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.

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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. 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.

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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.

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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 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?

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.

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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.

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

Who Owned The Most Slaves? The Answer Will Surprise You.

Pixabay — Image of Thomas Jefferson

I’ve been through Aiken, SC and never given it a thought. Aiken is in western South Carolina where you’ll find the University of South Carolins-Aiken, and the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum. Founded in 1835, Aiken was named after William Aiken; President of the South Carolina Railroad. Across the state, Aiken also owned the Jehossee Plantation along with the whole island it was located on. At one time Aiken owned over 700 slaves which would have made him the 5th largest slaveholder. Slightly ahead of Louisiana Governor John L. Manning (Great-grandfather of Peyton and Eli Manning) with 670 slaves and a ways ahead of President Thomas Jefferson with 600.

Fourth place belonged to Meridith Calhoun in Louisiana. Third to sugar producer John Burneside, also of Louisiana. In second place was cotton producer Dr. Stephen Duncan who owned over 15 plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana. First place ostensibly belonged to the “King of the rice planters,” Col. Joshua John Ward who controlled six large rice plantations in South Carolina. Ward had over 1,100 slaves but they were all outdone by an entity one never thinks of as slaveholders… the railroads.

The railroads owned and/or rented more slaves than any of the largest plantations. You’d never know it to read their histories. It’s fairly well known about the use of up to 20,000 Chinese workers who made up 90% of the workforce that built the Western railroads. At one time they were paid $26 a month working six days a week. That compared favorably to the black slaves that built the Southern railroads, many of the trains used to transport slaves to southern plantations that were bred on the breeding farms in Richmond, VA, Maryland Eastern-Shore, and elsewhere.

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Rarely mentioned in history books or taught in schools is the fact that slaveowners were the majority shareholders in most of the Southern railroads. William Aiken’s South Carolina Railroad never bragged about it. If you look deeply into their records of financial losses after the Civil War. You’ll find defaulted Confederate Bonds, uncollected transport charges, and 111 emancipated slaves for which they weren’t reimbursed.

“Southerners built some of the earliest and longest railroads in the nation.” – William G. Thomas III

Professor William G. Thomas III documented the role slaves played in building the Southern railroads. He cited historian Theodore Kornweibel indicated over 10,000 slaves worked on the railroads between 1857–1865. Dr. Mae Gilland Wright estimated the railroads used 15,000 slaves in 1860 alone. Many of them were rented from local plantations, some doing double duty harvesting cotton, tobacco, and rice on their day jobs. The work was often dangerous, sometimes involving dynamite to dig tunnels. Slaveowners who leased their slaves often took out insurance as they realized they might not get their slave back healthy or alive.

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The legend of John Henry told of an ex-slave who was pitted in a steel-driving race against a steam-powered machine. John Henry won the race but died afterward after his heart gave out from stress. There are varying accounts as to whether this was a true story and one possible location of the contest was Talcott, West Virginia. In that version, which took place after slavery. Henry was a convict who was leased out to the railroads to do their bidding. Only the name changed once slavery ended. The new owners who rented out slaves were the state and federal prisons. The more modern chain gangs and current road crews or in some cases prisoners serving as firefighters are little more than slaves. It might well be that some states today might be renting out more slaves than were owned by Thomas Jefferson, William Aiken, or Col. Joshua John Ward. Think about it!

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (They Were All About Slavery)


The series of seven debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A Douglas is held up as a standard of American democracy. Every school child was taught about how great and important they were, mostly without ever knowing what they debated about. The single topic that mattered was slavery and related themes like the recent Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court which said that slaves had no rights whatsoever.

The format was different than the debates we’re accustomed to. One speaker would go first, speaking an hour. The second would speak for an hour and a half, then the first speaker would have a half-hour to respond. Douglas and Lincoln alternated going first at each location. In some ways, the debates were highly recognizable, the first speaker making representations about his opponent, the other calling him a liar.

Douglas tried to paint Lincoln as an abolitionist. Lincoln did his best to let people know that while he was a Republican, he had no love for slaves and didn’t mince words saying so. I’ve critiqued current day Republicans who call themselves, “The Party of Lincoln,” but maybe they’re right after all. I encourage everyone to read the full text of the seven debates. If Lincoln had his way… I’ll let him speak for himself.

THE FIRST DEBATE — OTTAWA, ILLINOIS

“What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment, is not the sole question, if, indeed, it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded. We cannot, then, make them equals. It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted; but for their tardiness in this, I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the South.”

“I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.”

“I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects-certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment.”

SECOND DEBATE — FREEPORT, ILLINOIS

“ I do not now, or ever did, stand pledged against the admission of any more slave States into the Union.

“ I do not stand to-day pledged to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.”

“ I do not stand pledged to the prohibition of the slave-trade between the different States.”

“ I have never hesitated to say, and I do not now hesitate to say, that I think, under the Constitution of the United States, the people of the Southern States are entitled to a Congressional Fugitive Slave law.”

THIRD DEBATE — JONESBORO, ILLINOIS

“ Let me ask you why many of us who are opposed to slavery upon principle, give our acquiescence to a Fugitive Slave law? Why do we hold ourselves under obligations to pass such a law, and abide by it when it is passed? Because the Constitution makes provision that the owners of slaves shall have the right to reclaim them. It gives the right to reclaim slaves, and that right is, as Judge Douglas says, a barren right, unless there is legislation that will enforce it.”

FOURTH DEBATE — Charleston, ILLINOIS

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]-that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied every thing. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. [Cheers and laughter.] My understanding is that I can just let her alone. I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of negroes. I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men.”

FIFTH DEBATE — GALESBURG, ILLINOIS

“The right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution of the United States. Therefore, nothing in the Constitution or laws of any State can destroy the right of property in a slave.”

SIXTH DEBATE — QUINCY, ILLINOIS

“I read an extract from an old speech of mine, made nearly four years ago, not merely to show my sentiments, but to show that my sentiments were long entertained and openly expressed; in which extract I expressly declared that my own feelings would not admit a social and political equality between the white and black races, and that even if my own feelings would admit of it, I still knew that the public sentiment of the country would not and that such a thing was an utter impossibility, or substantially that.”

SEVENTH DEBATE — ALTON, ILLINOIS

“I never have complained especially of the Dred Scott decision because it held that a negro could not be a citizen, and the Judge is always wrong when he says I ever did so complain of it. I have the speech here, and I will thank him or any of his friends to show where I said that a negro should be a citizen, and complained especially of the Dred Scott decision because it declared he could not be one. I have done no such thing, and Judge Douglas so persistently insisting that I have done so, has strongly impressed me with the belief of a predetermination on his part to misrepresent me. He could not get his foundation for insisting that I was in favor of this negro equality any where else as well he could by assuming that untrue proposition. Let me tell this audience what is true in regard to that matter; and the means by which they may correct me if I do not tell them truly is by a recurrence to the speech itself. I spoke of the Dred Scott decision in my Springfield speech, and I was then endeavoring to prove that the Dred Scott decision was a portion of a system or scheme to make slavery national in this country. I pointed out what things had been decided by the court. I mentioned as a fact that they had decided that a negro could not be a citizen-that they had done so, as I supposed, to deprive the negro, under all circumstances, of the remotest possibility of ever becoming a citizen and claiming the rights of a citizen of the United States under a certain clause of the Constitution. I stated that, without making any complaint of it at all. I then went on and stated the other points decided in the case, namely: that the bringing of a negro into the State of Illinois and holding him in slavery for two years here was a matter in regard to which they would not decide whether it would make him free or not; that they decided the further point that taking him into a United States Territory where slavery was prohibited by act of Congress, did not make him free, because that act of Congress, as they held, was unconstitutional.”

Please keep in mind that throughout these debates, Lincoln was the most favorable towards the elimination of slavery. I have no reason to doubt his claim he was personally opposed to the institution. However, he makes quite clear he was willing to accept its existence in the places it already existed. He agreed the Fugitive Slave Law was constitutional, he acknowledged the Constitutionality of the Dred Scott decision. He thought the slave morally and intellectually inferior and has at various times advocated they might all be sent to Liberia (but for the notion they’d be unable to survive there and would all die) or sent to colonize Central America.

Lincoln did eventually present The Emancipation Proclamation, not out of any conviction it was the right thing to do but to hurt the economy of the South and keep the recently enlightened France and Britain from forming an alliance with the South. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were very informative but have been misrepresented as to their greatness. It was as if George Wallace debated Strom Thurmond on what to do with the Negro. Read Lincoln’s words and let me know how much of a hero he was. It’s probably worth noting that Lincoln lost that Senate race.

The Truth About American Slave Breeding Farms


Excerpted from Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South by Marie Jenkins Schwartz. Published by Harvard University Press.

“By the 1820s planters and would-be planters were moving in large numbers to places previously unavailable for settlement and growing the fiber for sale in Europe and New England, where a textile industry was beginning to thrive. The extension of the so-called Cotton Kingdom required new laborers. As of 1808, when Congress ended the nation’s participation in the international slave trade, planters could no longer import additional slaves from Africa or the West Indies; the only practical way of increasing the number of slave laborers was through new births. With so much at stake, black women’s reproductive role became politically, as well as economically, decisive. If enslaved mothers did not bear sufficient numbers of children to take the place of aged and dying workers, the South could not continue as a slave society.”

In this book and many other sources, it’s made to appear that America had little choice but to increase slave production to offset the altruistic end of the International Slave Trade which Congress Banned in 1808. Thomas Jefferson was President at the time, he had no problem with slavery. He literally loved his slaves, failing to free even Sally Hemmings children, all six of them believed to be his according to DNA evidence, until after his death. Jefferson was a Virginia farmer, knowing full well the value of slavery to the Southern economy. Congress at that time was controlled by the Party he created; the Democratic-Republican Party (not to be confused with either the Democrats or Republicans of today). They didn’t end the International Slave Trade to harm slavery, but to preserve it, domestic slavery, in particular. Congress wanted to decrease the external supply to keep prices up for the homebred slaves.

It’s worth noting that the Constitution of the United States, in addition to establishing the Electoral College to protect slave states, and valuing slaves at three-fifths of a person (while giving them no rights). Specifically, forbid banning the importation of slavery prior to 1808.

“ 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.”

Article 1: Section 9 Constitution of the United States

Americans did not take up breeding slaves in response to Congressional action, that action was taken at the behest of slave breeders as a protectionist means to keep the price of their product up. Jefferson’s home state Virginia was the leading producer of slaves. Slavery eventually exceeded tobacco as their leading export. Maryland was second in slave production, followed by several other states.

Economist Richard Sutch did a study which found that in 1860, on farms that had at least one female slave the ratio of women to men was 2:1. In Virginia, female slaves exceeded males by over 300,000. They were used to breed. Robert Lumpkin ran what is mostly referred to as a “slave jail” with little recognition that he ran the nations largest breeding farm. He personally had five children with a slave Mary who he ultimately remembered in his will. While owners of the breeding farms and plantations in general fornicated at will with their property, they also utilized selective breeding. Maintaining their own large “bucks” and importing large male slaves for the purpose of breeding good workers for the fields.

Black female slaves were some of the first people in the country to receive free health care. Breeders took a great interest in fertility and expected multiple births from the women or their value would be diminished. Home medical journals were produced to help with difficult births that had previously been left to the slaves to deal with. The quote from the film Gone With The Wind, “I don’t know nothin’ about birthing babies,” was meant to be a thing of the past.

Many films have depicted boats arriving in New Orleans which became the largest slave market in the Antebellum South. Rarely is it shown those ships originated in Richmond and Baltimore. Slaves were also shipped by railroad packed in boxcars or sent by stagecoach. The slave breeding farms are mostly left out of the history books except those that deny their existence.

Many of the white slave owners felt they were doing their female slaves a favor when they mated with them. Granting them a respite from the brutish black slaves they would otherwise be subjected to. Generally speaking, it was the house slaves that got raped the most. Some mothers had to protect their offspring from the master’s wife if she had reason to believe her spouse was the father. We’re generally aware of that situation which we’ve been led to believe was the worst case scenario. Nobody talks about the 13-year-old girl on a breeding farm, forced to bear as many children as possible, only to have them ripped away and send down South to endure a lifetime of hardship, without a mother. On one breeding farm, the mother would be freed after birthing fifteen children. What would she have to look forward to?

America barely acknowledges that breeding farms existed, let alone document their role in creating the robust economy of the early South. There are the self-evident truths mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, and those truths so heinous they must perpetually be covered up and denied. Breeding farms fall into the second category. History books when they even mention it, suggest slave breeding didn’t begin until after the banning of the Atlantic slave trade. In truth, it began decades earlier on plantations and farms and only because America was prepared to produce the slaves it needed did it allow the end of the importation of slaves from Africa.