“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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!