Slavery –the practice or system of owning slaves (Random House Inc., 2016). Such a system served as a pillar of the U.S. economy and social structure. By 1850, slaves in the U.S. were worth 1.3 billion dollars. Or in other words, American slaves were worth one fifth of the entire nation’s wealth (Goyette, 2014). Such information makes sense of the data that is displayed in the slave sales data set. It’s easy for people to think about how rich America’s history is, but how often do these people think about the hands that made it great? From the Caribbean to the mainland slaves hands were goldmines. Cotton wouldn’t have boomed without people to grow, harvest, and pick it. Tobacco would be a delicacy if lives weren’t stolen and then bought in order to harvest it. These statements ring true for many of the goods produced by slaves. This may be contrary to popular belief, but the American Economy must have depended on slavery for the better part of its history before the start of the 20th century. As a result, slaves were in high demand. But the question is –which slaves were in high demand and why?
According to measuring worth, a slave’s value was truly the value of the how much they’re expected to produce (Williamson and Cain, 2011). In other words the value of a slave was not really the slave’s value per say, but the value of the service that they could provide. For example, an elderly woman wouldn’t be expected to produce much, especially if she has any outstanding physical condition (or “defects”) such a missing finger or cataracts. As we see in this data visualization, males were clearly expected to produce more because generally, more money was spent on males. In Louisiana, males that were between the ages of 15 and 44 had the highest values and men within the 24-35 age-range held the peak values. As for females, those in the approximate age range of 14-33 years old held the highest value. This is no surprise, since these are typically a female’s peak child-bearing years (Williamson and Cain, 2011). Slaves weren’t only valued for what they could produce in the fields, but for their skills as well. Premiums were paid for slaves that had artisan skills such as cooking, carpentry, and blacksmithing, among other domestic skills. On the other hand, a slave’s value was depleted if they had characteristics or deformities that would inhibit their production such as drinking, being crippled, or being a frequent runaway (Williamson and Cain, 2011).
The spreadsheet itself uses appraised values that are generally under one thousand dollars. However, if we were to convert these prices to what they’d be today, the average range for which a slave would be sold would be 12 thousand to 176 thousand dollars. In other words, a slave was worth anywhere between the price of buying a used car and a mortgage. For example, a slave that would be sold for $400 in 1850 would be worth about $82,000 today. (Williamson and Cain, 2011). For slave owners, perhaps foregoing purchasing a home or another luxury item was worth investing in a few decades worth of slave services that would have a major return in the long run.
Though all states in the slave sales data set purchased slaves to some degree, the massive amount of capital spent on both female and male slaves by Louisiana is strikingly higher than the other states. Louisiana was most likely subject to the other factors such as the cotton boom that justified the desire across the country for slaves in their prime. If this is the case, why was Louisiana so much more passionate (according the data visualization) in the buying of slaves? At the top of the 18th century, Louisiana was the resting ground for only ten people of color. However, the French imported about six thousand slaves in Louisiana (Whitney Plantation). After the Seven Years War that concluded in 1763, Louisiana was occupied partly by Britain and partly by Spain. Subsequently the territory was reopened to large scale imports of slaves. By 1795, about thirty years later, the amount of slaves ballooned to almost 20,000. A few years later in 1807, the Atlantic slave trade was prohibited. However, this didn’t stop those that were persistent about sustaining slavery. Thousands of slaves were smuggled into the territory from Africa and the Caribbean illegally in addition to the domestic slave trade in the upper southern part of the U.S. If we fast-forward towards the end of the data visualization in 1860, there were over three hundred thousand slaves in Louisiana and nearly 20,000 free people of color.
In the time period that the slave sales data set spanned, Louisiana had avid reasoning for demanding so much slave labor. While the territory was under French rule, the services that slaves provided varied and the territory was highly dependent on slave labor. Such tasks included cooking, hulling rice with mortars and pestles, carpentry, and raising cattle (oxen, sheep, cows, and poultry among other animals). Female slaves also took care of their master’s personal task of caring for their children. Though aiding in raising their children mad a masters life easier, the mass importation of slaves gave masters a new lease on life. Wealth was easily in a master’s reach with the slave trade (Whitney Plantation).
Coupled with indigo production, the mass importation of slaves gave masters a more prestigious standard of living. Another reason for Louisiana’s higher dispensed capital for slaves is indigo production under Spanish rule. Females were a main part in raising indigo crops and males extracted them –which makes sense of why the territory spend large amounts of capital on both females and males (Whitney Plantation).
Slaves were a part of American culture for centuries, and part of that time is covered in the slave sales data set. The U.S. depended on slaves for their free services in order to make capital. So much so, that they were willing to shell out what would now be thousands upon thousands of dollars on slave labor because of its returns. Where would the U.S. be on a global scale without slave labor? –A question that can answer itself.
Slavery. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/slavery (accessed: April 25, 2016).
Goyette, Braden. “5 Things About Slavery You Probably Didn’t Learn In Social Studies: A Short Guide To ‘The Half Has Never Been Told'” The Huffington Post. October 23, 2014. Accessed April 26, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/the-half-has-never-been-told_n_6036840.html.
Whitney Plantation. “Slavery In Louisiana.” Slavery In Louisiana. Accessed April 26, 2016. http://www.whitneyplantation.com/slavery-in-louisiana.html.
Williamson, Samuel H., and Louis P. Cain. “Measuring Worth – Measuring the Value of a Slave.” Measuring Worth – Measuring the Value of a Slave. 2011. Accessed April 26, 2016. https://www.measuringworth.com/slavery.php.