Summary Objective 10

Students will understand the contours of the domestic slave trade as part of the nation’s economic and geographic expansion. Maps to Key Concepts 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 & 10


What else should my students know?

10.A In 1808, Congress ended legal participation in the international slave trade, but the domestic slave trade expanded with the opening of new lands in the Southeast. A total of 1.2 million men and women from parts of the Upper South were forcibly moved to the Deep South and the Black Belt during the first half of the 19th century. So many enslaved people were forced to make this journey that it came to be known as "The Second Middle Passage."

10.B Enslaved families, many of which had generationally deep ties in the Upper South, were torn asunder and traumatized by this massive forced migration. 

10.C As part of the domestic slave trade, market values were assigned to enslaved people. Men in their mid-20s were the most expensive because of their physical strength; young enslaved women were most valuable before puberty because of the assumption that they would have children who would be the property of their enslaver.

10.D The domestic slave trade reinforced racial stereotypes by linking skin tone to labor. Though exceptions existed, enslaved people with darker skin were often assigned to heavy fieldwork, while enslaved people with lighter skin were used for skilled labor or domestic work.

10.E Complex economic structures emerged to support the domestic slave trade, including insurance companies that insured enslaved people as property, traders and auction houses that served as middle-men and clearinghouses, and banks that provided credit for the purchase of enslaved laborers or allowed the capital represented in the bodies of enslaved people to be used as collateral for loans.


How can I teach this?

  • The papers of Z.B. Oakes, a slaver in Charleston, South Carolina, are available through the Boston Public Library. (Correspondence can be accessed through the Digital Commonwealth online collections by searching "Oakes," along with the date and sender of the letter.)  The frank language of the documents underscores the commodification of enslaved people, the inhumanity of the slave trade and the trauma that those affected by the domestic slave trade experienced.
  • In a February 26, 1855, letter from F. Sumter, the enslaver writes to ask Oakes for information about an enslaved woman named Clarissa, including whether she has miscarried, has children or is “breeding.”
  • In a letter from Jesse King dated February 1, 1855, King inquires about the cost of several enslaved people.
  • A letter by E.A. Edwards, dated April 14, 1857, accompanies a trunk sent to Tom, an enslaved man who was recently sold. It includes a note presumably dictated by Fatima, Tom's wife, discussing her distress at his sale. 
  • Portions of the book Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup, describe the domestic slave trade. Students might read Northup's account of a slave auction and the separation of Eliza from her two children.

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