When 18 months complete their growth,
Then the tall canes’ rich juices fill;
And we, to bring their liquor forth,
Convey them to the bruising-mill.
That mill, our labour, every hour,
Must with fresh loads of canes supply;
And if we faint, the cart-whip’s power,
Gives force which nature’s powers deny.
A. Opie, The Black Man’s Lament (1826), an antislavery tract for children.
This study is concerned with explaining some remarkable population patterns and with examining the very extensive implications of these patterns. Among North American slaves, births greatly exceeded deaths, so that the slave population expanded rapidly. In sharp contrast, across the slave societies of the Caribbean and Latin America, the persistent experience was one not of natural increase but of dramatic natural decrease. Indeed, the North American pattern was probably, with a few local and sometimes short-term exceptions, unique in the history of slavery. As C. Vann Woodward wrote: “So far as history reveals, no other slave society, whether of antiquity or modern times, has so much as sustained, much less greatly multiplied, its slave population by relying on natural increase.” Why, then, did North American slaves experience such rapid natural increase (excess of births over deaths), and why did slaves in the rest of the Americas fail to increase naturally?
The contrast between North America and the rest of the Americas is a fundamental one. For example, over the many years of the African slave trade, Jamaica imported some 750,000 slaves, but at the time of emancipation in 1838 its black population numbered only just over 300,000: North America, in contrast, imported only about 427,000 Africans, but at the time of emancipation in 1865 the U.S. black population had grown to more than ten times that number. In the antebellum period, U.S. slaves showed a natural population growth of some 25 percent per decade (and indeed, North American slaves had established a pattern of natural growth by about 1710). In sharp contrast, Caribbean and Brazilian slaves commonly suffered rates of natural decrease of 20 percent per decade.
The North American slave experience is perhaps even more remarkable when compared with free white populations. From the later eighteenth century, and possibly before that even, and until the Civil War, the rate of natural growth of North American slaves was much greater than for the population of any nation in Europe, and was nearly twice as rapid as that of England. By the 1850s, the rate of natural increase was higher even than that of the white population of the United States. This was a remarkable outcome because, as Thomas Malthus suggested as early as 1798, white Americans expanded with a rapidity “probable without parallel in history.”
Anthropometric studies (which use the average height of a population to infer the quality and abundance of its diet) have led some researchers to underline the U.S. slave pattern even more boldly. Writers such as Robert Fogel have asserted that adult U.S. slaves were remarkably tall (and therefore well fed). Supposedly, they were taller than contemporary Africans and taller than Caribbean slaves. Not only this, anthropometricians have claimed that they were taller than European workers of the period and that they were almost as tall as white Americans, the latter apparently being the tallest population of the era. If these anthropometric findings are reliable, it might begin to seem that, in important material aspects of their lives, the experience of North American slaves was better than that of Africans, better than that of Caribbean slaves, and better even than that of the mass of free workers of Europe. It might also begin to look as though diet had a significant role in explaining the natural increase patterns of the Americas.
The significance of the contrasting experiences of natural increase and decrease in the Americas is far from being limited to the concerns of specialist demographers. These contrasts both grew out of special structures and attitudes in the regimes concerned and in turn set up special features in those regimes. Not surprisingly, then, these demographic patterns have been, for scholars, the starting point for fundamental assumptions about the nature of these slave societies, about relations between owners and slaves, and about relations within the slave communities. Later in this essay, much more will be said about these attitudes and experiences, but for the time being let us simply note some of the broad outlines.
As we shall see, evidence on positive increase and on the stature of its slaves has led some, like Fogel, to conclude that the North American slave system, though morally indefensible, was materially strong and progressive. Indeed, it seemed to Fogel to represent a pioneering model of modern efficient capitalism, where the material conditions of life were good for the free population but also surprisingly favorable for slaves, too. Positive natural increase was also crucial in Eugene Genovese’s formulation of nineteenth-century U.S. slavery as a historically unique society, based on pre-bourgeois values and on a web of paternalistic relationships that connected slave and master. Genovese wrote: “The paternalism encouraged by the close living of masters and slaves was enormously reinforced by the closing of the African slave trade, which compelled masters to pay greater attention to the reproduction of their labor force. Of all the slave societies in the New World, that of the Old South alone maintained a slave force that reproduced itself.”
The literature on British Caribbean slavery has, compared with that for North America, generally placed far less emphasis on paternalism, and the supposedly greater commercial ruthlessness of West Indian owners is seen as having been closely linked to the demographics of slavery. Often, for the British Caribbean, the claim is made that owners were uninterested in natural increase, indeed, that they vigorously discouraged slave women from bearing and bringing up babies. Curiously, in the case of the literature on Latin American slavery, the significance of similar natural decrease patterns to those of the British West Indies has, until quite recent years, tended to be ignored. The traditional disinclination to link natural decrease to the broader interpretation of Latin American slavery has stemmed from a longstanding attachment to the myth that Latin America was, even under slavery, a “racial democracy,” especially tolerant of color difference.
The influence of the demographic experiences with which we are concerned also reached far into the lives of the slaves and into the nature of their families and communities. In order to expand its slave population, North America relied far less than the rest of the Americas on African slave importations, and this meant that the Creole (local-born) proportion of the slave population was far greater in North America than elsewhere. In 1800 and even later, Africans made up a majority of the slave populations of the British and French Caribbean and of Brazil. In North America, by contrast, there was a Creole majority by 1740, and by the last years of U.S. slavery less than 1 percent was African-born. This situation was of great importance for the nature of religion and slave cultures in different regimes. The demographics of slave regimes also had important implications for slave families and for the possibility of finding spouses, intensive African importation being associated with male-dominated populations and with special problems in finding marriage partners. Intensive importation of young-adult African males also had implications for white conceptions of slaves and for the nature of resistance by enslaved blacks.
This essay is concerned with the wider patterns and experiences associated with slave demography, but the core of the article is an attempt to establish what caused the fundamental contrast between the North American demographic experience and that of the rest of the Americas. As the next section will show, many factors influenced natural increase patterns. The central argument, however, is that plantation crop was the essential influence in determining patterns of natural increase and decrease. More specifically, I shall argue that sugar planting systematically brought together a lethal combination of factors that persistently and almost inevitably produced natural decrease among slaves. Significantly, sugar planting, while dominant in the rest of the Americas, was always of very minor significance in North America.
In North America, the commercial planting of sugar only began in the 1790s; it never employed more than about 6 percent slaves; and it was almost entirely confined to a group of parishes in southern Louisiana. My study will show that the demographic experience of Louisiana’s sugar slaves was unique by U.S. standards. The sugar parishes stood out as a miserable island of natural decrease in the midst of the otherwise consistent pattern of natural increase that stretched across the cotton, tobacco, and rice plantations of the United States. In the Americas as a whole, however, sugar was the great plantation crop, with at least some 60 to 70 percent of all Africans who survived the Atlantic voyage to the Americas ending up on sugar plantations. And across the Americas, as we shall see, the demographic impact of sugar was even more severe than in the Louisiana parishes.
It should be noted that although this article focuses on the demographic role of sugar plantations, sugar was not the only crop associated with poor demographic results. Even so, no other crop or economic activity had the potential to create natural decrease on the scale that sugar did. After sugar, coffee was the plantation crop that seems to have produced the worst demographic rates, but its labor regime was significantly less demanding than sugar. More important still, it accounted for only a fraction of the number of slaves that sugar did. Rice, too, has been associated with poor demographic rates. Still, with rice, the pattern was one of low but positive natural increase, not natural decrease. Moreover, rice was quite a significant crop in parts of North America, and across the rest of the Americas it only accounted for a tiny percentage of slaves. Mining, mainly for gold and silver, has also been associated with poor demographic performance, indeed with natural decrease, but it was mostly a very localized activity. For instance, it was not a significant employer of black slaves in the British Caribbean, so it cannot explain natural decrease in that region.
As far as the creation of natural decrease is concerned, then, this study points to the dominant role of sugar plantations and sugar planters. When turning to another part of the demographic puzzle—North America’s outstandingly high rates of natural increase—this article does not support Fogel’s optimistic claim that good diet was a significant factor. Instead, I shall argue that natural increase in North America was the product of circumstances equivalent in important ways to those associated with modern “Third World” populations—that is, populations where very high death rates are compensated for by even higher birth rates. North American natural increase came about despite an experience of bitter exploitation and suffering.
While this study acknowledges that many factors were at work in producing the demographic contrasts of the Americas, the argument is monocausal in that it maintains that only sugar is a sufficient explanation of these contrasts. The search for a sharply focused explanation seems, moreover, to be important because knowledge of the particular pattern of causation has an impact on the interpretation of many aspects of slavery—for example, on slaveowner motivation, on slave morale and culture, and on the slave family. The argument focuses on sugar, but it is not intended to amount to geographic determinism or to what might be called crop determinism. It was the setting of sugar within specific contexts that was crucial, and the particular approach taken in this article—combining quantification with a critical case study (the Louisiana sugar enclave)—seems to provide an analytical breakthrough that shows the specific nature of the sugar process.
What was necessary to set up the long-run pattern of natural decrease was the combination of sugar, slavery, and access to a slave trade. Slavery on its own would not have produced vast regional patterns of natural decrease, and sugar without slavery was not enough, nor was the combination of sugar and slavery without a slave trade. Although labor on sugar plantations could take a heavy toll on health and on fertility, what was lethal was the combination of sugar with the slaveowners’ ability to buy slaves and to choose a male-dominated labor force, rather than being content with family labor. In other words, the demographic problem stemmed from the priorities of the sugar planter. Sugar planters, unlike the great majority of owners, calculated that they could maximize profits by continually skewing their labor force toward men, and far-reaching demographic and social consequences and costs stemmed from this. Of course, owners who farmed other crops suited their own economic interests in the way they worked and recruited slaves, but their interests were not so demographically destructive. This article, then, focuses specifically on sugar planting but is intended more broadly as an interpretation of slaveholders, economic self-interest, and the consequences of profit-based decisions for life and labor under slavery.
In reviewing research on the problem of slave natural increase, John J. McCusker and Russell R. Menard commented: “The task is important . . . Moreover, the explanation for this growth is intrinsically difficult, demanding the examination of numerous factors affecting natural increase . . . Data are sparse and intractable, especially for the pre-Revolutionary era. Nevertheless, some progress has been made, and given the intensity of work on the issue, more can be expected in the near future.” C. Vann Woodward, in an earlier but still valuable review of the field, pointed to the difficult . . . problems of locating and weighing the almost unlimited number of influences that played a part in determining population growth. The mention of a few such problems will serve to suggest the complexities and difficulties involved. Without regard to priority or relative importance, there come to mind the equations of man-land ratios and man-woman ratios, land fertility and human fertility, rates of mortality and natality, the incidence of disease and famine, the relative advance of medicine and hygiene, comparative health conditions in tropical and temperate zones, tribal origins and mating customs of slave populations, and religious and legal traditions of masters. Complicating all these influences would be comparative stages of economic and technical development . . . On top of these would be added the imponderables of master-slave relations, the patriarchal ethic in tradition and practice . . . Beyond these determinants lies the whole range of cultural limits to security of family [and so on].
McCusker and Menard added a further complication to the debate: “In a sense the West Indies-mainland divergences are deceptive, however dramatic they might seem. Slave populations in all of the chief plantation areas of British America [and they could have added of the Americas more widely] exhibited a similar growth process.” The process was one of long periods, sometimes centuries, of substantial slave importation and natural decrease, but of a movement into natural increase, with the transition to natural increase occurring in Maryland and Virginia by about 1710 (and probably somewhat later in South Carolina), in Barbados not until 1810 (after the ending of the slave trade), and in Jamaica only by about 1840 (after the ending of slavery itself). As McCusker and Menard suggested.
The distinction between the continental [North American] plantation districts and the West Indies was not a function of the ways that change occurred, which seems to have been everywhere similar, for whites as well as for blacks. Rather the differences depended on timing, on how long it took for a reproducing creole majority to emerge and to reverse the net natural decline . . . Recognition of this shared experience changes the issues to be resolved: the need is not only to account for the differences between the West Indies [together with the rest of the Americas] and the mainland but also to explain why a similar course took longer to complete in some regions than others.
When trying to resolve the problem of slave demography in the Americas, the factors to be considered are therefore numerous, and the issues are complicated. Partly, the question is, why was the demographic experience of Caribbean and Latin American slaves so bad? Partly, the question is, why was slave natural increase in North America not just positive but spectacularly positive? But partly, too, we need to consider why, despite fundamentally different outcomes, the North American demographic pattern actually seemed, for long periods, to run in parallel with that of the rest of the Americas.
Although a great many factors have been cited by researchers, we can conveniently group interpretations into three basic lines of argument. First, there is the argument that natural increase was strongly influenced by factors largely extraneous to slavery, including the nature of disease environments and patterns of natural abundance. Second, there is the argument, or set of sometimes conflicting arguments, that increase patterns were determined by factors much more directly under the control of slaveowners. Here, we might include the attitudes of owners toward slave buying, toward families and children, toward welfare and profit, and owners’ decisions about which crop to grow. A third type of argument, and one that has grown in influence in recent years, emphasizes the behavior of slaves, especially their attitudes toward family and toward traditions that might limit fertility. Although, in practice, historians have often combined elements from more than one of these broad classifications, the three-type division of arguments still provides a useful framework for developing the present analysis.
Indispensable research by Philip D. Curtin focused significantly but not exclusively on the role of disease environments, one of the forces extraneous to slavery. Curtin argued that the problem with migration was not the climate that one encountered but the disease environment. He noted that an unfamiliar disease environment, in whatever climate, is potentially lethal since natural resistance will not have had the chance to build. Curtin argued that, because slaves could be bought cheaply in Africa, slaveholders in the Americas bought extensively (buying mainly males), but he added that this pattern of slave recruitment set up a train of interactions. Slaves imported into a new disease environment suffered enormously high mortality (perhaps one third dying within the “seasoning” period of the first year or so). Moreover, birth rates were low for those who survived, because ill health would inhibit fertility and because there were relatively few women to bear children.
As a result of the interconnections he outlined, Curtin argued that the “South Atlantic System” tended to develop a two-stage pattern. First, in periods of rapid economic development, there would be intensive importation of new Africans—but there would also be very marked natural decrease (because of the encounter with an unfamiliar disease environment and because of the other factors just mentioned). Theoretically, a second stage might develop, when a period of slower economic expansion brought a reduced rate of African importation and brought lower mortality, more women, a higher birth rate, and a movement toward natural increase.
Curtin’s model is of great importance in highlighting many of the processes at work in plantation demography. We should, however, not minimize the fundamental differences between the demographic experiences of the Americas. There was in fact no inevitability about the process of moving from reliance on the slave trade. Sugar planters would always demand a male-dominated labor force and would always try to import slaves whenever a supply was open to them. In Louisiana, even when the importation was internal (from the Upper South and not from Africa), the sugar plantations still experienced persistent natural decrease.
Disease environment, especially following Curtin’s work, forms a part of many academic explanations of slave demography, but especially in the British West Indies there has been a long tradition of emphasizing the direct and negative role of slaveholders. For example, Orlando Patterson, in his classic study of Jamaica, argued that Jamaican owners drove so hard for profit that the slave experience was close to the Hobbesian state of nature, with life being “nasty, brutish, and short.” Patterson, like many other writers, argued that owners preferred to buy, not breed. Owners, supposedly, were not interested in slave families, and found child-rearing a wasteful distraction from the woman’s role as worker. Consequently, Jamaican planters adopted an “anti-natalist” attitude, often punishing women who became pregnant and discouraging women from spending time rearing children. Furthermore, he argued, the rigors of the regime meant that the slaves were so demoralized that they, too, were uninterested in family and in looking after children.
In the case of the United States, some historians, for example Richard Sutch, have argued that owners interfered with fertility, but in this case it has been claimed that they did so in order to promote rather than to discourage the rearing of children. Indeed, a long abolitionist tradition maintained that U.S. natural increase was so high because slaveholders, on the supposedly worn-out lands of the Upper South, made their profits by “breeding” slaves for the Lower South market.20 These and other arguments will be reviewed later in this essay.
In a series of publications stretching over many years, Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman have not only rejected the idea of U.S. slaveholders as manipulative slave breeders, but they have seen owners in the United States as providing a rather benign material environment for their slaves. Indeed, the cumulative effect of Fogel and Engerman’s work has been to suggest that the great demographic contrasts of the Americas (or more specifically in much of their work, the contrast between the United States and the British Caribbean) did not come about because of the negative or manipulative influence of the slaveowners of the United States and elsewhere. Instead, the contrasts are said to have been produced partly by the supposedly benign material environment that was provided in U.S. slaveholdings and partly by the influence, in the West Indies, of African cultural traditions (concerning breastfeeding), which are supposed to have greatly reduced fertility.
In North America, then, Fogel and Engerman argue, slaveowners encouraged families and welcomed the natural increase of their slaves.21 The diet of their adult slaves, supposedly, was abundant, and this, Fogel and Engerman argue, was reflected in the exceptional average height of U.S. slaves. They argue, too, that the West Indian problem was not one of exceptionally high slave mortality. Indeed, they suggest that slave mortality was only slightly higher in the Caribbean than in the United States. What they see as making the great difference was not mortality but fertility. West Indian slave fertility was low, and they attribute this to a great extent to the cultural traditions of imported Africans. Africans, they suggest, brought over traditions of long periods of breastfeeding (usually breastfeeding for at least two years). They suggest that this practice inhibited fertility and was to a great extent responsible for natural decrease in the West Indies. A later section of this essay will critically review this argument. My own interpretation differs very much from Fogel and Engerman’s: it points to slaveowners, the profit motive, and to the different crop regimes of the Americas.
The Louisiana sugar parishes provide a very special opportunity to interpret the demographics of slavery. In slave regimes outside the United States, it is nearly always impossible to gain access to detailed and essentially reliable census data on slave populations. The Louisiana sugar parishes, however, are closely documented, decade by decade, by excellent census data. This evidence allows us to calculate crude population growth rates, ratios of children to women, and (with other evidence) numbers of slaves imported. From this sort of evidence, we can then establish the approximate rate of natural decrease of the sugar parishes. (For the location of the thirteen Louisiana sugar parishes that accounted for the vast majority of U.S. cane sugar production, see Figure 1.) In fact, the Louisiana case study allows us not just to establish the broad conclusion that sugar planting produced persistent natural decrease, but it also makes it possible to show how that decrease came about—with evidence on the relative contributions made by excess adult mortality, a sex imbalance, and the shortage of children.
Later sections of this essay will demonstrate in more detail the Louisiana sugar parishes’ specialized and highly significant pattern of slave importation, but two essential elements should be noted at this stage. First, throughout the antebellum period, these parishes imported massively, but, unusually for the sugar regimes of the Americas, the slaves were not from Africa and the Atlantic slave trade. Instead, these were American slaves, bought from long-established slaveholding states such as Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas. The second key feature of the sugar parishes’ importations is that two-thirds of the slaves were males. Such a pattern, though routine in the Atlantic slave trade, will be shown to be unique in the interregional slave trade of the United States. All other parts of the Lower South, including the neighboring cotton parishes of Louisiana, bought roughly equal numbers of males and females.
The sugar planters of Louisiana, unlike those who grew cotton, tobacco, or rice—the dominant U.S. staples—persistently imported far more males than females, and they did this because they wanted a male-dominated labor force. Such an unbalanced force could not be achieved naturally but only by importation. These labor requirements meant that there was a routine pattern across the Americas: everywhere, sugar planters demanded a male-dominated work force, so wherever a trade in slaves was available, they would seek to tap into that trade. The insistence on a mainly male work force came about because of the extreme physical demands that sugar planters imposed on their workers, demands that will be documented in the next section. And the combination of severe labor demands with a male-dominated population was demographically lethal. In the Louisiana sugar parishes, excessive labor meant that “net nutrition” was far from adequate. It also meant “excess” (above average) adult mortality, and that women were often not fit enough to produce healthy children. Of course, the regime also meant that the population had few women, so there were few potential mothers. We shall see, then, that the labor regime in the Louisiana sugar parishes meant a persistent pattern of deaths exceeding births.
Local agricultural societies routinely reported intensive slave importation combined with natural decrease among slaves. Indeed, evidence later in this essay suggests that slaves on the region’s plantations suffered natural decrease of about 13 percent per decade. We know, however, that even this experience would have been better than that of typical sugar plantations of the Caribbean and South America. In those areas, the problems that Louisiana experienced would have been greatly compounded by the fact that the imported slaves nearly always came from Africa, and so suffered the dreadfully high mortality levels of the “seasoning” period.
It is not new to point to the connection between sugar and natural decrease, but previous work has not been able to establish that it was essentially sugar that made the difference in the demography of slaves across the Americas. It has also not been at all clear how far the problem was sugar planting—and how far it was, for example, the African slave trade or the tropical environment in which sugar cane was usually grown. In addition, if sugar planting was to blame for natural decrease, it has not been clear why slaves in Barbados, an important sugar island, managed to achieve positive natural increase by about 1810.29 Moreover, much quite recent work, especially by Fogel and Engerman, has tended to take the focus off sugar and the severities of labor and to put it instead on African traditions and the special circumstances of the United States.
Barry Higman has conducted detailed and important work on slavery and demography in the British Caribbean but has pointed only very cautiously to the major role that sugar might have played in producing natural decrease. Some brief comments on his primary source base will show the problems of drawing decisive conclusions from the published primary sources of the British Caribbean. Higman’s source base was the great mass of slave statistics that, in the last few years of slavery in those colonies (after the closure of the African slave trade in 1807), the British Parliament demanded. These “Registration” records, however, by covering the period after the African slave trade had been ended, represent an exceptional phase of Caribbean slavery. With the “seasoning” of new Africans no longer a factor, mortality levels would have been far lower than usual, and, with the African slave trade closed, male-female ratios would have been much more balanced (which would have tended to raise the birth rate). Higman therefore found various anomalies in the British Caribbean evidence after 1807. He observed, “Wherever slaves were not engaged in the production of sugar their chances of survival were greater.” But his overall conclusion was cautious: “The complexity of the interactions involved in the strongly contrasting patterns of fertility, mortality, and natural increase found in the British Caribbean after 1807 suggests that any attempt at monocausal explanation is doomed to failure. The most that can be expected is a more precise ordering of the variables, only some of them quantifiable, and a clearer understanding of the differentials.”
The evidence that can be developed for the Louisiana sugar parishes has major advantages over the West Indian “Registration” evidence, and allows me to be much more certain that it was sugar that set up the great demographic contrasts between North America and the rest of the Americas. This case study allows control of the influence of factors like the African slave trade, disease environments, sex imbalance, African lactation (breastfeeding) traditions, and slaveowners’ attitudes. A detailed examination of the Louisiana sugar enclave will be developed, first by examining the nature of the labor regime on sugar plantations and the overall composition of their slave populations, and then by exploring the character and scale of slave importation. By calculating the extent of its importation (and scaling down the population of the area accordingly), it will be possible to estimate the sugar parishes’ rate of natural decrease. After these calculations, the final sections of this essay will return to the wider framework of the Americas, and will reflect on the overall demographic and social impact that the sugar regime had on slave societies.
Visitors to Louisiana often commented on the severities of the sugar plantations, and, among slaves, the cane fields were places of dread. Throughout the year, the crop involved much exhausting work in such tasks as ditching and draining, digging out old cane and making holes for new ones, spreading manure, and chopping and hauling wood for the sugar house. But the “grinding season,” usually from October to January, was by far the cruelest time for sugar workers. Then, the cane cutting and hauling had to be synchronized so that grinding and boiling at the sugar mill could go around the clock. Unlike cotton, the sugar crop would not keep: it could not be stored until a neighbor might lend labor or equipment to prepare it for market. A sugar planter had to invest heavily in the machinery of the sugar mill and, to generate good profits, had to use that machinery to the optimum. In this way, the crop, when cut, would not be wasted, and the canes still standing could be milled before severe frosts destroyed them. These extreme labor demands meant that sugar planters wanted strong workers, especially adult males. As U. B. Phillips noted, “All the characteristic work in the sugar plantation called mainly for able-bodied laborers. Children were less used than in tobacco and cotton production, and the men and women, like the mules, tended to be of sturdier physique.”
In 1833, Thomas Hamilton, a British visitor to Louisiana, recorded his impressions of the sugar plantations. He noted that the sugar cane, when ripe, was not considered safe “till it is in the mill, and the consequence is that when cutting cane begins, the slaves are taxed beyond their strength, and are goaded to labour until nature absolutely sinks under the effort.” Similarly, R. W. Harris and other expert witnesses testified in evidence to the U.S. Treasury in 1846, “The cultivation of sugar requires more indefatigable labor than any other production . . . not a moment must be lost; [it] requir[es], also, about seventy days’ labor, of eighteen hours each, during the boiling season.” Slaves across the South had also heard of Louisiana and its sugar plantations. A slave song noted down by Edward S. Abdy, a British traveler, reflected the infamy of the sugar plantations:
I born in Sout’ Ca’lina,
Fines’ country eber seen.
I gwine f’om Sout’ Ca’lina,
I gwine to New Orleens.
Ole boss he discontentum,
He take de mare, Black Fanny,
He buy er peddler wagon,
He bound fer Lousy Anna.
Ole debble Lousy Anna,
Dat scarecrow fer po’ nigger,
Where de sugar cane grow to pine trees,
An’ de pine tree turn to sugar.
The antebellum period saw a dramatic expansion in Louisiana’s sugar production and in its slave population. Table 1 plots the rise in the area’s slave population from about 20,000 in 1820 to about 90,000 in 1860. The advance of the sugar kingdom was especially dramatic between 1818 and 1830, with contemporaries estimating that for much of this period sugar planters bought new slaves (from the eastern states) at the rate of 5,000 per year. The 1830s saw some slackening in pace, but in the 1840s there was a massive increase in the volume of the sugar crop (and a leap of 200 to 250 percent in its value). This latter growth could only have been achieved by a very high level of slave importation. The 1850s saw great annual fluctuations in sugar production, but overall there was a further doubling of output (and a 150 to 200 percent increase in value). Again, massive slave importation was required.
Behind these production trends lie highly significant demographic patterns. First, in the booming 1820s and 1840s (see Table 1), the sheer number of importations into the leading sugar parishes was so great as to create crude growth rates something like twice or four times the natural increase rate of the U.S. slave population as a whole. In aggregate statistics, sugar’s underlying natural decrease problems were buried by massive importation. But in the 1830s and 1850s, despite extensive slave buying, the area was not even able to achieve the growth rate expected for a population that had no importations.
We can gain a preliminary indication of the significance of these factors by taking a snapshot of the area’s population in 1860 and comparing it with the typical pattern for the South’s slaves. Compared with what might have been expected in a typical southern slave population of the sugar area’s size, the sugar parishes in 1860 had 13,500 fewer children. Low fertility and excess mortality among the children under ten seem to have accounted for some 60 percent of this deficiency, with the shortage of potential childbearing women being responsible for the remaining 40 percent. These figures suggest that child shortages were a major part of the sugar area’s demographic problem.38 Evidence in the next section will also point to problems of excess adult mortality.
The special character of the sugar crop shows up very clearly in the interstate slave trade of the United States. As slave traders’ records indicate, the domestic trade to all parts of the South was age selective (concentrating mostly on teenagers and on young-adult slaves). But a study of thousands of traders’ bills of sale shows that only in the case of southern Louisiana was the domestic traffic sex selective. As I noted earlier, the trade to the cotton parishes of Louisiana, and indeed to all parts of the South except southern Louisiana, carried approximately equal numbers of males and females. Demographic calculations using the “survival rate” technique allow detailed sex-specific (and age-specific) estimates of interstate slave movement, and these calculations emphasize the uniqueness of domestic importations into the sugar area.
Slave trading to the sugar parishes was specialized since not only were there far more male than female slaves but the slaves had to be especially sturdy, and an exceptionally low proportion of children was carried. An important part of this traffic was a well-organized coastal trade from the Chesapeake ports to New Orleans, and the printed circulars of the several large-scale Richmond (Virginia) auctioneers regularly pointed up the need for specially selected “shipping Negroes” for the New Orleans trade. One such circular, in October 1850, reported that several major New Orleans traders had arrived, and “good shipping men are in demand.” Similarly, a Pulliam&Davis circular of October 1854 began: “This is to inform you that negroes are selling as follows . . . No.1 young men 18–22 years mostly in demand also girls 16–20 years heavy set and very smart, suitable for shipping purposes.” Thomas A. Clark, like the thousands of other traders, was well aware of the special nature of the New Orleans market, and in February 1846 wrote to a Richmond auction house: “I am sorry that I have not got any good negroes on hand that will suit the New Orleans market . . . Likely young men such as I think would suit the New Orleans market are very hard to find and also stout young women.” A Betts&Gregory circular for January 1861 again reflected the trading community’s awareness of the New Orleans phenomenon. It reported, “Our market continues dull except for first rate negroes. There are several persons here now making up lots for the New Orleans market and if you have any on hand now is the time to bring them in.”
The South Carolina trader John H. Charles also knew all about the requirements of the sugar planters, and in April 1859 wrote from New Orleans: “There is some [men] looking after [buying] negroes the last two or three days and if I had 4 or  good men and women [I] could have sold them at fair prices. But they are sugar planters who want them mostly and they want stout black negroes.” The reference to “black” Negroes was also significant, planters associating the darkest skin with the toughest workers. The fact that across the South—from the Chesapeake, to the Carolinas, and to Kentucky and Tennessee—slave traders’ advertisements referred to buying slaves “suited to the New Orleans market” suggests not only that this market was special but that suppliers everywhere knew what its special characteristics were.
Appendices to this study give detailed estimates of the numbers of slaves imported into the sugar parishes in the 1840s and 1850s. These estimates take account of several supply routes. Many of the area’s slaves were bought at slave pens in New Orleans—and that city was supplied not only by the coastal trade from the Chesapeake and the eastern parts of the Carolinas but also by the overland trade from the Atlantic seaboard states and by the traffic down the Mississippi Valley from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri. In addition, some traders bypassed New Orleans and took their slaves directly to the sugar parishes. No single document type, taken on its own, gives anything like a full picture of the extent of the trade, but by combining various sources—including ships’ manifests of the coastal trade and traders’ estimates—a major part of the traffic can be reconstructed.
A detailed calculation of the volume of importation in the 1840s is outlined in Appendix 3, and that appendix combines the totals brought by the coastal, overland, and Mississippi River routes. This calculation suggests that in the 1840s the leading sugar parishes imported a total of at least 27,000 slaves. Scaling down the area’s 1850 population to allow for these 27,000 or more importations gives the level of natural decrease experienced by sugar slaves in that decade. It suggests that, instead of the typical 1840s natural increase rate of 27.8 percent, the sugar area experienced at best a 6 percent natural decrease (and in fact the situation was probably substantially worse than this).
Slave importations in the 1850s must also have been high, and again in these years there must have been major natural decrease. Preliminary indications of the high levels of 1850s importations are given, as we have seen, by the fact that sugar production expanded massively in this decade (requiring much new labor), and heavy importation is also indicated by the high proportion of males in the sugar area’s working-age population of 1860. Appendix 4 gives detailed evidence on the level of importation in the 1850s and suggests that the total would have been at least 27,000. Similar calculations to those used already for the 1840s reveal that, in the 1850s, these parishes would have experienced a rate of natural decrease of over 13 percent. This contrasts dramatically with an expected positive rate of natural increase of 23.4 percent (see Table 1) for typical U.S. slaves in the 1850s. Evidence on importation indicates, then, that deaths greatly exceeded births among slaves in the main sugar parishes. The 1840s importation figure (of at least 27,000 slaves) probably represents a significant underestimate of the real rate of decrease because it incorporates a conservative estimate for the overland supply route. Actual rates of natural decrease in both the 1840s and 1850s, therefore, were probably at least 13 percent.
Having established the approximate levels of natural decrease on the Louisiana sugar plantations, we can now consider the relative importance of excess adult mortality and child shortage in bringing about this decrease. An extreme work load and inadequate net nutrition meant that slaves working on sugar plantations were, compared with other working-age slaves in the United States, far less able to resist the common and life-threatening diseases of dirt and poverty. An imbalance of the sexes, together with a shortage of potential mothers, would have been important in creating the sugar plantations’ great shortage of children. In addition, the women who were present in the sugar area had far fewer children than those elsewhere in the United States. Indeed, they had far fewer than was the norm even for a slave-importing state, and an excessive work load would have contributed greatly to this. Slave women throughout the South faced the problem of insufficient relief from strenuous work during pregnancy, but on the sugar plantations the nature of work would have had a particularly damaging impact on fertility. This combination of pressures for women on sugar estates would have produced a particularly grim catalog of irregular fertility, still births, low birth weights, and poor infant survival rates.
Detailed calculations, taking the example of the 1850s, allow a fairly clear weighting of factors involved in producing natural decrease on Louisiana’s sugar plantations. These calculations suggest that excess “adult” mortality (in this case, mortality among those who would have been age 10 years and over by 1860) accounted for some 44 percent of the gap between the sugar area’s demographic performance and that of U.S. slaves generally. It follows that the shortage of children (ages 0 to 9 years by 1860) contributed the remaining 56 percent. We can also break down the child shortage into its component parts. This disaggregation suggests that the scarcity of potential childbearing women would have been responsible for some 40 percent of the child shortage, so the combination of low fertility among the women present and high child mortality would have accounted for the remaining 60 percent. Overall, then, the child shortage was statistically more important than excess adult mortality, but both were major factors, and both were part of the extreme burdens of sugar slaves in Louisiana.
Moving back from the Louisiana test case to the overall debate on slave demography in the Americas, the detailed Louisiana evidence allows us to reflect on, and criticize, some of the interpretations outlined earlier in this study—the role of disease environments, anti-natalism, slave breeding, and the combination of arguments proposed by Fogel and Engerman. From the basis of the Louisiana evidence, it now seems to be possible both to reassert the case for the dominant role played by sugar planters and sugar plantations and also to resolve the puzzle concerning the timing of the transition to natural increase in different regimes.
First, let us consider the possibility that disease environments might explain the great demographic contrasts of the Americas. The Louisiana case study is very helpful here. It is true that southern Louisiana was, even for whites, not a healthy place, but it is also clear that the labor regime of the sugar crop, regardless of the local disease environment, was in itself sufficient to cause deaths to exceed births. New Orleans was known as the yellow fever capital of North America, but, even though yellow fever was dreaded in New Orleans (and in other American cities), it only rarely attacked plantation districts and accounted for only a tiny percentage of plantation deaths. Cholera, too, was never of major statistical significance on the sugar estates, and although it continued to affect New Orleans, it had disappeared from the sugar plantations by the early 1850s.
Malaria was for Louisiana slaves a far more significant problem than either cholera or yellow fever: even so, it did not dictate the natural decrease of slaves on the sugar plantations. It turns out (as Figure 6 shows) that almost all of the western half of Louisiana—including a massive tract of parishes that produced cotton, not sugar—was in the same high-risk malaria belt as the sugar parishes. Nevertheless, the demography of the cotton parishes, in similarly malaria-prone areas to the sugar plantations, was very different. Cotton areas did not have significantly more male than female slaves. And, crucially, while the fertility rates of slave women in the sugar parishes were exceptionally low by any U.S. standards, ratios in the western Louisiana cotton parishes were very high. Despite malaria, the cotton parishes, unlike the sugar plantations, had no child shortage. Malaria brought many deaths and much debility, but it took the labor demands of sugar to produce natural decrease. The local disease environment of the Louisiana sugar parishes was not what caused the pattern of natural decrease.
At the start of this essay, I also noted arguments that owners directly influenced fertility, either negatively in the Caribbean by discouraging slave births or positively in the United States by adopting systematic slave breeding. There is, however, little evidence to support either of these arguments. The fact that slave infants in the British sugar plantations had a positive cash value suggests that most owners, far from being anti-natalist, would have welcomed the birth of slave children. Indeed, in the British West Indies, the price of a one-year-old slave was about 5 to 10 percent of that of an adult male, and this was very similar to the situation in the United States, as well as to that of the Americas in general. It is significant, too, that Patterson’s references to the anti-natalism of the slaves themselves came from the most unreliable of sources—racist slaveowners who sought to shift the blame for lack of increase onto blacks. Thus owners routinely claimed that slaves were irresponsible, had no sense of family, and were not prepared to care for children.
In North America, abolitionists sometimes made the claim that slavery in the Upper South depended for its economic survival on stud farms, which bred slaves for sale to the Lower South market. There is little doubt that slaveowners took a great interest in the value, and therefore number, of their “stock.” The fact that I have found, in thousands of highly detailed letters by interstate slave traders, no reference at all to breeding farms, suggests, however, that the slave-selling states did not adopt such specialist child-production farms.
Fogel and Engerman, sometimes in separate publications, sometimes in jointly written studies, have combined several elements in their demographic argument—an emphasis on fertility (not mortality) differences between the United States and the West Indies, a claim that the Caribbean slaves’ fertility was low because of African traditions (not planters’ actions), and an argument that North American slaves enjoyed a particularly good diet and that this diet contributed substantially to the health, stature, and natural increase of those slaves. Each of these important claims demands attention.
Fogel and Engerman’s claim that mortality rates were not substantially higher in the British Caribbean than in the United States was based on an adjustment of Higman’s data for Jamaica in 1817 to 1834, but this selection of evidence raises problems. The period chosen was one, after the ending of the slave trade in 1807, when the extreme mortality levels associated with the “seasoning” of imported slaves were no longer a factor. Fogel and Engerman’s findings on mortality are also surprising since sugar was vastly more important in Jamaica than in the United States, and Fogel and Engerman themselves found that mortality was particularly high on sugar plantations. Given the importance of sugar planting in Jamaica, one would have expected to see a strong reflection of this in the U.S.-Jamaica comparison.
Fogel and Engerman’s second claim—that the U.S.–West Indian fertility gap was brought about by the operation of African cultural traditions in the West Indies—does not fit with the Louisiana evidence. The slaves of the Louisiana sugar plantations suffered from very low fertility, just as those in the West Indies did, but in Louisiana African lactation practices were not an issue. Louisiana had imported its slaves from the Upper South, and they would not have had significantly more contact with Africa and its traditions than would typical U.S. slaves. Fogel and Engerman based their argument on lists of children with their mothers and on the age gaps that they found between (surviving) children. The greater spacing in the Caribbean compared to the United States does not, however, seem to have been significantly influenced by special lactation practices. Instead, what would seem to account for the longer gaps between the ages of surviving West Indian children are factors that were also at work on the Louisiana sugar plantations: high child mortality, high numbers of stillborn children, poor health and net nutrition of women (and therefore a reduced ability to conceive), and interrupted fertility resulting from the death of husbands in an environment of overall high mortality.
Fogel and Engerman’s third claim relates to the height of slaves. They have drawn on evidence from several scholars—using height samples from the coastal domestic slave trade to New Orleans, from manumission documents, and from Union Army records. These various samples have all indicated that the average height of adult male slaves in the antebellum United States was about 67 inches. These results suggest that, by any population standards of the time, U.S. slaves were tall (and therefore well fed). However, all three of the data sets on height seem to use atypical samples, so the anthropometric evidence does not, in practice, appear to sustain the thesis that North American slaves enjoyed outstandingly good diets.
For instance, the sample of the New Orleans trade was developed by Richard Steckel, using ships’ manifests describing slaves brought from Virginia and the Upper South. There is, however, extensive evidence that slave traders generally (and even more so those supplying New Orleans) sought a carefully selected subset of the slave population. They sought “likely,” “prime,” strong slaves, and they screened out as difficult to sell those who were “undersized,” unhealthy, or weak. This suggests that typical slave men in the United States were not as tall as the 67-inch average found in the ships’ manifests.
A further height sample, using Maryland certificates of manumission, was developed by John Komlos, and these data also suggested that men averaged 67 inches. This sample, too, is likely to exaggerate the height of slaves, since it is probable that those who enjoyed manumission would have been among the most privileged, and therefore best fed and tallest, of U.S. slaves. Robert Margo and Richard Steckel have used a third main data set—records of the height of blacks recruited into the Union Army during the Civil War. Again, it seems that the sample must have had an upward bias. The army normally had a minimum height requirement, and, in its recruitment of blacks, it is likely to have discriminated against those who were significantly below average height.
The data sets that Fogel and Engerman based their assumptions on all, therefore, seem to carry strong upward biases. It is extremely difficult to get direct samples of the height of typical field slaves, but the process of making shirts for two 1850s slave gangs has left detailed lists of the height, age, and occupation of fifty-five slaves (all of the males age 20 years or over in these two gangs). This sample is too slender a base for confident generalizations, but still the results are interesting. The average height for these fieldhands was 64.6 inches—far shorter than that for the trade and other samples mentioned above. The combination of direct evidence from these lists and reservations about samples taken from the trade and elsewhere suggests that slave men would not have been as well fed as has recently been claimed by Fogel and Engerman, and suggests that they would have been significantly shorter than 67 inches on average. The diet of U.S. slaves does not, after all, seem to be the cause of that population’s exceptional rates of natural increase.
We can go further than this. If we compare some key demographic indicators for slaves and free whites, the explanation for the very high natural increase of U.S. slaves seems to be far more gloomy than that suggested by Fogel and Engerman. It is true that natural increase among U.S. slaves was, by the 1850s, higher than that of U.S. whites, but the life experiences of slaves and whites contrasted profoundly, and the causes of natural increase were very different for the two populations. Slaves experienced far higher rates of infant, child, and adult mortality than did whites, and this mortality, as in “Third World” countries, was compensated for by a very high birth rate. “Third World” population patterns do not suggest that slaves were especially privileged.
Work by Richard Steckel has revealed the dreadful childhood experience of U.S. slaves. He found that, as a result of overworked mothers and of desperately poor net nutrition, average birth weights for U.S. slave babies were very low (typically, less than 5.5 pounds), and the rate of still births among U.S. slaves was very high (probably no less than 11 percent). He also found major contrasts between the child mortality of whites and slaves. After discounting still births, he found that 28 percent of the antebellum southern whites died before age 15, but 46 percent of slaves died before reaching that age.
Moreover, it is not just in child mortality where major contrasts between U.S. whites and slaves appear. Despite far higher infant and child mortality among slaves compared with whites, the slave and free southern populations showed basically similar ratios of children to women. This similarly suggests that, to balance its excess child mortality, the slaves’ birth rate must have been far higher than that of the whites. A further statistic—the fact that there were relatively few slaves age 50 or over—suggests, too, that adult mortality was significantly higher for slaves than for whites.
Data on height suggest another contrast in health. Oaths sworn by former South Carolina planters in the 1860s show the height of those slaveowners to have averaged 68.6 inches. If the “shirt lists” used in this study are anything like a useful indicator of typical slave heights, they suggest that owners would, because of far better net nutrition, have towered over most of their slaves by several inches. U.S. slaves, then, reached similar rates of natural increase to whites not because of any special privileges but through a process of great suffering and material deprivation.
The evidence presented in this study does not, therefore, support arguments that focus on the disease environment, anti-natalism, African cultural traditions, or especially favorable circumstances in the United States. North American slaves were driven very hard by their owners, but the special demands imposed by the sugar planters of the Americas were even more lethal. Sugar, of course, did not account for all slaves in the rest of the Americas, and pockets of natural increase were possible. Recent work shows, for example, that in the nineteenth century the Minas Gerais region of Brazil developed a diversified economy oriented largely toward domestic markets, and that the region is remarkable for the fact that its slaves experienced natural increase. Crucially, Minas Gerais was not a sugar region. It seems likely that further work will show that other non-sugar regions in the Americas also experienced natural increase. Nevertheless, sugar plantations dominated the Americas, dominated its demographic patterns, and dictated too that natural decrease would dominate.
Sugar planters, as we have seen, combined extreme labor demands with a long-term insistence on a predominantly male work force, and the combination of burdens they imposed was lethal. The Louisiana case shows that sugar produced natural decrease even when the labor force was American-born. Where (in Brazil or Jamaica, for example) sugar planters bought their slaves from Africa, natural decrease would have been even worse than in Louisiana. Sugar and the Atlantic slave trade represented the worst of all worlds—the extreme demands of the sugar plantation, the urge to import (so as to maintain a male-dominated labor force), and the intensive sucking of Africans into an unfamiliar, and therefore hostile, disease environment.
The Louisiana evidence also seems to resolve a further problem mentioned earlier, one concerning timing and the early onset of natural increase in the North American colonies. Historians have wondered why, a century before the closure of the African slave trade, the North American colonies were able to experience positive natural increase, while other regimes showed such a different pattern. The answer seems to be simply that North America was not a sugar regime and so did not need to import intensively. As in the rest of the Americas, the slaves imported from Africa were still mostly males (about two-thirds males, as elsewhere), and they still met unfamiliar disease environments as in the rest of the Americas. But the permanent male surplus that the sugar planters demanded could only be achieved by intensive slave importation. North America, not being a sugar regime, did not in the long run require male-dominated gangs and therefore had no need to import so intensively from Africa. Its slave population was therefore far less affected by the “seasoning” process, there were more women to bear children, and conditions for population growth were far better.
Not only does sugar planting explain the major contrast between the natural increase of slaves in North America and the natural decrease of slaves in most of the Americas, the demographics of sugar also go some way toward explaining certain other major differences in the black experience. The demands of the sugar planters explain why the Caribbean and Brazil were huge importers of African slaves. These demands also meant that slave gangs on sugar plantations were almost always far larger than those that were common on the tobacco and cotton plantations of North America, the great scale of sugar plantations arising because of the need for an army of labor to cut and haul cane, and to satisfy the appetite of the expensive crushing and boiling machinery that was used in the cruelly punishing “boiling season.”
The sugar planters’ insistence on a male-dominated work force and their intensive importation of Africans had implications that reached into the character of slave culture, resistance, family, and beyond. In the sugar areas of the Caribbean and South America, big plantations, big black majorities, and high numbers of recently arrived Africans meant a strong sense of Africanness and a tendency toward vigorous and very visible African cultural retentions. Where sugar planters were Catholic, as in Brazil, Cuba, and the French Caribbean, an extra element was added to the demographic factor, and the ground became even more fertile for African religious retentions. A strong African numerical presence was combined with a situation in which “correspondences” (surface similarities) between Catholic saints and African gods allowed African religious traditions to be maintained within a context of revering Catholic saints. In North America, demographic factors meant that “Africanisms” or African “survivals,” while still of great importance for slave culture and identity, were less direct than in the sugar areas (Protestant and Catholic) of the rest of the Americas.
Wherever they found themselves, most slaves resisted their owners, directly or indirectly, and revolts sometimes occurred. Again, however, on the sugar plantations of the Caribbean and South America, the preconditions for a tradition of open slave revolt were generally more favorable than in North America. In North America, slave resistance (short of revolt) was of enormous importance, but crop patterns meant that plantations were usually small and relatively easy to police. Elsewhere, the sugar regime meant huge plantations, the importation of large numbers of young-adult African males, and the presence of many Africans who could pass on vivid memories of a world far different from that of white planter society. For these reasons, the traditions of open revolt and of “Maroon” societies (composed of runaway slaves and their descendants) seem to have been far stronger in the main sugar regions than in North America.
A comparison between the United States and the sugar kingdoms of the Americas also suggests some broad regional differences in the pressures that masters imposed on slave families. The large scale of sugar plantations would have created the potential for many slaves to find marriage partners on their own plantation, and perhaps cross-plantation marriage was less common than on the typically smaller cotton and tobacco plantations of the United States. On the other hand, sugar plantations demanded particularly high rates of slave importation, and importation meant the trauma of leaving close relatives and friends behind. Mortality was high on sugar plantations, and this too meant an especially high rate of premature destruction of marriages.
Male-dominated African importation must have made it impossible for a significant minority of males to find mates. Even so, Patterson’s view that, in sugar-dominated Jamaica, “the nuclear family could hardly exist within the context of slavery” seems much too pessimistic, especially in the light of work by Higman and others on family structure and resilience. The argument in the present study that sugar planters did not commonly pursue a “buy, not breed” policy also has positive implications for how we should see relations between mothers and children, and indeed for how we should see family and community generally. Had anti-natalism really been the norm, and had slaves, too, been alienated from the idea of raising children, this would have suggested extremely low morale among sugar slaves. The male majority in the sugar areas and the great premium set on sheer hard physical labor would have influenced gender attitudes among slaves. Similarly, the shortage of children and of old slaves would have influenced attitudes toward childhood and toward elders.
Sugar planting had major implications in terms of economic dynamics: it demanded a great scale, huge capital investment, an unbalanced slave-rearing policy, and intensive slave buying. Had U.S. cotton and tobacco plantations, like sugar, lent themselves to heavy investment in machines, demanding equally spectacular excesses of labor, there is little doubt that such machines would have been adopted. But in all regimes, however hard they drove their slaves, planters tended to cast themselves in heroic roles and tended to see themselves as the guardians of their slaves. Perhaps among sugar planters, with their big black majorities, there might have been, compared with typical U.S. slaveholdings, a difference in emphasis in the way they saw their slaves. In the sugar kingdoms, Negrophobia was probably especially prominent in white rationalizations of slavery: still, however, few planters, whatever the crop they raised, could resist deploying the convenient argument that slavery represented a system of benevolence and paternalism. Crop differences were important in very many ways for the nature of slave societies, but whatever the crop, or for that matter the country or pattern of European ancestry of the planter, similar self-serving slaveholder arguments were found across the Americas.
The mentalities of slaveowners had much in common across the Americas. At the same time, though, in terms of economic dynamics, and more important for this study, in terms of the slave experience, there were highly significant things that were special about sugar. This study suggests that the sugar crop—and the special demographic features of the Louisiana sugar plantations—have decisive importance in explaining major contrasts in the population history of slaves across the Americas. And demographics, as we have seen, touch on much wider aspects of the way that slaves lived their lives.
Explaining a British West Indian Anomaly
In the last years of British West Indian slavery (between the closure of the African slave trade in 1807 and the abolition of slavery in 1833), a significant demographic anomaly appeared. From about 1817, the slaves of sugar-dominated Barbados enjoyed a natural increase in population, something unique in the British sugar islands. Two characteristics of the Barbados slave population hint at an explanation of this unique situation—by 1807, Barbados slaves had (at 10 percent) the lowest percentage of African-born anywhere in the British Caribbean, and by 1817 the island had only 84 male slaves for every 100 females. Barbados’s low percentage of males suggests that in the last decades of slavery it would not have been a significant net importer of Africans. Indeed, it might perhaps have exported some males to the new frontier colonies like Trinidad, where demand for slaves was very high (as were prices). Circumstances after 1807 meant that in the last years of slavery Barbados had a far higher female percentage than even U.S. cotton slaves, and this special position led to a very high birth rate.
Documentary Sources on Slave Importation by the Louisiana Sugar Parishes
A. Notarial records
The ledgers at the New Orleans Notarial Archives contain vast numbers of official transcripts that public notaries made of original bills of sale. For example, for the period 1840–1852, the notarial data record the sale of 40,000 local and 17,000 out-of-state slaves (47 percent of the former and 57 percent of the latter being male). It is clear, however, that these sources document only a fraction of the total number of slaves sold at New Orleans. This is shown, for example, by the fact that while “New Orleans inward” manifests (discussed below) document less than a third of the out-of-state slaves traded at New Orleans, they still, for the 1840–1852 period, record more out-of-state slaves than the notarial set (23,000 compared with 17,000).
B. Ships’ manifests (“New Orleans inward”)
As a safeguard against the illegal importation of slaves from abroad (after 1807), manifests that recorded coastwise and river shipments of slaves within the United States were required by federal law, and these manifests were to be lodged at both the port of departure and of arrival. While these records are of great importance for this study, the surviving manifests (held at the National Archives) are a very incomplete record of the coastal traffic. Table 4 includes annual totals (for the period 1840–1852) of slaves found in extant manifests that are classified by the National Archives as “New Orleans inward manifests” (that is, classified as arrivals at New Orleans). The availability of independent evidence on one of the supply routes—shipments from Baltimore to New Orleans in 1851 and 1852—means that we can test the level of completeness of the manifests. This test suggests that, at best, some 67 percent of the relevant Baltimore–New Orleans manifests have survived. Since the years 1851 and 1852 were not unusually badly documented so far as extant New Orleans manifests are concerned (see Table 4), it seems reasonable to assume, for the 1840s and early 1850s generally, that no more than 67 percent of “New Orleans inward manifests” have survived. Supplementary samples bear out this conclusion and indeed suggest, if anything, that 67 percent might well be too high an estimate. Significantly, these “inward” manifests show a strong male dominance (over 58 percent of the slaves being male), so the influence of demand from sugar planters must have been substantial.
C. Ships’ manifests (Mobile to New Orleans)
It is now necessary to take account of classification policies and other anomalies, which means that at least one major source of slaves (those shipped from Mobile to New Orleans) is excluded from the surviving collection of “New Orleans inward” manifests. Only a tiny number of shipments from Mobile to New Orleans appear in the “New Orleans inward manifests,” but a subset of records, filed as “Mobile outward manifests,” reveals the existence of a major traffic from Mobile to the Crescent City. These documents suggest for the 1840s (see Table 4) a coastwise shipment from Mobile to New Orleans of some 10,000 slaves, and since about 60 percent of these slaves were male, sugar planters must have been important buyers.
D. Overland and direct sales
In the South’s interregional trade as a whole, it is clear that the overland route was vastly more important than the coastal traffic, but in the case of the New Orleans market, the specialized character of its trade and the convenience of coastwise links with the distant Chesapeake area gave the sea route special importance. Nevertheless, market forces suggest that traders in all parts of the exporting states would have been attracted by the profits of the New Orleans trade; and in much of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, it would have been cheaper and far more convenient to send slaves to New Orleans by traditional land routes. Indeed, several sources of evidence suggest that overland routes from the eastern states would have been of great significance in supplying New Orleans. We also need to take account of the fact that some of the slaves bought by sugar planters were supplied by traders, including some overland traders, who bypassed New Orleans and roved the sugar parishes to find their customers. In this study, it is assumed, probably very conservatively, that the overland trade to New Orleans was, for sugar planters, only half as important as the coastal route.
E. Mississippi River
Finally, we must add slaves who, in the late antebellum period, were supplied by Kentucky, Tennessee, and increasingly Missouri, and who were sent down the Mississippi River to be sold in New Orleans. Contemporary newspaper advertisements, as well as secondary works on slavery, document this trade quite well, but it is the notarial records that give a direct indication of the relative importance of these three states in the New Orleans slave supply. Although we know that these records greatly under-represent the overall volume of slave sales, there seems to be no reason why they should misrepresent the state of origin of those who were sold. The notarial records suggest that in the 1840s and early 1850s some 15 percent of out-of-state slaves sold at New Orleans came from the upriver states of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri. 
Calculating the Number of Slaves Imported into Louisiana’s Leading Sugar Parishes in the 1840s
The calculation of importations can conveniently be set out in the three main stages below:
A. “New Orleans inward” manifests
As Table 4 shows, there were 18,647 slaves in this set of extant 1840s manifests; and we should scale this total up to 27,831 to allow for the fact that not more than 67 percent of manifests would have survived (see Appendix 2). We now need to find what proportion of this total was bought by sugar planters, and finally need to adjust for the fact that the thirteen leading sugar parishes would in the 1840s have accounted for some 80 percent of all slaves sold to Louisiana sugar planters. These calculations suggest that 13,359 of the 27,831 imports would have gone to sugar planters, with 10,687 of these going to the thirteen leading parishes.
The estimate of the share going to sugar planters can be made using evidence on sex ratios. Because we know the percentage of male slaves in the New Orleans manifests and in both the trades to the sugar and to the non-sugar areas, we can calculate the number of these slaves who would have been absorbed by the sugar area. (The male share in the 1840s manifests was 58.43 percent, it was 50 percent in importations to non-sugar areas, and in importations by leading sugar parishes it was 67.55 percent.) On the 50: 50 ratio of males to females in the interregional slave trade (and in planter migrations) to non-sugar areas, see earlier in the present article, and see Tadman, Speculators, 22–25. On the sex ratio of the sugar area’s importations, see Table 3, above.
The detailed calculation of the share of coastwise importations going to the sugar area was made as follows. Let T be the total number of slaves in New Orleans inward manifests. Let S be the number of slaves from T going to sugar plantations. Let N be the number of slaves from T going to non-sugar owners. We know that 58.43 percent of T are male; 67.55 percent of S are male, and 50 percent of N are male. It follows that 58.43%T = 67.55%S + 50%N [equation 1] But also T=S+N is assumed such that N=T – S. Substituting N=T – S in equation 1 gives 58.43%T=67.55%S+(50%T – 50%S) 58.43%T=67.55%S+50%T – 50%S 58.43%T – 50%T=67.55%S – 50%S 8.43%T=17.55%S 8.43%T=17.55%=S 0.480T=S 48%T=S
Thus 48 percent of T (slaves in New Orleans 1840s manifests) go to sugar plantations, T = 27,831, and 48 percent = 13,359 go to sugar.
We should note that the city of New Orleans might have absorbed some of the imported slaves. But we should also note that, among New Orleans residents, the demand was mainly for female slaves. New Orleans, like other towns and cities, had a persistent female majority among its slaves. (Of its 17,011 slaves at the 1850 census, 60 percent were female.) This means that any slaves imported and retained by New Orleans owners would have scaled down the male share of the overall slave trade to New Orleans, and because of the sex-ratio method of calculation used above, this would have tended to undercount the share of imported slaves going to the sugar parishes. Note also that the sex-ratio method means that any slaves imported at New Orleans and sent on to states other than Louisiana would not affect our calculations. This is because non-sugar planters in Louisiana and in other states imported slaves on the same 50: 50 male/female basis.
B. Mobile manifests
As Table 4 shows, we can estimate an additional 10,150 New Orleans importations from Mobile in the 1840s. Since 59.7 percent of these slaves were male, similar estimates to those given above suggest that some 5,613 of these slaves went to sugar planters—and some 4,490 slaves would have gone to the thirteen leading parishes. “New Orleans inward manifests” plus Mobile “outward” manifests therefore suggest 15,177 coastwise importations by the main parishes (10,687 “New Orleans inward” plus 4,490 “Mobile outward”).
C. Overland and Mississippi River
To account for overland imports, we can scale up the above coastwise total by 50 percent (to produce 22,766 slaves); and we then need to add a further 15 percent to account for the Mississippi River route. On these scalings, see Appendix 2.
Calculating Importations for the 1850s
For the 1850s, “New Orleans inward manifests” have survived only for the years 1850 to 1852, but these give a basis for estimating importations in the early 1850s, and we can use eyewitness evidence for an estimate for the later 1850s.
A. Manifests 1850–1852
The average number of slaves in extant “New Orleans inward manifests” for 1850 to 1852 was 1,385 per year. Similar scaling to that used for the 1840s (see Appendix 3) suggests that from this segment of the coastal supply route 825 slaves per year would have been imported by the leading sugar parishes in the period 1850 to 1852.98 Further scaling (again see Appendix 3) allows us to estimate Mobile coastwise importations as well as overland and Mississippi River importations. This suggests that, when we combine all supply routes, the leading parishes imported an annual average of 2,068 slaves in the years from 1850 to 1852.99 Eyewitness evidence suggests that in the later part of the decade New Orleans was an even more active importer, and notarial records show (since the male percentage of slaves sold at New Orleans was unusually high during the 1850s) that sugar planters accounted for a major share of New Orleans importations throughout the 1850s.100
B. Eyewitness evidence
The slave trader Philip Thomas provides us with expert evidence on the scale of the New Orleans trade in the late 1850s. On December 26, 1859—that is, when the 1859–1860 slave-trading season was just beginning its three or four months of peak activity—he had just returned to Mobile from New Orleans. He reported that at New Orleans “I find about 3000 in the market and none selling.” On December 31, he again reported that traders were holding 3,000 slaves at New Orleans.101 Thomas was an experienced trader in the region and would have been familiar with New Orleans’s slave pens and with the state of the market. Moreover, we can confirm his estimate by comparing Thomas’s report with evidence on the Natchez market.
For Natchez, we have first a local newspaper report that by late February and early March 1860, with perhaps three weeks of the season left, 1,500 to 2,000 slaves had been sold at Natchez that season. Second, we have an expert witness that the Natchez market was far less important than that of New Orleans. In 1902, in an interview with the historian Frederic Bancroft, William T. Martin (formerly a lawyer who had specialized in cases arising out of the Natchez slave trade) recalled: “In some years there were three or four thousand slaves here [at Natchez]. I think that I have seen as many as 600 or 800 in the market at one time. There were usually four or five large traders at Natchez every winter. Each had from fifty to several hundred negroes, and most of them received fresh lots during the season.”103 Since we know that at New Orleans there were, every season, many times more than the four or five large traders of Natchez, we can safely assume that New Orleans would have imported and sold far more slaves than Natchez. If, over a nearly completed 1859–1860 season, the Natchez market had sold 1,500 to 2,000 slaves, this is very much consistent with Thomas’s estimate that at the start of its season there were some 3,000 slaves held at New Orleans by traders. Such a level of activity suggests that in the whole 1859–1860 season—from December to the start of April—there would have been some 7,500 out-of-state slaves traded at New Orleans. Further calculations lead to the conclusion that the leading sugar parishes imported some 3,300 slaves in the 1859–1860 season.
C. Combining evidence
We now have estimates both for the early 1850s (some 2,068 slaves per year) and for the late 1850s (some 3,300 per year). Taking an average between these levels of importation gives us some 2,700 per year—or some 27,000 importations into the main sugar area over the whole decade.
Excess “Adult” Mortality Compared with Childhood Factors
Data for the 1850s illustrate the method used in weighting excess “adult” mortality (defined below) and childhood factors.
A. Excess “adult” mortality
In order to gain an indication of the level of excess adult mortality, the sugar area’s expected 10-years-and-over population of 1860 was compared with its actual population for this age group. The calculation was as follows. The leading sugar parishes’ slave population was 73,829 in 1850, so (given typical age-specific and sex-specific survival rates of slaves) 59,910 of these should have been alive in 1860. There were 26,970 importations (92 percent would have been age 10 and over at importation, and most would have been in the 15 to 25 age range). (See Tadman, Speculators, 234). These slaves, after importation, would typically have experienced half of that decade’s risk of mortality, so that, given typical survival rates, we should add 22,530 of these slaves to the area’s expected 10+ population of 1860. Instead of a combined total of 82,440 slaves age 10+ in 1860, there were only 67,520. Excess 10+ “adult” mortality therefore removed 14,920 slaves.
B. Childhood factors
An estimate of the role of the shortage of children was developed by comparing the actual size of the 1860 population of the leading parishes with that which its 1850 population should have achieved by 1860 had it experienced typical U.S. slave growth rates. The 1850 population of the leading parishes was 73,829, and given the typical slave growth rate of 23.4 percent for the decade, it should have grown to 91,105 by 1860. Its 26,970 importations should, after arrival (typically at mid-point in the decade), have enjoyed half a decade’s growth, expanding therefore to become 30,125 slaves. The total expected 1860 population (including importations) was therefore 121,230 slaves, but the actual 1860 population was only 87,340—leaving a shortfall of 33,890 slaves. Since I have already attributed 14,920 of this shortfall to excess 10+ mortality, it follows that childhood factors accounted for the remaining 18,970. In other words, excess 10+ mortality accounted for some 44 percent of the deficit, with childhood factors accounting for the remaining 56 percent. I also showed (see earlier footnotes) that we can break down the childhood shortage to show that some 40 percent is attributable to the male-female ratio in the population, with the rest being accounted for by the combination of low fertility and infant mortality.
It should be added that had I chosen the 1840s for these calculations, it would at first sight have appeared that there was, in the overall result, a 30/70 split between the roles of excess 10-and-over mortality and childhood shortage. As the text above has noted, however, it is probable that the level of slave importations has been underestimated for that decade, and in the calculation of weightings used in this appendix such an undercount would lead to an underestimate of the role of excess “adult” mortality. Even so, both the 1840s and 1850s patterns are in broad agreement: childhood shortage was even more important than excess “adult” mortality.
Michael Tadman is a senior lecturer in the School of History at the University of Liverpool. He teaches undergraduate courses on slavery, and on “race,” class, and ethnicity in the United States, and has recently been involved in developing a new masters degree called “Atlantic Connections: Slavery, Migrations, and Identities.” His publications include Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South (1989, expanded edn., 1996), and a new edition of Frederic Bancroft’s 1930s classic Slave Trading in the Old South (1996). Tadman has published numerous articles on slavery, “race,” and the South in journals and collections of essays, and is at present completing a book whose theme is antebellum masters and slaves and the construction of the myth of benevolent paternalism
1 C. Vann Woodward, American Counterpoint: Slavery and Racism in the North/South Dialogue (Oxford, 1983), 91.
2 Philip D. Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison, Wis., 1968), 71.
3 For valuable evidence on natural increase rates in various populations, see Robert W. Fogel, Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery (New York, 1989), 123–26.
4 Thomas R. Malthus, Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), quoted in Woodward, American Counterpoint, 90.
5 Fogel, Without Consent. This was also the emphasis of Robert Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman’s Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (Boston, 1974).
6 Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York, 1974), 5.
7 The traditional “racial democracy” argument is briefly commented on in a later section of this essay.
8 Fogel, Without Consent, 31–32.
9 Fogel, Without Consent, 18.
10 On coffee, see Barry Higman, Slave Population and Economy in Jamaica, 1807–1834 (Cambridge, 1976), 102, 121–25; J. R. Ward, British West Indian Slavery, 1750–1834: The Process of Amelioration (Oxford, 1988), 179–80; Warren Dean, Rio Claro: A Brazilian Plantation System, 1820–1920 (Stanford, Calif., 1976), 59. On rice, see William Dusinberre, Them Dark Days: Slavery in the American Rice Swamps (Oxford, 1996), 48–83, 410–16. For some comments on mining, see A. J. R. Russell-Wood, The Black Man in Slavery and Freedom in Colonial Brazil (New York, 1982), 29–33.
11 See, for example, Jamaican patterns of post-slavery natural increase in George W. Roberts, The Population of Jamaica (Cambridge, 1957), 42–45.
12 See the discussion of natural increase in Barbados between 1817 and 1833 in Appendix 1 and elsewhere in the present study.
13 John J. McCusker and Russell R. Menard, The Economy of British America, 1607–1789 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1985), 231.
14 Woodward, American Counterpoint, 94–95. For another valuable review of the debate, see Kenneth F. Kiple, ed., The African Exchange: Towards a Biological History of Black People (Durham, N.C., 1987), 7–35.
15 McCusker and Menard, Economy of British America, 232–33.
16 This basic three-part division is borrowed from McCusker and Menard, Economy of British America, 233–34.
17 Philip D. Curtin, “Epidemiology and the Slave Trade,” Political Science Quarterly 83 (June 1968): 190–216. See also Curtin, Atlantic Slave Trade, 29–30. A later section of this essay will comment on local variations in disease environment.
18 On the “seasoning” period, see, for example, Curtin, “Epidemiology.”
19 Orlando Patterson, The Sociology of Slavery: An Analysis of the Origins, Development, and Structure of Negro Slave Society in Jamaica (New York, 1972), esp. 103–12. See also Roberts, Population of Jamaica, 225–26; Michael Craton, Sinews of Empire: A Short History of British Slavery (London, 1974), 197–98; Curtin, “Epidemiology,” 213–15.
20 See, for example, Theodore Dwight Weld, American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (New York, 1939), 15, 182; John Elliott Cairnes, The Slave Power (London, 1862), 127–28, 134–35. Historians who have argued that U.S. owners deliberately bred slaves for the market include Dwight Lowell Dumond and Richard Sutch. See Dumond, Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1961), 68; Sutch, “The Breeding of Slaves for Sale and the Westward Expansion of Slavery, 1850–1860,” in Stanley L. Engerman and Eugene D. Genovese, eds., Race and Slavery in the Western Hemisphere: Quantitative Studies (Princeton, N.J., 1975), 173–210.
21 See, for example, Fogel and Engerman, Time on the Cross, esp. 107–57; Fogel, Without Consent.
22 See Fogel, Without Consent, 138–47; Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, “Recent Findings in the Study of Slave Demography and Family Structure,” Sociology and Social Research 63 (April 1979): 573.
23 Fogel and Engerman, “Recent Findings,” 567–68; Stanley L. Engerman, “Some Economic and Demographic Comparisons of Slavery in the United States and the British West Indies,” Economic History Review 29 (May 1976): 272; Fogel, Without Consent, 123–32.
24 Engerman, “Some Economic and Demographic Comparisons,” 272–74; Herbert S. Klein and Stanley L. Engerman, “Fertility Differentials between Slaves in the United States and the British West Indies: A Note on Lactation Practices and Their Possible Implications,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 35 (April 1978): 357–74; Fogel, Without Consent, 123–32, 147–53.
25 Even the U.S. Census was not totally accurate, and a significant undercounting of young children is apparent. The calculations in this study do not, however, rely on total census accuracy. For the ratios used here, it is sufficient that any census undercountings and errors were spread roughly evenly across the slaveholding areas. On these issues, see Michael Tadman, Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South (Madison, Wis., 1989), 237–38.
26 On the very minor importance of smuggling Africans into the United States after 1807, see Tadman, Speculators, 238–39.
27 Calorie requirements depend to an important extent on energy expended. The severe physical demands of the sugar crop would call for very high calorie intake, otherwise net nutrition (nutrition after labor expended) would be dangerously low.
28 The Agricultural Society of Baton Rouge suggested in 1829 that a 2.5 percent annual rate of natural decrease was typical for sugar slaves, and a letter to the U.S. Treasury suggested 2.8 percent. In 1830, the Committee Appointed by the Inhabitants of St. Martin’s Parish (Louisiana) suggested, even more dramatically, that in setting up a new sugar plantation one would have to allow for a 7.5 percent annual loss of slaves through natural decrease and running away. In 1844, E. J. Forstall, a New Orleans merchant linked to the sugar trade, suggested an annual natural decrease amounting to something like 1 percent. The 1829 and 1830 estimates just cited were designed to make the case for increased tariff protection for sugar, and as a result might have exaggerated planters’ expenses (and therefore slave losses). Data in the present article are, however, consistent with Forstall’s 1844 estimate (which amounts to some 10 percent per decade). See the Agricultural Society report reproduced in Niles’ Register, November 20, 1830; J. S. Johnston, Letter of Mr. Johnston, of Louisiana, to the Secretary of the Treasury, in Reply to his Circular of the 1st July, 1830, Relating to the Culture of Sugar (Washington, D.C., 1831); St. Martin’s report reproduced in Niles’ Register, December 11, 1830; E. J. Forstall, Agricultural Productions of Louisiana (New Orleans, 1845), cited in J. Carlyle Sitterson, Sugar Country: The Cane Sugar Industry in the South, 1753–1950 (Knoxville, Tenn., 1953), 161–62.
29 On the anomaly of a brief late flowering of natural increase in Barbados, see Appendix 1, below.
30 Higman, Slave Population and Economy, 138; Barry Higman, Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, 1807–1834 (Baltimore, 1984), 378. Important studies by John Ward (emphasizing nutrition problems and the tendency to neglect provision crops), and A. Meredith John (emphasizing low fertility and, especially for males, high mortality) have also found sugar to be linked to severe demographic problems. See Ward, British West Indian Slavery; John, The Plantation Slaves of Trinidad, 1783–1816: A Mathematical and Demographic Enquiry (Cambridge, 1988).
31 Ulrich B. Phillips, American Negro Slavery (New York, 1918), 245.
32 Thomas Hamilton, Men and Manners in America, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1833), 2: 229–30, quoted in Adrian Paul Mercer, “Medicine and Slavery: The Health of Slaves in the Louisiana Sugar and Rice Regions 1795–1860” (PhD dissertation, University of Manchester, 1985), 124. Letter of R. W. Harris and others reproduced in Treasury Department, Report from the Secretary of the Treasury on the State of Finances (29th Congress, December 1845), 708, 715; Edward Strutt Abdy, Journal of a Residence and Tour in the United States of North America from April, 1833, to October, 1834, quoted in John Smith Kendall, “New Orleans’ ‘Peculiar Institution,'” Louisiana Historical Quarterly 23 (July 1940): 875.
33 In a Report to the Secretary of the [U.S.] Treasury (1845), 717, Edmund J. Forstall gave expert witness testimony and suggested a massive rate of slave buying. He wrote: “From 1827 to 1830, 383 new sugar estates were established [in Louisiana]; steam power replaced that of the horse on more than 200 estates, at a cost of at least $6,000 for each engine and mill; the number of slaves was increased [by] about 15,000 [in three or four years], all of which required a further outlay of $16,000,000; and to achieve all this, and in so short a time, capital had to be borrowed, and at that epoch it was easily done, for sugar planters were then enjoying the highest credit in the State.” An open letter sent in 1831 to the U.S. Treasury anticipated that the sugar production of 1835 would require 26,000 new slaves, and expected these to come by the slave trade (mainly from the states of Virginia and Maryland). Johnston, Letter, 9.
34 For crop values, see De Bow’s Review 29 (1860): 522–25.
35 The proportion of children (slaves ages 0–9 years) in the sugar area’s population varied from only about 57 percent of the U.S. norm in 1830 (after very heavy slave importation) to 65 to 75 percent of the norm in periods of somewhat less hectic importation. The fertility ratio (ratio of children to women) of the sugar area averaged only about 65 percent of the norm for U.S. slaves, and again was at its lowest when the per capita rate of slave importation was at its highest. Fertility ratios for all importing areas were consistently lower than the U.S. norm for slaves. This arose partly because women brought to the importing states would often have been forced to leave children behind in their state of origin, and partly because of the “lag” in births caused by finding a new partner in their new location. But the sugar area’s statistics are clearly the worst of all. In 1860, the ratio of children ages 0–9 years per 1,000 women ages 15–49 years was for U.S. slaves in general 1,320, for the importing states’ slaves 1,104, and for Louisiana’s thirteen leading sugar parishes 922. Part of the sugar parishes’ special position would have resulted from the great emphasis of the sugar parishes on importing only workers and not children. On importation and exportation patterns by state, see Tadman, Speculators, 6–7, 12.
36 In 1860, the fertility ratio (number of children ages 0–9 years per 1,000 women ages 15–49 years) in the leading parishes was 922, or 398 lower than the U.S. average (of 1,320). Since the leading sugar parishes had 19,946 females (ages 15–49) in 1860, low fertility (and excess mortality among the children under 10) would have led to a shortfall of 398 x 19.946 = 7,939 children.
37 The slave population of the thirteen leading sugar parishes in 1860 was, for the 15–49 age group, 48,151 (28,205 males and 19,946 females, or an excess of 8,259 males). If we assume a population of the same size (48,151), but with equal numbers of males and females, this would mean adding some 4,130 females and removing some 4,130 males. Compared with such a population, we can now calculate the effect of the sugar area’s shortage of women. The average fertility rate in the U.S. slave population in 1860 was 1,320 children (ages 0–9 years) per 1,000 women ages 15–49. By adding our notional 4,130 women, we find that the sugar area should have produced an extra 4.130 x 1,320 = 5,452 children.
38 Similar calculations for 1850 suggest a child deficit of some 13,000, with as much as 67 percent of this shortfall being accounted for by low fertility (and excess mortality among the children under 10), and with some 33 percent being attributable to the shortage of women. As we shall see, over a whole decade (say the 1850s), the cumulative shortfalls in children would have been higher than the deficits for the individual years 1850 and 1860. On the child shortage, see Appendix 5.
39 See Tadman, Speculators, 25–31.
40 Tadman, Speculators, 22–25.
41 The technique first establishes “normal” age-specific and sex-specific survival rates for the southern slave population as a whole. For example, according to the federal census, 89.9 percent of the South’s male slaves who were ages 0 to 9 in 1850 survived to 1860, when they would have been ages 10 to 19 years. Where in a particular region or state, a cohort exceeded the “normal” survival rate, importations are usually assumed; where a cohort’s survival rate fell below the norm, exportations are usually assumed. Table 3 (using the survival-rate technique) compares the structure of slave importations into Louisiana’s thirteen leading sugar-producing parishes with importations into the rest of the state. The latter produced mainly cotton, but some sugar was grown on the fringes of the leading sugar parishes. Partly because, as we shall see later, mortality was much higher on sugar plantations than elsewhere, actual numbers of importations will be very significantly underestimated by this technique. Nevertheless, a valuable indication of the special features of slave importations to the sugar is given. For details on survival-rate calculations, see Tadman, Speculators, 28–31, 43–44, 237–45.
42 On the special features of the New Orleans trade, see Tadman, Speculators, 25–26.
43 Pulliam&Slade and Pulliam&Davies circulars, Harris-Brady Papers, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville; Clark to Dickinson, February 10, 1846, Lucy Chase Papers, American Antiquarian Society; Betts&Gregory circular, D. M. Pulliam Papers, Duke University.
44 John H. Charles to Mary A. Charles, April 22, 1859, McGee-Charles Family Papers, South Caroliniana Library, Columbia, S.C.
45 For advertisements, see Tadman, Speculators, 65–66.
46 In calculating the rate of natural decrease, we need first to add the 1840 start-of-decade population (51,792 slaves) to the 26,783 imports (making 78,575 slaves). The actual 1850 end-of-decade population was (at 73,829) 4,746 slaves lower than this total. This 4,746 deficit represents 6 percent of the 73,829 total.
47 Louisiana’s average annual production of sugar in the 1840s was only 55 percent of that for the 1850s: the best 1840s year (1849) only produced 54 percent of the best 1850s year (1853). The federal census shows that the proportion of the sugar crop produced by the leading thirteen parishes declined from about 80 percent in 1850 to about 70 percent, but still these parishes participated energetically in the 1850s expansion. For annual production figures, see De Bow’s Review 29 (1860): 522, table 2.
48 The 1850 population was 73,829, and importations were 26,970, making a total of 100,799 slaves. The actual 1860 population (87,340) was 13,459, or 13.35 percent lower.
49 As we shall see, malaria played some part both in raising mortality and in depressing fertility, but it was a secondary role compared with sugar.
50 On fertility in the importing states generally, see n. 35 above.
51 In broad terms, the work of Kenneth F. Kiple and Virginia H. King has supported the conclusion that the disease environment for slaves was not significantly easier in North America than in the Caribbean and Latin America. See Kiple and King, Another Dimension of the Black Diaspora: Diet, Disease, and Racism (Cambridge, 1981), 66–67.
52 Mercer, “Medicine and Slavery,” 81, 141, 193–206.
53 Mercer, “Medicine and Slavery,” 210–14.
54 Mercer provides an excellent discussion of disease environments, diet, seasonal mortality, and other issues affecting the sugar parishes, and he too concludes that environment and epidemiology were less important than the labor demands of sugar in overall demographic terms.
55 The sugar parishes (except for Terrebonne and Lafourche, which were in low-risk areas) and the western cotton parishes of Bienville, Bossier, Claiborne, Caddo, De Soto, Natchitoches, and Sabine were all in the high-risk belt showing 90 to 140 deaths per 1,000 population in 1870. See Frank C. Innes, “Disease Ecologies of North America,” in Kenneth F. Kiple, et al., eds., The Cambridge World History of Human Disease (Cambridge, 1993), 527. On the heavy death toll from malaria among slaves in northeastern Louisiana, see John Duffy, “The Impact of Malaria on the South,” in Todd L. Savitt and James Harvey Young, eds., Disease and Distinctiveness in the American South (Knoxville, Tenn., 1988), 40.
56 In 1860 among slaves, the ratio of children ages 0–9 years to women ages 15–49 years was 922 in the sugar parishes, 1,226 in Louisiana’s western cotton parishes, only 1,104 in the South’s slave-importing states generally, and 1,320 in the South as a whole. The statistic for Louisiana’s western cotton parishes excludes Bienville, which made no relevant census returns in 1860.
57 Further evidence on the secondary role of malaria comes from Barbados and South Carolina. Barbados was dominated by sugar, and even though it was always relatively free from malaria it still suffered from natural decrease until 1817. The rice district of South Carolina (see Figure 6, area with greater than 140 deaths per thousand) suffered even more badly from malaria than did the Louisiana sugar parishes. Despite the malaria problem, however, its slaves still reproduced themselves by natural increase. On Barbados, see Higman, Slave Populations, 341. On rice, see Dusinberre, Them Dark Days, 48, 410–16.
58 For remarkably consistent data on this, see Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Herbert S. Klein, and Stanley L. Engerman, “The Level and Structure of Slave Prices on Cuban Plantations in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: Some Comparative Perspectives,” AHR 88 (December 1983): 1217; Ward, British West Indian Slavery, 34–35; Richard S. Dunn, Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624–1713 (New York, 1972), 317–18; Higman, Slave Populations, 38, 79, 190–96, 202–11; Higman, Slave Population and Economy, 187–211; J. Harry Bennett, Jr., Bondsmen and Bishops: Slavery and Apprenticeship on the Codrington Plantations of Barbados, 1710–1838 (Berkeley, Calif., 1958), 13–19; William Frederick Sharp, Slavery on the Spanish Frontier: The Colombian Choco, 1680–1810 (Norman, Okla., 1976), 120–26, 203; Dean, Rio Claro, 58.
59 Patterson, Sociology of Slavery, 108–09.
60 For a more detailed discussion of stud farms, see Tadman, Speculators, 121–29.
61 For Fogel and Engerman’s data, see, for example, Fogel and Engerman, “Recent Findings,” 567–68; Fogel, Without Consent, 126.
62 For Fogel on high mortality on sugar plantations, see Without Consent, 127.
63 Fogel, Without Consent, 138–42.
64 See, for example, Richard H. Steckel, “A Peculiar Population: The Nutrition, Health, and Mortality of American Slaves from Childhood to Maturity,” Journal of Economic History 46 (September 1986): 721–42; and Steckel, “A Dreadful Childhood: The Excess Mortality of American Slaves,” Social Science History 10 (Winter 1986): 427–65.
65 See Tadman, Speculators, 47–70, 136, 184–92.
66 John Komlos, “Towards an Anthropometric History of African-Americans: The Case of the Free Blacks in Antebellum Maryland,” in Claudia Goldin and Hugh Rockoff, eds., Strategic Factors in Nineteenth-Century American Economic History: A Volume in Honor of Robert W. Fogel (Chicago, 1992), 297–329.
67 Robert A. Margo and Richard H. Steckel, “The Height of American Slaves: New Evidence on Slave Nutrition and Health,” Social Science History 6 (Fall 1982): 516–38.
68 Birdfield and Dirleton gangs in James Ritchie Sparkman Papers, South Caroliniana Library, and John Sparkman Plantation Book Papers, South Carolina Historical Society. The slaves in the “shirt lists” worked on rice plantations, and perhaps their net nutrition was poorer than that of slaves on cotton and tobacco plantations (and net nutrition would have implications for stature).
69 A more detailed discussion of slave height will appear in a forthcoming article by the present writer.
70 See, for example, Steckel, “Dreadful Childhood,” esp. 431, 428, 460 n. 43.
71 Remarkably, for slaves and southern whites in 1850, the ratios of children under 10 years old to women ages 15–49 were respectively 1,354 and 1,353. See Richard H. Steckel, The Economics of U.S. Slave and Southern White Fertility (New York, 1985), 3.
72 For detailed arguments on fertility and on issues relating to the birth rate, see Steckel, Economics.
73 In the U.S. population of 1850, for example, for every 100 white children ages 0 to 9 years in 1850, there were 32 whites age 50 and over, but for every 100 slaves ages 0 to 9 there were only 24 age 50 and over.
74 Evidence on male slaveowners (age 21 and over) can be found in the manuscript “Register of Oaths Administered at Edgefield Court House [South Carolina] 1865,” South Carolina Department of Archives. The average height of 746 men listed as “farmers” was 68.6 inches, for 109 “physicians” and professionals was 69.1 inches, for 33 “mechanics” was 69 inches, and the overall average for the 888 registrants was 68.7 inches. Some have suggested that slave men averaged 67 inches, but my own evidence from shirt lists suggests that, in reality, the average height of antebellum slave men was probably under 65 inches. The average adult male height in Great Britain, which is often used by researchers as the modern standard, is currently 68.9 inches.
75 Laird W. Bergad, Slavery and the Demographic and Economic History of Minas Gerais, Brazil, 1720–1888 (Cambridge, 1999).
76 On “correspondences,” see Roger Bastide, African Civilisations in the New World (London, 1971). High concentrations of urban slaves could also foster strong African retentions, as is shown in Mary C. Karasch, Slave Life in Rio de Janeiro, 1808–1850 (Princeton, N.J., 1987), 61.
77 On African-American culture in North America, see, for example, Lawrence W. Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom (New York, 1977); Sterling Stuckey, Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundation of Black America (New York, 1987).
78 For a valuable comparative discussion of slave revolts, and of the circumstances that encouraged revolt, see Eugene D. Genovese, From Rebellion to Revolution: The Afro-American Slave Revolts in the Making of the Modern World (Baton Rouge, La., 1979). On Maroons, see Richard Price, ed., Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas (Baltimore, 1979).
79 Emily West estimates that about a third of U.S. slave marriages were “cross plantation” unions, where wife and husband had different owners (but she also suggests that such unions were usually as strong as same-plantation marriages). See West, “Surviving Separation: Cross-Plantation Marriages and the Slave Trade in Antebellum South Carolina,” Journal of Family History 24 (April 1999): 212–31.
80 Patterson, Sociology of Slavery, 167. For more recent studies, see Michael Craton, “Changing Patterns of Slave Families in the British West Indies,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 10 (Summer 1979): 1–35; Barry Higman, “The Slave Family and Household in the British West Indies, 1800–1834,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 6 (Autumn 1975): 261–87; Higman, Slave Populations, 364–78. On the sugar parishes of Louisiana, see Ann Paton Malone, Sweet Chariot: Slave Family and Household Structure in Nineteenth-Century Louisiana (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1992).
81 For a critique of Eugene Genovese’s paternalism thesis, see Michael Tadman, “The Persistent Myth of Paternalism: Historians and the Nature of Master-Slave Relations in the American South,” Sage Race Relations Abstracts 23 (February 1998): 7–23. On the resort to paternalist proslavery arguments in the British West Indies as well as the United States, see Larry E. Tise, Proslavery: A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 1701–1840 (Athens, Ga., 1987).
82 On Jamaican sugar planters’ high-profile Negrophobia, mixed with benevolent self-images, see Mark J. Steele, “A Philosophy of Fear: The World View of the Jamaican Plantocracy in a Comparative Perspective,” Journal of Caribbean History 7 (Spring 1993): 1–20.
83 Some years ago, historians often thought in terms of contrasts between U.S. slavery and a supposedly more class-oriented and less racist Latin American slavery, but now such views of Latin American slavery seem dated and, with good reason, are not widely supported. For rejections of the idea that Latin American history has been marked by “racial democracy,” see, for example, Pierre-Michel Fontaine, ed., Race, Class, and Power in Brazil (Los Angeles, 1985); Emilia Viotta da Costa, The Brazilian Empire: Myths and Histories (Chicago, 1985).
84 Higman, Slave Populations, 308. It is also worth noting that in the last years of slavery, the Bahamas (from 1822 to 1834), Anguilla (1827–31), and Barbuda (1817–32) experienced natural increase. These cases are easily explained, however, by the fact that cotton, salt production, maritime activities, and livestock rearing (not sugar) were the significant economic enterprises. On natural increase in these areas, see Higman, Slave Populations, 308–10.
85 Higman, Slave Populations, 123, 116. Because of excess male mortality and the curtailment of new African supplies, the British Caribbean average male-female ratio by 1817 had greatly moderated, but still stood at 101: 100.
86 On the exceptionally high numbers of children in the Barbados slave population in this period, see Higman, Slave Populations, 138–41, 462–70.
87 On the composition of the notarial records, see Laurence J. Kotlikoff, “Quantitative Description of the New Orleans Slave Market 1804 to 1862,” in Robert W. Fogel, et al., eds., Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery—Technical Papers: Markets and Production, 2 vols. (New York, 1992), 1: 31–53.
88 Manifests relating to river shipments do not survive for the period after 1840, and hardly any are available for earlier years either.
89 The independent evidence comes from a documentary volume by Harriet Beecher Stowe. From the reports of the Baltimore customs house, Stowe obtained a very detailed listing of all, or almost all, slave shipments that left Baltimore for various ports (including New Orleans) between January 1, 1851, and November 20, 1852. Her carefully collected evidence included date of shipment, name of ship, destination, and number of slaves shipped. Stowe’s data document 742 slaves, spread over 26 shipments from Baltimore to New Orleans; and of these slaves, 67 percent are found in extant New Orleans manifests. See Stowe, The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Presenting the Original Facts and Documents upon Which the Story Is Founded (Boston, 1853), 291–92.
90 I also compared extant manifests against a set of the trader Paul Pascal’s slave shipments from Norfolk (Virginia) to New Orleans. These shipments are recorded in the Paul Pascal Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University, and give name of ship, date, and name of slave. Of 206 slaves listed in eleven dated Pascal lists, only 22 percent were found in extant manifests. A further check compared extant New Orleans manifests against evidence of the several thousand slaves sent from Alexandria (Virginia) to New Orleans by the traders Franklin&Armfield’s. Michael A. Ridgeway used newspaper and other sources to compile a reasonably complete list of Franklin&Armfield’s coastal shipments for the years 1833 to 1836, and I found significantly less than 67 percent of these shipments in extant manifests. See Ridgeway, “A Peculiar Business: Slave Trading in Alexandria, Virginia, 1825–1861” (MA thesis, Georgetown University, 1976), 63–83.
91 Slave traders’ letters directly document the Mobile to New Orleans traffic. Quite commonly, traders would march slaves in overland “coffles,” perhaps from the Carolina or Georgia upcountry, and would send them by river from Montgomery to Mobile, and then move them on by sea to New Orleans. For detailed documentation, see Joseph Jeptha Norton Papers, South Caroliniana Library; Lawrence H. Belser vs. Robert C. Meyers, February 20, 1852, Court of Equity, Sumter District, S.C.; William Haney Hatchett Papers, Tyre Glen Papers, and William A. J. Finney Papers (all at Duke University).
92 See Tadman, Speculators, 31–41, 49–97.
93 On the higher cost of the sea route, see T. H. Wells, “Moving a Plantation to Louisiana,” Louisiana Studies 6 (Fall 1967): 279–99.
94 Detailed evidence in Jonathan B. Pritchett, “Forced Migration and the Interregional Slave Trade” (paper given at the 1991 Meeting of the Social Science History Conference), suggests that, for slaves shipped to New Orleans from the key Chesapeake ports of Baltimore and Alexandria, their previous place of work had typically been only 20 to 35 miles from the port concerned. Similarly, Pascal&Raux’s buying area for New Orleans slaves seems to have been localized in the counties around Norfolk, Virginia. We might conclude that the farther a trader was from a convenient port, the more likely it was that overland trading would take over from coastal. Moreover, even with traders based at ports like Alexandria, not all New Orleans–bound slaves were sent by sea. Franklin&Armfield regularly sent many of their slaves overland from Alexandria to New Orleans. Indeed, the traveler G. W. Featherstonhaugh encountered one of their coffles (of some 300 slaves) on its overland trek to Natchez (from where the slaves were to be sent to Louisiana’s sugar plantations). For many in the eastern states, this combination of overland coffles to Natchez and river passage down to New Orleans would have been attractive on grounds of convenience and cost. On the coffles mentioned, see Ethan A. Andrews, Slavery and the Domestic Slave Trade (Boston, 1836), 142; and G. W. Featherstonhaugh, Excursion through the Slave States (New York, 1844), 36–37, 46. In South Carolina, especially outside of Charleston, major New Orleans traders made extensive use of the overland route. Owings&Charles (from the flourishing slave-trading center of Hamburg, Edgefield District) traded to New Orleans on a very large scale and used essentially land routes. See Tadman, Speculators, 262; and see McGee-Charles Family Papers, South Caroliniana Library.
95 Manuscript census evidence for 1850 and 1860 hints at the presence of direct trading by listing—for parishes including Iberville, Jefferson, Plaquemines, Assumption, and Baton Rouge—individuals with the occupation of “trader” or “speculator.” Some of these could have been general traders, but in Tadman, Speculators, 35, see detailed work on the South Carolina census, showing that those so described could often be proved to have been slave traders. Baton Rouge (which had a “trader” and a “speculator”) was an active secondary center for the trade. On March 14, 1850, for example, H.&J. W. Taylor announced in the Baton Rouge Gazette: “We have just arrived with a very superior lot of Virginia Negroes . . . 40 as likely negroes as has ever been offered in the Southern market.” The “Cash Sales Book” in the courthouse at nearby Port Allen (West Baton Rouge Parish) records sales by several out-of-state traders, such as Sinclair&Clark of Missouri. Although some of the recorded sales by traders had originally been transacted at New Orleans, others appear to have been initiated near Port Allen. Particularly detailed evidence is available from local courthouse records for the mixed sugar-cotton parish of East Feliciana. The historian Richard H. Kilbourne found in East Feliciana Courthouse for the 1850s documentation of some 500–700 slaves imported and sold in that parish by traders, with Heckle&Wilson (of Georgia) being particularly prominent. See Kilbourne, Debt, Investment, Slaves: Credit Relations in East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, 1825–1885 (Tuscaloosa, Ala., 1995), 50–51, 57; and private letter to me from Richard Kilbourne.
96 See, for example, Frederic Bancroft, Slave Trading in The Old South (Baltimore, 1931), 123–44, 233–68.
97 Fogel and Engerman note that, of those appearing in the notarial records, some 70 percent were local New Orleans slaves. See Fogel and Engerman, Time on the Cross, 53. A detailed search of the notarial records shows further that, in the 1840s and early 1850s, some 15 percent of out-of-state slaves were from the Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri group of states. I am very grateful to Stanley Engerman for, on my behalf, making a detailed search of the notarial records for these latter slaves.
98 As for the 1840s, it is assumed that 67 percent of “New Orleans inward manifests” have survived. For the 1850s, it was assumed that 57 percent of importations went to sugar planters. This is based on Kotlikoff’s evidence (in “Quantitative Description,” 34) that 60 percent of slaves in 1850s notarial records were male. The percentage of the sugar region’s importations going to the thirteen leading sugar parishes was then estimated for the 1850s at 70 percent (rather than the 80 percent, as in the 1840s). This is because agricultural statistics in the 1860 federal census showed, for 1860, only about 70 percent of Louisiana’s sugar as being produced by the leading thirteen parishes.
99 Based on 1840s patterns, it was assumed that “Mobile outward” shipments to New Orleans would have been equivalent to 42 percent of the slaves in the “New Orleans inward” set. The overland and Mississippi routes were assumed to have contributed the same shares of the sugar area’s slave supply as in the 1840s.
100 Kotlikoff found that, across the 1807 to 1860 period generally, males made up 57 percent of out-of-state slaves sold at New Orleans, but in the 1850s they made up 60 percent. Kotlikoff, “Quantitative Description,” 34.
101 Philip Thomas to W. A. J. Finney, December 26 and 31, 1859, W. A. J. Finney Papers, Duke University. He added that there were 400 at Mobile (including 60 at Fred Hall’s depot, where Thomas lodged). A trader at Mobile also told Thomas that he had recently “been to Natchez [Mississippi,] from there to Alexandria [Louisiana] on the Red river and says all points are full.”
102 Natchez Courier cited in Richard Tansey, “Bernard Kendig and the New Orleans Slave Trade,” Louisiana History 23 (Spring 1982): 161.
103 Bancroft, Slave Trading, 304–05.
104 Bancroft, in Slave Trading, 319–20, wrote that in New Orleans in the late 1850s there were at least twenty-five slave traders’ depots and yards “within a few squares of the St. Charles hotel . . . [And in] the French Quarter there were about half as many.” For a list of forty-seven of the more important coastwise New Orleans traders of the 1840s (a list that largely excludes the overland and Mississippi routes), see Tadman, Speculators, 232–33.
105 The pattern reported in Stowe’s evidence (shipments from Baltimore to New Orleans) suggests (allowing twenty-one days for the journey to New Orleans) that 52 percent of the season’s slaves would have arrived at New Orleans after December 26. This conclusion is supported by evidence from the manifests generally. Data in Herman Freudenberger and Jonathan B. Pritchett, “The Domestic United States Slave Trade: New Evidence,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 21 (Winter 1991): 464, and in Kotlikoff, “Quantitative Description,” 33, suggest that in a typical season almost 20 percent of New Orleans’s sales would already have taken place by late December.
106 The sex ratio of 1850s importations suggests that 57 percent of imported slaves would have gone to sugar planters, and evidence cited earlier indicates that (at 1850s rates) 70 percent of these (or 2,993 slaves) would have gone to the thirteen leading sugar parishes. If we then add a further 10 percent to take some account of slaves sold directly to the sugar parishes (bypassing the New Orleans market that Thomas commented on), the total rises to 3,326 slaves.