Portrait of Franklin by W.B. Cooper
|Born||May 26, 1789|
Sumner County, Tennessee
|Died||April 27, 1846 (aged 56)|
West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana
|Occupation||Planter, slave trader|
|Allegiance||United States of America (1812)|
|Service/||United States Army|
|Years of service||1812|
Isaac Franklin (May 26, 1789 – April 27, 1846) was an American slave trader and plantation owner. He was the co-founder of Franklin & Armfield, which became "the largest slave trading firm" in the United States. Based in Alexandria, Virginia, it also had offices in New Orleans and other Louisiana cities. Franklin owned six plantations in Louisiana and Tennessee. His Fairvue plantation, in Sumner County, Tennessee, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
By 1841, Franklin left slave trading and devoted his energy to the plantations and other property interests. At the age of 50, he was married, for the first time, to Adelicia Hayes of Nashville. None of their four children survived to adulthood.
In the late 19th century, his widow eventually sold the Louisiana plantations. In West Feliciana Parish, his former Angola and other plantations were bought by the state in 1901 and converted for use as Louisiana State Penitentiary, the largest maximum-security prison in the United States.
Isaac Franklin was born on May 26, 1789 at Pilot's Knob Plantation on Station Camp Creek in Sumner County, Tennessee. His father James Franklin (1755-1825 or 1828) and grandfather Charles (1735-1769) came from Baltimore, Maryland and served in the Revolutionary War. He was later listed by militia leader James Robertson as one of the "Immortal Seventy" who were granted 640 acres (2.6 km2) each of land by the state of North Carolina for their service. (North Carolina then claimed Tennessee as part of its territory to the west.)
Isaac's mother was Mary Lauderdale. James Franklin prospered in Tennessee—as each of his sons reached adulthood, he presented them with a horse, a bridle and a pocket knife. When Isaac was twenty-one years old, he received his share and, according to tradition, used the knife to carve a ship miniature. He sold this to a friend for one dollar. In fifteen years he had made a fortune in slave trading.
In 1828 Franklin formed a partnership with his nephew John Armfield when Isaac's father James died and bequeathed land and slaves to he and his brother James. They set up Franklin & Armfield in Alexandria, Virginia (then part of the District of Columbia). Between 1828 and 1837, Franklin & Armfield became "the largest slave trading firm" in the United States. Franklin also had offices in New Orleans, the major slave trading center in the South, St. Francisville, and Vidalia, Louisiana. Franklin admitted in letters to raping some of the women he bought and sold as slaves.
Franklin made his Tennessee plantation, "Fairvue," his home. Once Fairvue was finished, he turned toward Louisiana where he purchased six plantations, named "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. After 1835, his activity as a slave trader reduced as he moved his efforts to his plantation interests. When he died in 1846, he owned 10,000 acres (40 km2) of land in Louisiana and more than 600 slaves.
In 1839, at the age of fifty, he married socialite Adelicia Hayes (1817–1887), the daughter of Oliver Bliss Hayes (1783-1858), a lawyer and a Presbyterian minister, and Sarah Clemmons Hightower (1795-1871). By the time of his marriage to Hayes, Franklin had fathered a child with an enslaved woman named Lucinda who he had been consistently raping for about five years. Soon after this wedding Franklin sold the enslaved woman and her child, whose fates are unknown. Franklin and his wife Adelicia had four children: Victoria, Adelicia, Emma, and Julius Caesar. All died in early childhood.
Upon his death in 1846, Franklin left his slave trading fortune, plantations, and slaves to his wife Adelicia. She later married again, and had Belmont Mansion and its estate built in what was then country outside Nashville in 1853.
Death and legacy
By a will he made in 1841, Franklin made a bequest to endow a school or seminary at Fairvue. The will was the subject of protracted litigation by his nephew and former partner Armfield.
His widow sold Fairvue to William Franklin and remarried the following year. She leased, and later in the 19th century sold, the Louisiana plantations to Samuel James, who leased convict labor (mostly black) from the state to work them. The state acquired the merged plantations under the name Angola in 1901; this land was used for the development of Angola Prison.
- Gudmestad, Robert H. (Fall 2003). "The Troubled Legacy of Isaac Franklin: The Enterprise of Slave Trading". Tennessee Historical Quarterly. 62 (3): 193–217. JSTOR 42627764.
- The Historic Blue Grass Line. 1913. p. 78.
- Kenneth C. Thomson, Jr., "Isaac Franklin was a Well-Liked Slave Trader," in Gallatin Examiner, Thurs. May 13, 1976.
- Ball, Edward (Nov 2015). "Retracing Slavery's Trail of Tears: America's Forgotten Migration – The Journeys of a Million African-Americans From the Tobacco South to the Cotton South". Smithsonian. Retrieved 18 Sep 2019.
- Wendell Holmes Stephenson, Isaac Franklin, Slave Trader and Planter (Louisiana State University Press 1938) at p. 4
- Schermerhorn, Calvin (2018). Unrequited Toil: A History of United States Slavery. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781108631709.
- Hannah Natanson (14 Sep 2019). "They were once America's cruelest, richest slave traders. Why does no one know their names?". Washington Post. Retrieved 14 Sep 2019.
- Johnson, Walter (October 2008). The Chattel Principle: Internal Slave Trades in the Americas. ISBN 978-0300129472.
- Betsy Phillips (7 May 2015). "Isaac Franklin's money had a major influence on modern-day Nashville — despite the blood on it". Nashville Scene. Retrieved 15 Sep 2019.
- Wendell Holmes Stephenson (1938). Isaac Franklin: Slave Trader and Planter of the Old South, With Plantation Records. Louisiana State University Press. p. 52.
- James A. Hoobler, Sarah Hunter Marks, Nashville: From the Collection of Carl and Otto Giers, Arcadia Publishing, 2000, p. 36 
- Supreme Court, Texas (1883). "The Texas Reports: Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court".
- History of Belmont Mansion, http://www.belmontmansion.com/history
- "ISAAC FRANKLIN". The Mississippi Free Trader. Natchez, Mississippi. October 17, 1846. p. 2. Retrieved November 3, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- Franklin v. Armfield, 2 Sneed (TN) 305, 34 Tenn. 305 (1854)
- Gudmestad, Robert H. (2003-11-07). A Troublesome Commerce: The Transformation of the Interstate Slave Trade. ISBN 9780807129227.
- Peter Kolchin, American Slavery, New York: Penguin Books, 1995, p. 97
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