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Who sold and who owned saves?

Friday, June 12, 2020 5:02 PM

Large numbers of Northerners had one or a small number of slaves as personal servants, whereas the relatively few of the Southerners (mostly Democrats) who were plantation owners owned most of the slaves in the South. 88% of slave owners in the South held fewer than twenty slaves, and nearly 50% held fewer than five. One of the less well-known aspects of the history of slavery is how many and how often non-whites owned and traded slaves in early America. Free black slave holders could be found at one time or another “in each of the thirteen original states and later in every state that countenanced slavery,” historian R. Halliburton Jr. observed. That black people bought and sold other black people raises “vexing questions” for 21st-century Americans like African American writer Henry Louis Gates Jr., who writes that it betrays class divisions that have always existed within the black community. For others, it’s an excuse to deflect the shared blame for the institution of slavery in America away from white people. Jenny ‘Anthony Johnson was not the first slave owner in American history, but he was, according to historians, among the first to have his lifetime ownership of a servant legally sanctioned by a court.

A former indentured servant himself, Anthony Johnson was a “free negro” who owned a 250-acre farm in Virginia during the 1650s, with five indentured servants under contract to him. One of them, a black man named John Casor, claimed that his term of service had expired years earlier and Johnson was holding him illegally. In 1654, a civil court found that Johnson in fact owned Casor’s services for life, an outcome historian R Halliburton Jr. calls “one of the first known legal sanctions of slavery — other than as a punishment for crime.”

American Indians owned thousands of black slaves.

True. Historian Tiya Miles provided this snapshot of the Native American ownership of black slaves at the turn of the 19th century for Slate magazine in January 2016:

Miles places the number of enslaved people held by Cherokees at around 600 at the start of the 19th century and around 1,500 at the time of westward removal in 1838-9. (Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws, she said, held around 3,500 slaves, across the three nations, as the 19th century began.) “Slavery inched its way slowly into Cherokee life,” Miles told me. “When a white man moved into a Native location, usually to work as a trader or as an Indian agent, he would own [African] slaves.” If such a person also had a child with a Native woman, as was not uncommon, the half-European, half-Native child would inherit the enslaved people (and their children) under white law, as well as the right to use tribal lands under tribal law. This combination put such people in a position to expand their wealth, eventually operating large farms and plantations. There were approximately 319,599 free blacks in the United States in 1830. Approximately 13.7 per cent of the total black population was free. A significant number of these free blacks were the owners of slaves. The census of 1830 lists 3,775 free Negroes who owned a total of 12,760 slaves.

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