ended prior to 1808. Somebody still had to actually make that happen which is where Thomas Jefferson steps in. In 1800, Jefferson was elected President, assuming office in 1801. He was still President in 1808 when that Constitutional prohibition against ending the international slave trade expired. He didn’t wait that long, getting all the paperwork and legislation out of the way a year early in 1807. In his address to Congress, he denounced the violations of human rights imposed on the Africans, surely giving no thought as to how much richer he and his fellow slaveholding Virginians would be once those pesky South Carolinians were eliminated as rivals.

“I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally, to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country, have long been eager to proscribe.

I don’t mean to suggest Jefferson was insincere, well actually I do. While he claimed to be so concerned about human rights, morality, and reputation. He was fathering several children with one of his slaves. Family members, despite DNA evidence, held all the children weren’t his, some might have been his brother’s children because loaning out one’s property was in vogue back in the day. Finally, in 2017, an organization representing the Jefferson family acknowledged he fathered six children with Sally Hemings who he started raping when she was 14. Getting rid of the international slave trade, instantly made domestic slave traders like Jefferson much richer.

Jefferson banned shipment of slaves to America from Portugal, Spain, France, Britain, and the Dutch so that America would get a better price for its homegrown slaves, eliminating a major source of competition. Because the demand for slaves was still high due to the nations rapid expansion. America’s dirty secret was that they forcibly bred slaves (I said I’d come back to this) to supply the Southern and those more Western states that had adopted slavery. It was no different than banning all foreign cars to improve the market for domestic vehicles. except that cars weren’t a product of forcible rape in many cases to keep the production line going.

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There are those who are devoted to propping up the image of Thomas Jefferson. They say his ending the international slave trade was the first step toward ending slavery itself. The fact it greatly increased his wealth was simply a byproduct. They cite his writings and speeches about the evils of slavery. Of the over six-hundred slaves he owned in his lifetime, he freed only seven, two while he was living, one of whom paid $200 for his release. They say Jefferson would never be involved in something as heinous as slave breeding. Even though he enacted the law that greatly expanded the practice. I’ll let Jefferson have the last word and you decide.

“I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man of the farm, what she produces is an addition to the capital, while his labors disappear in mere consumption.” Thomas Jefferson

Why We Need a White History Month


Every February when Black History Month comes around, like clockwork a small percentage of people take umbrage that black people get a month to celebrate their history and there is no White History Month to counterbalance it. I used to argue that white history is taught year-round and there’s no need to set aside a month to focus on it. I’ve come to realize that we do need a White History Month if not two or three. Truth is, a whole lot of white history has been left out of the books and Americans of every color need to be aware.

The white history we’ve been taught is mostly a fallacy. We were taught that George Washington had wooden teeth, not the reality that his false teeth included teeth taken from slaves, likely his own. George Washington treated his slaves like every other slaveowner of the time. He tore apart families long before Donald Trump, he authorized beatings to maintain order.


Washington’s will stipulated if he died before his wife Martha, the slaves he owned (as opposed to those she owned) be freed after her death. Martha ended up freeing his slaves once she realized they had a great incentive to speed up her death and thus gain their freedom. She freed them not from the goodness of her heart but in fear for her life.

We know Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, most famously Sally Hemings with whom he had a decades-long relationship as she bore him six children. Let’s be clear that there’s no such thing as a consensual relationship between slave and master. She was repeatedly raped by Thomas Jefferson although historians would never describe it that way. Many historians and Jeffersons family members denied the lineage of Hemings children, even after DNA established it as fact. Only recently have they grudgingly acknowledged a couple of the children might have been Thomas Jefferson’s, if not his brother’s.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with freeing the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation. He actually only freed the slaves in the Southern states that seceded from the Union. He did that for two reasons; to inflict economic pain on the South and to keep France and Britain from siding with the South against the North because of their recent aversion to slavery. Lincoln himself in the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates, did all he could to avoid being called an abolitionist and repeatedly claimed that black people were not the social equal as white people nor as intelligent. Given his druthers, he’d have sent all the slaves to Liberia or Central America and been rid of them.

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There is so much white history purposefully unknown to most Americans that we truly need to dedicate a month or more to its study. We could understand why the Electoral College that gives additional power today to rural states with low population, was originally intended to protect slave states and ensure more populated ones couldn’t outlaw slavery by the weight of their numbers. We’d know the rationale for the 3/5th’s clause and about the provision of the Constitution that allowed for the ending of the International Slave Trade no sooner than 1808. That prohibition was had nothing to do with ending slavery but was about protectionism of the Domestic slave trade which led to one of the most heinous act ever perpetrated in the world, slave breeding farms.

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America has spent as more time denying the existence of breeding farms than educating people about them. Led by large slave breeding farms in Richmond, VA, and the Maryland Eastern-Shore. Farms whose populations were almost exclusively black women were forced to have child after child that were ultimately shipped to Southern plantations to meet their needs. Some “benevolent” slaveowners offered the women their freedom after they bore at least 15 children. The fathers were often sent from nearby plantations although the owners felt free to sample the wares whenever they chose. The previously mentioned Thomas Jefferson knew the value of a female slave though they may have never tilled the field or harvested a crop.

“I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man of the farm, what she produces is an addition to the capital, while his labors disappear in mere consumption.” Thomas Jefferson

Many of the laws that exist today stem from slavery or its aftermath. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which prevents actions of Federal Troops on US soil was to ensure that Federal Troops never again protected the black ex-slaves in the South. Their stationing allowed for the Reconstruction Era while their removal brought Reconstruction to a swift end.

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Even people that have heard of “Juneteenth” may not be aware of the entire history behind it. Yes, it reflects the date that blacks in Texas learned they were free, months after the Civil War actually ended. You won’t learn that the Federal government was complicit in the delay so that one more cotton crop could be harvested. Texas history books would seem the reasonable place to look for an accurate telling of their history but they would rather you be told a tale of “American Exceptionalism,” that suggest slavery was a labor arrangement.

The Ocoee Massacre murdered or burned out the entire black population of Ocoee, FL after two men tried to vote in the 1920 Presidential Election. There was a movie about a similar mass lynching in Rosewood, FL but you still hear almost nothing about it. During the Black Wall Street massacre, the Oklahoma National Guard bombed by air the Greenwood District of Tulsa. Aiding the hundreds of white attackers defending a white elevator operator who claimed (and later denied) she’d been raped. The Groveland Four, Emmett Till, the list goes on and on. Let’s have a White History Month because every effort is being made to sweep it under the rug.

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By 1921, the Greenwood District was the wealthiest black community at the time in America. Attached is the full documentary by The History Channel in 2016. It’s 42 minutes long which may deter some from watching. Should you watch you’ll gain an understanding the history books have yet to share.