Isaac Franklin

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Isaac Franklin
Portrait of Franklin by W.B. Cooper
Born May 26, 1789
Sumner County, Tennessee
Died April 27, 1846(1846-04-27) (aged 56)
West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana
Nationality American
Occupation Planter, slave trader
Spouse(s) Adelicia Acklen
Parent(s) James Franklin
Mary Lauderdale

Isaac Franklin (May 26, 1789 – April 27, 1846) was an American slave trader and plantation owner.

Early life[edit]

He was born on May 26, 1789 at "Pilot Knob" Plantation on Station Camp Creek in Sumner County, Tennessee. His grandfather Charles (1735-1769) and father James Franklin (1755-1825 or 1828) came from Baltimore, Maryland. James Franklin moved to East Tennessee as a "Long Hunter" in the 1770s for trapping and exploration. He participated in the Revolutionary War and was listed by militia leader James Robertson as one of the "Immortal Seventy" who received and was granted 640 acres (2.6 km2) of land by the state of North Carolina.[1] Isaac's mother was Mary Lauderdale, the daughter of Scottish merchant James Maitland Lauderdale, James Franklin's employer.[2] James Franklin prospered in Tennessee--as each of his sons reached adulthood, he presented them with a horse, a bridle and a pocket knife. Thus, when Isaac was twenty-one years old, he received his share and according to tradition used the knife to carve a ship miniature which he sold to a friend for one dollar, which in fifteen years he parlayed into a fortune.[1]


At the age of twenty-one, Isaac went into business with his older brothers, James [Jr.] and John. His job was to transport raw products by flatboat along the Mississippi River to New Orleans where they were sold, and manufactured goods were returned to Sumner County. This introduced him to the slave trade and life on southern plantations.

The slave trade was referred to as "The Business" in the early nineteenth century. In 1808, the foreign slave trade was abolished and thus the domestic slave trade increased dramatically. Isaac formed a partnership with his nephew (through marriage) John Armfield. From 1828 (when Isaac's father James died and bequeathed land and slaves to Isaac and his brother James) to 1837, Franklin & Armfield became possibly the leading firm in the domestic slave trade. They set up their business in Alexandria, DC (today, Virginia) where they bought as many as 500 slaves at a time. After Franklin & Armfield bought slaves, they were either walked in coffles to Nashville or Gallatin, Tennessee,[3] where they could be taken down the Mississippi River to the newly established plantations and markets, or shipped more directly to Jackson or Natchez, Mississippi where another headquarters was located. Especially from the Natchez office, Franklin & Armfield sold the slaves to southern planters. Franklin also engaged in The Business in New Orleans, St. Francisville and Vidalia, Louisiana.[4] As their ships returned to Alexandria, they carried sugar, molasses, whiskey, and cotton.

After serving as a Major in the War of 1812, Isaac acquired an estate valued at more than one million dollars from 1812 to 1841. His large holdings were first made in Sumner County. Franklin made his Tennessee plantation, "Fairvue," his home. Once Fairvue was finished, he turned towards Louisiana where Franklin purchased six plantations, called "Bellevue", "Killarney", "Lochlomond", "Angola", "Loango" and "Panola". He also bought thousands of acres of land in Texas, as well as a turnpike, bank stock, and a third interest in the Nashville Race Course. In 1835, Isaac Franklin eased out of active slave trading and by 1841 he was completely out of the business.

The African Americans held by Isaac Franklin viewed him poorly. Some families were spared separation because he developed a reputation for "selling" people with serious health problems. It is believed that he ordered the mass burial of African Americans who he suspected of having yellow fever. Buyers avoided him after that. At other times, it appears he may have required the sale of entire families in order to avoid having an inventory of infants that he otherwise could not sell. Despite this reputation, it is likely that he separated more families than any other North American slaveholder. In his early trading, he purchased fathers in the Mid-Atlantic states, transported them on river boats, and re-sold them in the Deep South at higher prices.[citation needed]

After marrying and withdrawing from his business with Armfield, Franklin concentrated on managing his Tennessee and Louisiana plantations and other property in Mississippi. Nonetheless, when he died in 1846, he owned 10,000 acres (40 km2) of land in Louisiana and over 600 slaves.[1]

Personal life[edit]

In 1839, at the age of fifty, he married Adelicia Acklen (1817–1887), the daughter of Oliver Bliss Hayes (1783-1858), a lawyer and a Presbyterian Minister, and Sarah Clemmons Hightower (1795-1871). They had four children: Victoria, Adelicia, Emma, and Julius Caesar. All died in early childhood. Upon his death in 1846, he left her his slave trading fortune, with which she had Belmont Mansion in Nashville constructed in 1853.[5]

Death and Legacy[edit]

Isaac Franklin died on April 27, 1846 in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, survived by his wife and two daughters (both of whom also died that year). His body was preserved in the contents from three barrels worth of whiskey, then shipped to Tennessee for burial. By a will he made in 1841, Franklin attempted to endow a school or seminary at Fairview, which became the subject of protracted litigation, much as the Philadelphia will of Stephen Girard.[6]

His widow sold Fairview to William Franklin for $30,000 in 1848 and remarried the following year. She leased and later sold the Louisiana plantations to Samuel James, who leased prisoners from the state to run them. The state acquired the merged plantations under the name Angola in 1901 and they form the core of the Angola Prison.[7]


  1. ^ a b c Kenneth C. Thomson, Jr., "Isaac Franklin was a Well-Liked Slave Trader," in Gallatin Examiner, Thurs. May 13, 1976.
  2. ^ For the confusing number of men with the same name see
  3. ^
  4. ^ Wendell Holmes Stephenson, Isaac Franklin, Slave Trader and Planter (Louisiana State University Press 1938) at p. 4
  5. ^ History of Belmont Mansion,
  6. ^ Franklin v. Armfield, 2 Sneed (TN) 305, 34 Tenn. 305 (1854)
  7. ^ Peter Kolchin, American Slavery, New York: Penguin Books, 1995, p. 97

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