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Slaves on a Virginia plantation (The Old Plantation, c. 1790)

Slave breeding in the United States became a common practice among slave holders and plantation owners as a result of several mitigating factors including fears of rebellion with 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 America. The laws that ultimately ended the Atlantic triangle trade, came about as a result of the efforts of abolitionist religious 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. [1] This led to increased calls for the same ban in America and was supported by members of the U.S. Congress from both the North and the South as well as President Thomas Jefferson.[2]

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 South and the West as a result of increased immigration, largely from Northern Europe. Slaves were treated as a commodity by traders and owners alike, and were regarded as the crucial component in the production of lucrative cash crops that fed the triangle trade. [3][4] As such they were managed as assets in the same way as chattel, and the laws that regulated slavery and the slave trade were designed to protect the financial interests of the slave holder, and offered little protections for the slaves themselves. Separating slave families for the purposes of assigning workers to the task for which they were best physically suited was also a common practice. [5][6]


The first slaves in colonial America arrived in 1619. They were 20 Angolans captured by a British pirate ship after a battle with a Portuguese ship bound for Mexico. [7] At that time, slavery did not exist as an institution in the British colonies of America. Indentured servitude was the common practice as a means for whites and blacks alike to pay their passage to the New World. However, by the time of the American Revolution in 1776, the enslavement of black Africans had become an institution, in large part because of the Atlantic triangle slave trade. [8]


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. [9]

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 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. [10][11]

Aboltionist movement in Britain

As the treatment and view of slaves in the colonies, and later in the newly formed independent American nation, continued towards total subjugation and dehumanization, British citizens, in particular Quakers and evangelical Protestants, began lobbying their fellow citizens, as well as members of the House of Commons of Great Britain, to end slavery throughout the colonies of the British Empire.

The slave point of view

Histories that reflect the perspective of the slaves themselves present evidence that at least a portion of slave owners continuously interfered in the sexual lives of their slaves. These histories, known as slave narratives, also produced testimony that slave women were subjected to arranged marriages, forced matings and other forms of sexual abuse.


"Am I not a woman and a sister?": A British antislavery medallion from the late 18th century

E. Franklin Frazier, in his book The Negro Family advocated that "there were masters who, without any regard for the preferences of their slaves, mated their human chattel as they did their stock." And ex-slave Maggie Stenhouse remarked that "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."

Other evidence

The prohibition of the African slave-trade after 1807 limited the supply of slaves in the United States, so when the colossal expansion of cotton culture caused an urgent demand for slaves, the need and profit of slave-rearing was obvious and inevitable. And so, research suggests that slave breeding fit naturally into the context of 19th century American capitalism. And during this time period the terms "breeding slaves", "child bearing women", "breeding period", "too old to breed", etc. were not unfamiliar.


In a study of 2,588 slaves in 1860 by Richard Sutch, it was found that on slave-holdings with at least one woman that the average ratio of women to men exceeded 1:2 and the imbalance was even more startling in the "selling states" where the excess of women over men was 300 per thousand. The demographic mechanisms of high fertility were an early start on childbearing, short intervals between births, and a low rate of childlessness. The average age of slave women at the birth of their first child was comparably low, only two or three years after the start of fertility and about two years earlier than Southern white women. These findings suggest direct evidence that slave owners vigorously encouraged early marriages for slave women. Child spacing was also unusually short and slave women in the 21-30 age bracket were proved very fertile.

See also


  • Randall M. Miller, John David Smith(1988) Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery Greenwood Press ISBN 0313238146
  • Frederic Bancroft(1931) Slave Trading in the Old South American Classics ISBN 9781570031038
  1. Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery. Vol. 2 Paul Finkelman and Joseph C. Miller, (eds). Simon & Shuster.
  2. Slavery in America from Colonial Times to the Civil War. Dorothy Schneider & Carl J. Schneider, Facts on File, pub. 2000. pages 261-272
  3. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Ira Berlin. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, London, 1998. pages 95-101.
  4. Traders, Planters, and Slaves: Market Behavior in Early English America. David W. Galenson. 1986
  5. Slavery in America from Colonial Times to the Civil War. Dorothy Schneider & Carl J. Schneider, Facts on File, pub. 2000. pages 52-56
  6. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Ira Berlin. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, London, 1998. pages 40-41; 129-132.
  7. "Mysteries of Virgina's First Slaves is Unlocked 400 Years Later."
  8. The Uncommon Market: Essays in the Economic History of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Henry A. Gemery and Jan S. Hogendorn (eds). 1979
  9. Black Breeding Machines, Eddie Donoghue, AuthorHouse 2008. pages 134-136
  10. Ibid.
  11. The Ruling Race: A History of American Slave Holders. 1982.

External links

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