Slavery by the Numbers

Published:December 1, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

80: The approximate percentage of enslaved Africans among the total number of people who embarked for the Americas between 1500 and 1820. (Source)

12.5 million: The approximate number of enslaved Africans transported to the Americas between 1500 and 1866. (Source)

35,000: The maximum number of enslaved Africans brought to the area that was or would be the United States in any single year between 1619 and 1865. (Source)

15: The percentage of enslaved Africans who died, on average, during the Middle Passage. (Source)

“They loved this”: How an Alabama public school teacher describes his/her class’s reenactment of the Middle Passage. (Source)

Less than 4: The percentage of the total number of enslaved Africans transported to the New World who were imported to the area that became the United States. (Source)

90: The percentage of the total number of enslaved Africans transported to the New World who were imported to Brazil and the Caribbean. (Source)

33: The percentage of South Carolina’s enslaved labor force early in the 1700s made up of American Indians. (Source)

4 to 1: The ratio of white servants to enslaved Africans in Virginia late in the 1670s. (Source)

4 to 1: The ratio of enslaved Africans to white servants in Virginia early in the 1690s. (Source)

1 in 7: Chance that a New York State resident in 1776 was enslaved. (Source)

25: The approximate percentage of the total number of enslaved Africans transported to the Americas who came after Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807. (Source)

$97,100,000,000,000: Estimated value of the labor performed by black slaves in America between 1619 and 1865, compounded at 6 percent interest through 1993. (Source)

1: Votes by which eighteenth-century lawmakers in the United States rejected outlawing slavery in all future states beyond the original thirteen. (Source)

55: The number of white people killed in Southampton County, Virginia, during Nat Turner’s rebellion in August 1831. (Source)

15: Votes by which Virginia lawmakers rejected outlawing slavery in the commonwealth on January 25, 1832. (Source)

500: Estimated number of anti-slavery petitions sent to the United States Congress between 1835 and 1836. (Source)

7.5: Percentage of all free blacks in the United States in 1830 who owned slaves. (Source)

12: Percentage of all free blacks in Virginia in 1830 who owned slaves. (Source)

1 to 1: Ratio of the average 1850 price in Texas of a healthy male slave to that of 200 acres of prime farmland. (Source)

490,865: Total number of slaves in Virginia in 1860. (Source)

30.7: Percentage of slaves among total Virginia population in 1860. (Source)

52.2: Percentage of slaves among total Albemarle County, Virginia, population in 1860. (Source)

$15: Price an Indiana historical museum charged in 1999 for visitors to spend 90 minutes as a runaway slave. (Source)

2 to 1: Estimated ratio of white to black runaways in an Indiana historical museum’s slavery reenactments in 1999. (Source)

2: Number of months after the Civil War ended that slaves in Texas were told of their emancipation. (Source)

IMAGE: Middle Passage by Robert Claiborne Morris

Discussion

41 Comments on “Slavery by the Numbers”

  1. Heather

    Regarding the fact that slaves in Texas did not learn of their emancipation until two months after the war (and 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation)– see the significance of “Juneteenth”. As a native Virginian, I learned this when I lived in Texas.

    1. Katherine

      FYI Gen Granger and 2000 federal troops landed on Galveston Island on June 18th The next day Gen. Granger stated with the emancipation that “The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” On June 23 the last Confederate General surrendered in Oklahoma. Communication was slow back in the day

  2. Brendan Wolfe Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Heather. You are correct: the origins of the Juneteenth holiday date to the day, two months after the end of the war, when slaves in Texas were informed that they actually were former slaves. Which is to say, free men and women.

  3. Alan Glover

    What was the total American population of Black slaves from 1619 to 1865, including those born here?

    1. andrei lampkin

      I would like to know the answer to this question. I would also like to know the percentage of native Americans who owned slaves in America.

      1. James

        Interesting family history- paternal great grand fathers in Mississippi were married to wealthy native american women. The picture of these 4 GP is very obvious. My father, born in 1905 could speak Choctaw in at least one song that he was taught as an infant. Yes, these native american women had slaves.

      2. Brendan Wolfe Post author

        Thanks for your comment. I wish you luck in finding that information. We are currently at work on an entry about the enslavement of Indians in Virginia that includes context on the longstanding Indian practice of enslaving others and trading in those slaves. For more information on Indian slavery in general, these sources might be a helpful starting place:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_among_Native_Americans_in_the_United_States

        http://bit.ly/1VXOYaD

        http://williamlkatz.com/africans-indians-only-america/

        http://african-nativeamerican.blogspot.com/2012/04/abolitionist-newspapers-discuss-slavery.html

    2. Brendan Wolfe Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Mr. Glover. I have no idea and it would be challenging, to say the least, to come up with such a number. You could add up all the census data, but you would need to tweak it so as not to count individuals more than once. That is very difficult without knowing more specific information about slaves’ identities (names, ages, etc.). And the domestic slave trade created more demographic challenges by moving many enslaved people from one part of the United States to another.

      Most historians tend to focus on numbers associated with a specific place and period in time.

    1. Gary Herpst

      At the peak of black slavery in the South, only 6 percent of Southern whites owned slaves. If you include the white people in the North, it means that only 1.4 percent of white Americans owned black slaves at the HEIGHT of slavery.

      General Grant owned slave during the Civil War, but General Lee set his slaves free in the 1840s

      An estimated 3,000 blacks owned a total of 20,000 black slaves in the year 1860.

  4. tkdrown

    I would like to see articles about numbers of native americans who were murdered tortured and used as slaves along with all other races who were slaves in this nation as well…..we do not hear much in reference to the Irish and Chinese Japanese etc.

    1. Brendan Wolfe Post author

      Re “articles about numbers of native americans who were murdered tortured and used as slaves”: we have an entry on the enslavement of Virginia Indians you can read here: http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Indian_Enslavement_in_Virginia

      Re the Irish as slaves: they were not, at least not in the same legal sense as African slaves in Virginia and elsewhere in America. They often were indentured servants, and in the early years of the Virginia colony, indentured servitude included some Africans and African Americans and was sometimes indistinguishable from slavery. (Read about that here: http://bit.ly/1S4hDcl.) However, the popular Internet meme that suggests that the Irish were slaves just like African Americans is wrong. You will find a debunking of it here, along with links to other correctives: http://bit.ly/22mmkD5

      1. Sarah

        I believe your wrong about Irish slavery. You need to dig deeper and look. Virginia historical society may have some info. Indentured servitude sounds nice but when people are kidnapped and put in chains naked on a auction block that is not an indentured servant. Irish were the cheapest slave in the world, 5 sterling/shilling compared to the black slave at 50 sterling/shilling. Look into Virginia, West Indies, Barbados. White females were forced to mate with black men to create the free slave. The Irish were in the bottom of the ship where they died first. Also the first to be thrown over if the ship was too heavy. They were given the most dangerous jobs because they were cheap to replace. The term “white cracker” came from this time period. It was terrible in Europe also. We would pass laws to end it before Europe. There is tons of info and proof out there.

        1. Charles

          With all do respect Sarah, you are wrong about Irish slaves. The Irish were not slaves in the same sense that African Americans were slaves. While it is true that the Irish were sold and traded and brought to America to work for no money, the Majority of Irish slaves were criminals who had committed crimes and were punished to a term of slavery (or “indentured servitude”). Irish slaves could even petition the court to be released from their sentence if they were mistreated by their masters.

          Furthermore, the difference in price was because the children of Irish slaves were born free as opposed to the children of African slaves who were born into slavery. The price of Irish slaves were only for the actual person enslaved and did not extend to future generations, whereas the purchase of an African slave was a purchase of that slaves entire lineage which could produce perpetual income (i.e. it was more of an investment). So while it is true that Irish slaves existed, they were not slaves in the same sense as Africans were as many of them were freed of slavery after serving their punishments.

          1. Oliver

            The Irish were enslaved by the English, Spanish, the Moors etc and many other invaders for hundreds of years…Well before the Dutch and English were running trade to the States..

          2. Kim Cooney

            With all due respect, Charles. Your understanding of what constituted a criminal record in Ireland is shallow at best, and racist at worst. Many “criminals” exported from Ireland (by the English) to Australia and America were either guilty of eating the food they produced with their own hands to keep from starving, or trying to obey the dictates of their own religious conscience. To wit, here are the infamous “Penal Laws of Ireland” (Na Péindlíthe) serially imposed in an attempt to force Irish Roman Catholics and Protestant dissenters (such as local Presbyterians) to accept the reformed denomination as defined by the English state established Anglican Church:
            ● Exclusion of Catholics from most public offices (since 1607), Presbyterians were barred from public office from 1707.
            ● Ban on intermarriage with Protestants; repealed 1778.
            ● Presbyterian marriages were not legally recognised by the state.
            ● Catholics barred from holding firearms or serving in the armed forces (rescinded by Militia Act of 1793).
            ● Bar from membership in either the Parliament of Ireland or the Parliament of England from 1652; rescinded 1662–1691; renewed 1691–1829, applying to the successive parliaments of England (to 1707), Great Britain (1707 to 1800), and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1800 to 1829).
            ● Disenfranchising Act 1728, exclusion from voting until 1793.
            ● Exclusion from the legal professions and the judiciary; repealed (respectively) 1793 and 1829.
            ● Education Act 1695 – ban on foreign education; repealed 1782.
            ● Bar to Catholics and Protestant Dissenters entering Trinity College Dublin; repealed 1793.
            ● On a death by a Catholic, his legatee could benefit by conversion to the Church of Ireland.
            ● Popery Act – Catholic inheritances of land were to be equally subdivided between all an owner’s sons with the exception that if the eldest son and heir converted to Protestantism that he would become the one and only tenant of estate and portions for other children not to exceed one third of the estate. This “Gavelkind” system had previously been abolished by 1600.
            ● Ban on converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism on pain of Praemunire: forfeiting all property estates and legacy to the monarch of the time and remaining in prison at the monarch’s pleasure. In addition, forfeiting the monarch’s protection. No injury however atrocious could have any action brought against it or any reparation for such.
            ● Ban on Catholics buying land under a lease of more than 31 years; repealed 1778.
            ● Ban on custody of orphans being granted to Catholics on pain of 500 pounds that was to be donated to the Blue Coat hospital in Dublin.
            ● Ban on Catholics inheriting Protestant land.
            ● Prohibition on Catholics owning a horse valued at over £5 (to keep horses suitable for military activity out of the majority’s hands).
            ● Roman Catholic lay priests had to register to preach under the Registration Act 1704, but seminary priests and Bishops were not able to do so until 1778.
            ● When allowed, new Catholic churches were to be built from wood, not stone, and away from main roads.
            ‘No person of the popish religion shall publicly or in private houses teach school, or instruct youth in learning within this realm’ upon pain of twenty pounds fine and three months in prison for every such offence. Repealed in 1782.
            ● Any and all rewards not paid by the crown for alerting authorities of offences to be levied upon the Catholic populace within parish and county.
            Et cetera…

  5. Tim

    The Lee family did not free their slaves in 1840. That was the year Virginia made it a crime to educate slaves. RE Lee only allowed a few slaves to be freed and kept the insitution of slavery at his plantation til the emancipation proclimation and Union forces overran the plantation early in the war. Slaves were allowed to learn to read to allow them to study the bible but RE Lee tho a legendary general and often spoken of with awe and kindness was a slaveholder. I believe after the war he ‘saw the light’ on the evil of slavery.

    1. John Smith

      No. Lee never owned Arlington Plantation. His wife inherited it in 1857, and Lee returned there in 1857 to settle the will, which required that the slaves are Arlington be freed within 5 years. The Civil War broke out, and he was prevented from fully executing the will.

  6. john blanchard

    I am interested in how many people were born into slavery in the usa between 1620 and 1865? I want to know how many were actually enslaved and not just how many were transported here.

    1. Sarah

      There is tons of info out there. In a period of 300+ years 1500-1865 I think about 12.2 million. This includes free and born here also. A total number in the country.

      1. Faye Stewart

        Hey Sarah,

        Can you define your answer a little better, maybe keep it within the US, maybe 6% of whites owned slaves in the south…oh don’t forget that many blacks owned slaves, did you include that in your vague information…. Since 1958 whites bent over backwards to give blacks a step up, that’s 60 years and think that’s more than enough time for blacks to get themselves together but their still complaining woe is me… Sick of it.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        1. Kristin

          Faye, after 400 years of slavery there were 100 years of Jim Crow, 75 years of mis-education and abuse, 60 years of public lynchings, 60 years of segregation, 35 years of racist housing, business, banking, & education policies… countless years of segregation & suppression. So now what damage does that do to a people? It leaves generational wounds & scars & that need to heal. I’d like to see how “easily” you’d be able to deal with being on the receiving end of such far reaching generational damage. If you think the oppression & prejudice automatically ended in 1958, like flipping off a light switch, then you are sadly mistaken & need more exposure to reality. You do not have the right to tell a disenfranchised group of people how to handle their experiences, especially with the mindset that you have. Having said that, Black education & wealth in our country is consistently improving, so there is progress to be noted.

    1. Pojimogo

      “Do you know the number of enslaved Africans that were sold to Europeans by other Aficans (sic)”

      By the mid 1500’s nearly all Africans sold into the Afro-Euro slave trade were victims of other Africans. For Europeans themselves, the attempt to procure slaves in the numbers needed to fuel this inhuman form of labor was not only logistically impractical, it was a highly dangerous endeavor as well. It was the Africans that made possible the European/Atlantic slave trade. In all probability, had Africans not chosen to enslave their countrymen and neighbors in an unquenchable thirst for power and profit, the European/American slave trade with Africa would never have existed … at least not in measure and to the extent it had evolved during its historical peak.

    1. Faye Stewart

      Your facts are wrong John Mack around six percent owned blacks….Blacks owned blacks……History books look it up

  7. Robert Harden

    Are there numbers regarding the number of emancipated slaves who were captured illegally by trackers, and then sold back into slavery.

  8. Trisha

    I am really having a hard time with people forgetting about what happened to these human beings. I recently had my cousin post something saying it was a way of life to own slaves and comparing us now to them as we work like slaves. My reaction to that was just wow! Are you kidding me! He said we can’t hate our forefathers for owning slaves. Everything in his statement is just non empathetic to me and I even see in this site people talking about African Americans complaining. When will people wake up and be human!

    1. John Smith

      Thank you. My family was enslaved by Romans, and tortured and beaten. We have never forgotten. I’m glad to see there are others out there who still care.

  9. Dudley Brooks

    I’m having an argument with an apologist who points out (correctly, but irrelevantly, in my opinion) that before the middle 1600s most Africans “came” to the US as indentured servants rather than as slaves. What I haven’t yet been able to find out is

    (1) How many came as indentured servants versus how many subsequently were brought as slaves (and versus how many were born into slavery)?

    (2) How voluntarily did they “come” as indentured servant?

    (3) What was their origin and their situation before that?

    Thanks.

    1. Brendan Wolfe Post author

      You ask whether Africans came to Virginia primarily as indentured servants or slaves, at least in the early years. This is something that historians disagree about. Some argue that there was no law in Virginia at the time (beginning in 1619) that recognized the lifetime enslavement of people. Others argue (and here I may be missing some of the nuances) that the lack of such a law did not mean that Africans weren’t, in fact, enslaved. Various accounts suggest that they were, and there certainly was precedent in the Caribbean, for instance.

      This much seems clear: some Africans were treated as indentured servants but perhaps not all. By 1640 Virginia courts were treating them differently than white servants, with one black servant, who had run away, being sentenced to enslavement. No white servant ever received such a sentence. In 1660 Virginia law mentioned slavery for the first time, and soon the courts were suggesting, by their rulings, that the default situation of Africans was enslavement. And in 1662 the General Assembly passed a law that said that children shall be free or enslaved according to the condition of their mother.

      All of which is to say that it is not clear how many Africans came as servants versus slaves in the first several decades, but by 1660 the enslavement of Africans was quickly becoming colonial policy.

      Africans did not come to the colony voluntarily. They generally were captured in Africa, usually by other Africans, sold to white traders, who transported them to America and sold them there. Families were often broken up in this way. The first Africans to come to Virginia in 1619 came as part of the long-established transatlantic slave trade.

      You can read more about those first Africans in Virginia here: https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Virginia_s_First_Africans

  10. John Smith

    Thank you for your research. Could you please answer the questions:

    1. How many millions of Black people were captured by rival Black African Tribes during inter-tribal warfare in Africa (as POWs), and then sold to slave traders and dispersed throughout the world (including brought to America)? Please be as exact as possible.

    2. How many millions of Black people were captured and sold by Muslims in Africa?

    3. How many millions of White Europeans and Americans were captured by Muslims from Africa and enslaved or killed?

    4. How many Native American Indians were enslaved and killed other Native American Indians before Columbus arrived?

    5. How many Native American Indians enslaved and killed Colonists and American Citizens after Columbus arrived?

    6. How many Black people owned slaves in the United States up until after the Civil War?

    7. How many thousands of Black people were still enslaved in States that still belonged to the Union during the Civil War?

    8. Which political party was the driving force in slavery in the South, creation of the KKK, establishing Jim Crow, and fighting against desegregation up until the last 40 years?

    Just want honest answers. You seem pretty good and thorough. Thank you.

  11. Steven Hemstreet

    I am not a slave, my parents were not slaves. My parents don’t own slaves, I don’t own slaves. Why is the current generation having to pay for the lifestyles of our ancestors. People obsess over history – history is just old news. People need to forgive and not obsess about things that happened to their ancestors. If anyone has a legitimate complaint it would be the American Indians who lost the entire USA to the invading whites, blacks and latinos.

    1. Don

      Steven – did your parents provide a home for you? Did they have jobs? Did their parents before them? Did they pass down any inheritances? How much wealth and opportunity was passed on to you by generations and generations of those who “didn’t own slaves”?

      You didn’t start from zero when you were born. You had a legacy handed down to you. If you’re so concerned about people of colour ignoring their history and the deficits their ancestors came from, then you should be willing to forego all the advantages your ancestors handed to you…

      But you know it doesn’t work that way. You, just like me, are a recipient of white privilege that goes back generations. Until you’re willing to admit that, you should stop complaining about “this generation” being infatuated with the history of slavery.

      And no, throwing in the horrors of what was done to aboriginal peoples in N America doesn’t get you off the hook. Slavery is ANOTHER atrocity. Our ancestors participated in both and we have generations of advantages built on the backs of these horrors, whether you admit it or not.

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