Slave breeding in the United States
Slave breeding in the United States were those practices of slave ownership that aimed to influence the reproduction of slaves in order to increase the wealth of slaveholders.
Slave breeding included coerced sexual relations between male and female slaves, promoting pregnancies of slaves, sexual relations between master and slave with the aim of producing slave children, and favoring female slaves who produced a relatively large number of children.
The purpose of slave breeding was to produce new slaves without incurring the cost of purchase, to fill labor shortages caused by the termination of the Atlantic slave trade, and to attempt to improve the health and productivity of slaves. Slave breeding was condoned in the South because slaves were considered to be subhuman chattel, and were not entitled to the same rights accorded to free persons.
Slave breeding became a common practice among slave holders and plantation owners as a result of several factors, including fears of rebellion from the increasing numbers of newly arrived slaves from Africa, and the economic impact caused by newly passed laws that restricted or eliminated the importation of slaves to Britain and the United States.
The laws that ultimately ended the Atlantic triangle trade came about as a result of the efforts of abolitionist Christian groups such as the Society of Friends, known as Quakers, and Evangelicals led by William Wilberforce, whose efforts through the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade led to the passage of the Slave Trade Act by the British Parliament in 1807. This led to increased calls for the same ban in America, supported by members of the U.S. Congress from both the North and the South as well as President Thomas Jefferson.
At the same time that the importation of slaves from Africa was being restricted or eliminated, the United States was undergoing a rapid expansion of cotton, tobacco, sugar cane and rice production in the Deep South and the West as a result of increased immigration, largely from Northern Europe. Slaves were treated as a commodity by owners and traders alike, and were regarded as the crucial labor for the production of lucrative cash crops that fed the triangle trade.
The slaves were managed as assets in the same way as chattel; slaveholders passed laws regulating slavery and the slave trade designed to protect their financial interests; there was little protection for the slaves. Separating slave families for the purposes of assigning workers to the task for which they were best physically suited was a common practice.
Breeding in response to end of slave imports
The prohibition of the African slave-trade after 1807 limited the supply of slaves in the United States. The invention of the cotton gin enabled expanded cultivation in the uplands of short-staple cotton, leading to clearing lands cultivating cotton through large areas of the Deep South, especially the Black Belt. The demand for labor in the area increased sharply and an internal slave market expanded. At the same time, the Upper South had an excess supply of slaves because of a shift to mixed crops agriculture, which was less labor-intensive than tobacco. During this time period, the terms "breeding slaves", "child bearing women", "breeding period", "too old to breed", etc., became familiar.
Planters in the Upper South states started selling slaves to the Deep South, generally through slave traders. Louisville, Kentucky, on the Ohio River was a major slave market and port for shipping slaves downriver by the Mississippi to the South. New Orleans had the largest slave market in the country and became the fourth largest city in the US by 1840 and the wealthiest, mostly because of its slave trade and associated businesses.
In the antebellum years, numerous escaped slaves became literate (some already were) and wrote about their experiences, in books called slave narratives. Many recounted that at least a portion of slave owners continuously interfered in the sexual lives of their slaves (usually the women). The slave narratives also testified that slave women were subjected to arranged marriages, forced matings, sexual violation by masters, their sons or overseers, and other forms of abuse.
The historian E. Franklin Frazier, in his book The Negro Family, stated that "there were masters who, without any regard for the preferences of their slaves, mated their human chattel as they did their stock." Ex-slave Maggie Stenhouse remarked, "Durin' slavery there were stockmen. They was weighed and tested. A man would rent the stockman and put him in a room with some young women he wanted to raise children from."
Personhood to Thinghood
Several factors coalesced to make the breeding of slaves a common practice by the end of the 18th century, chief among them the dehumanization of slaves through the enactment of laws and practices that transformed the view of slaves from "personhood" into "thinghood." In this way, slaves could be bought and sold as chattel without presenting a challenge to the religious beliefs and social mores of the society at large. All rights were to the owner of the slave, with the slave having no rights of self-determination either to his own person, or to that of his spouse, or his children.
This psychological transformation of slaves from fellow human beings, with all the same rights as bestowed by natural law, to that of chattel was aided by the view, propagated by slave traders and owners, as well as religious leaders, that slavery was itself grounded in the Bible. This view was inspired by a reinterpratation of the Genesis passage "Cursed be Canaan; The lowest of slaves Shall he be to his brothers" (Genesis 9); Ham, son of Noah and father of Canaan, was deemed the antediluvian progenitor of the African people. This was the beginning of the racist view that slavery was a natural state and destiny for Negroes, while whites were destined by God to be superior. Therefore, subjugation of slaves was taken as a natural right of the white slave owners. The inferiority of the slave was not limited to his relationship with the slave master, but was instead extended to all whites. No matter the situation, no matter the person, be it child to adult, slaves were automatically subject to the whims and wills of all white persons.
In a study of 2,588 slaves in 1860 by the economist Richard Sutch, he found that on slave-holdings with at least one woman, the average ratio of women to men exceeded 2:1. The imbalance was greater in the "selling states", where the excess of women over men was 300 per thousand.
Contrasting scholarly views
Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman dismiss the idea of systematic slave breeding in their 1995 book Time on the Cross. They argue that there is very meager evidence for the systematic breeding of slaves for sale in the market in the Upper South during the 19th century. They distinguish systematic breeding—the interference in normal sexual patterns by masters with an aim to increase fertility or encourage desirable characteristics—from pro-natalist policies—the generalized encouragement of large families through a combination of rewards, improved living and working conditions for fertile women and their children, and other policy changes by masters. They point out that the demographic evidence is subject to a number of interpretations. The reports from witnesses are apocryphal in that they never specify any particular place in which breeding practices were alleged to have taken place. No surviving plantation records detail any such attempt.
- Treatment of slaves in the United States
- History of slavery in the United States
- Marable, Manning, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America: Problems in Race, Political Economy, and Society, South End Press, 2000, p. 72.
- Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery, Vol. 2, Paul Finkelman and Joseph C. Miller (eds), Simon & Schuster.
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- Dorothy Schneider and Carl J. Schneider, "Slavery in America from Colonial Times to the Civil War", Facts on File, 2000. pp. 52-56
- Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone, 1998, pp. 40-41; 129-32.
- Smith, Julia Floyd, Slavery and Rice Culture in Low Country Georgia, 1750-1860, University of Tennessee Press, 1991, p. 104.
- Work Projects Administration, Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves, Arkansas Narratives, Part 6, Kessinger Publishing, 2004, p. 154.
- Eddie Donoghue, Black Breeding Machines: The Breeding of Negro Slaves in the Diaspora, AuthorHouse, 2008, pp. 134-36.
- Sutch, Richard, "The Breeding of Slaves for Sale and the Westward of Slavery, 1850-1860", in Stanley L. Engerman and Eugene Genovese (eds), Race and Slavery in the Western Hemishpere: Q Studies, Princeton University Press, 1975, pp. 173-210.
- Fogel, Robert; Engerman, Stanley (1995). Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery. New York: Norton. p. 78 passim.
- Randall M. Miller, John David Smith (1988). Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery, Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-23814-6
- Frederic Bancroft (1931). Slave Trading in the Old South, American Classics. ISBN 978-1-57003-103-8
- Robert William Fogel and Stanley Engerman (1995). Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery, New York, W. W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0393312186.
- Eddie Donoghue, Black Breeding Machines, AuthorHouse, 2008.
- Slave Breeding, Genealogy Trails - not a valid source, no footnotes/citations