Pre-Civil War Free Blacks Owned Slaves. Is that significant?

wbull1

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#1
In other discussion groups I've seen discussions of the significance of the fact that before the Civil War some free blacks owned black slaves. To me the numbers involved are so small it seems insignificant, but maybe I'm missing something. What is your reaction?


There were approximately 319,599 free blacks in the United States in 1830. Approximately 13.7 per cent of the total black population was free. The census of 1830 lists 3,775 free Negroes who owned a total of 12,760 slaves.

Now simple math tells us the slightly more than 1% of free blacks owned slaves.

The census tells us the population of the 24 states was 12,866,020, of which 2,009,043 were slaves.

Again doing the math we see that slightly more than .06% of the slaves in the United States were owned by free blacks.

Apparently, most free blacks who owned slaves had a family relationship with the slaves. An emancipated slave might purchase a spouse or a child. It was not unusual for the purchaser to leave the legal status of the relative unchanged to fit local sentiment. Beyond question some freed blacks owned slaves and used their labor for personal enrichment and some became rich that way. The number is very small.

Free black Creoles in Louisiana who owned slaves operated until a different legal system until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

https://www.theroot.com/did-black-people-own-slaves-1790895436
https://userpages.umbc.edu/~bouton/History407/SlaveStats.htm
 

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jgoodguy

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#2
In other discussion groups I've seen discussions of the significance of the fact that before the Civil War some free blacks owned black slaves. To me the numbers involved are so small it seems insignificant, but maybe I'm missing something. What is your reaction?


There were approximately 319,599 free blacks in the United States in 1830. Approximately 13.7 per cent of the total black population was free. The census of 1830 lists 3,775 free Negroes who owned a total of 12,760 slaves.

Now simple math tells us the slightly more than 1% of free blacks owned slaves.

The census tells us the population of the 24 states was 12,866,020, of which 2,009,043 were slaves.

Again doing the math we see that slightly more than .06% of the slaves in the United States were owned by free blacks.

Apparently, most free blacks who owned slaves had a family relationship with the slaves. An emancipated slave might purchase a spouse or a child. It was not unusual for the purchaser to leave the legal status of the relative unchanged to fit local sentiment. Beyond question some freed blacks owned slaves and used their labor for personal enrichment and some became rich that way. The number is very small.

Free black Creoles in Louisiana who owned slaves operated until a different legal system until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

https://www.theroot.com/did-black-people-own-slaves-1790895436
https://userpages.umbc.edu/~bouton/History407/SlaveStats.htm
https://www.theroot.com/did-black-people-own-slaves-1790895436

One of the most vexing questions in African-American history is whether free African Americans themselves owned slaves. The short answer to this question, as you might suspect, is yes, of course; some free black people in this country bought and sold other black people, and did so at least since 1654, continuing to do so right through the Civil War. For me, the really fascinating questions about black slave-owning are how many black "masters" were involved, how many slaves did they own and why did they own slaves?​
The answers to these questions are complex, and historians have been arguing for some time over whether free blacks purchased family members as slaves in order to protect them — motivated, on the one hand, by benevolence and philanthropy, as historian Carter G. Woodson put it, or whether, on the other hand, they purchased other black people "as an act of exploitation," primarily to exploit their free labor for profit, just as white slave owners did. The evidence shows that, unfortunately, both things are true. The great African-American historian, John Hope Franklin, states this clearly: "The majority of Negro owners of slaves had some personal interest in their property." But, he admits, "There were instances, however, in which free Negroes had a real economic interest in the institution of slavery and held slaves in order to improve their economic status."​
 
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#3
WBULL1, I think you hit an enlightening point.

Seems that most people today are of the opinion that a white master would have done everything wrong in caring for his charges. On the other hand a black master would probably provide better care for his charges. That is until one reads of the black slave owner demanding in court the return of his property (a runaway slave).

While the number of free blacks who owned slaves is small, the number of white who owned slaves would be nearly proportional based on wealth and as a percentage of the whole population of whites as to who owned slaves. Private in the Union Army made $12 a month, Marine privates made $9 a month. Considering that at about 1861, a good field hand slave sold for nearly $1000, it is hard to imagine the whole white South as owning Slaves (which seems all too often the consensus).

Good "food for thought". There were several successful blacks in the era.
 
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#4
Had to get out a calculator, 3,775 free blacks owned 12,760 slaves or about 3.3 slaves per free black master. Just human nature would tell one that a loved one in slavery would be bought by the love of their life. This could extend to any children of that arrangement. In any case $400 to $500 (I am being modest in pricing here) for a spouse, as I said before, was not a cheap proposition. In this day an age, a spouse was almost a necessity if one was to live like a "civilized" human being. So, for that many free vblacks to own that many slaves, there had to be an economic interest in buying and selling of slaves by the free blacks themselves.
 
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#6
Good points JGoodguy, but a slave mother's (regardless of color) offspring would be born into slavery - regardless of who the father was. Now, some points: (1) what is "mistreatment" (2) what privileges were the free blacks denied?
In most areas, a free black would, in all probability, be allowed to own slaves - but not vote - North or South!

In the 1800s a white Oregon saloon owner had his own (white) son "shanghaied" to "teach him some of life's lessons."
I know of one non slave owning (white) man who, when angry at his children "he had no problem employing a bull whip in their punishment!" Nice to talk in generalities but better to know specifics. I get a little skeptic when one writer notes another writer as "creating a myth".
 

Pat Young

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#8
In other discussion groups I've seen discussions of the significance of the fact that before the Civil War some free blacks owned black slaves. To me the numbers involved are so small it seems insignificant, but maybe I'm missing something. What is your reaction?


There were approximately 319,599 free blacks in the United States in 1830. Approximately 13.7 per cent of the total black population was free. The census of 1830 lists 3,775 free Negroes who owned a total of 12,760 slaves.

Now simple math tells us the slightly more than 1% of free blacks owned slaves.

The census tells us the population of the 24 states was 12,866,020, of which 2,009,043 were slaves.

Again doing the math we see that slightly more than .06% of the slaves in the United States were owned by free blacks.

Apparently, most free blacks who owned slaves had a family relationship with the slaves. An emancipated slave might purchase a spouse or a child. It was not unusual for the purchaser to leave the legal status of the relative unchanged to fit local sentiment. Beyond question some freed blacks owned slaves and used their labor for personal enrichment and some became rich that way. The number is very small.

Free black Creoles in Louisiana who owned slaves operated until a different legal system until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

https://www.theroot.com/did-black-people-own-slaves-1790895436
https://userpages.umbc.edu/~bouton/History407/SlaveStats.htm
I am never sure of what the discussions of African Americans owning slaves is either. Obviously some owned their own family members and were not in a master/slave relationship. Free People of Color in Louisiana get thrown into the mix as "Blacks who owned slaves."

I think that the real question should be how many African Americans owned white people?
 

jgoodguy

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#9
Good points JGoodguy, but a slave mother's (regardless of color) offspring would be born into slavery - regardless of who the father was. Now, some points: (1) what is "mistreatment" (2) what privileges were the free blacks denied?
In most areas, a free black would, in all probability, be allowed to own slaves - but not vote - North or South!

In the 1800s a white Oregon saloon owner had his own (white) son "shanghaied" to "teach him some of life's lessons."
I know of one non slave owning (white) man who, when angry at his children "he had no problem employing a bull whip in their punishment!" Nice to talk in generalities but better to know specifics. I get a little skeptic when one writer notes another writer as "creating a myth".
That is how you sell History books. Everyone before me got it wrong.
There were some notable things on that page. A black man buying his wife may be more than what it seems at first glace. Another common issue is skin color. A man may be listed as a negro or colored in the records but could pass for white.
 

Old_Glory

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#10
In other discussion groups I've seen discussions of the significance of the fact that before the Civil War some free blacks owned black slaves. To me the numbers involved are so small it seems insignificant, but maybe I'm missing something. What is your reaction?


There were approximately 319,599 free blacks in the United States in 1830. Approximately 13.7 per cent of the total black population was free. The census of 1830 lists 3,775 free Negroes who owned a total of 12,760 slaves.
That is why just looking at broad numbers alone is useless.

All of the free blacks in the North had no reason to own slaves. Cotton production was the major force behind the practice. Slaves were unprofitable in the North, even in places with high free black populations such as Delaware which had low cotton production.

2008-11-11-southvoting21.jpg



When you factor that in, the numbers start getting more interesting.
 

John Hartwell

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#11
It would be significant if they owned white slaves.

But, who was holding the slaves is not really relevant. It was a System of race slavery, that only legitimized enslaving people of African descent (skin color was beside the point). And, it was chattel slavery: it defined enslaved human beings as property, not as persons.
 

jgoodguy

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#12
a good field hand slave sold for nearly $1000, it is hard to imagine the whole white South as owning Slaves (which seems all too often the consensus).
Not every slave was worth $1000
Figure 1
Age-Sex Profile of Slave Values
Louisiana Male 18-30 = 100

p0.jpg

Source: Source: Historical Statistics, Table Bb215-218. Index of slave values, by age, sex, and region: 1850. All the values are indexed to that of Louisiana males aged 18-30.


Not every modern American owns Stock but they support a nation based on capitalism. Likewise, a Southerner supported slavery because it was the means to advance in society and wealth If they could not afford a slave, they could rent one. Slaves were used as endowments, trusts for widows&orphans, a store of wealth for old age. He heard the goodness of slavery proclaimed by his leaders, from the pulpit, and in newspapers.
 
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#13
Pat, this is your forum. To answer your Question, "How Many African Americans owned white people?"

To properly answer that would return skewed results. The article posted by Jgoodguy discounts or dilutes black ownership due to white fathers of the owners (and doesn't address how these men gained their own freedom.

To that end, there were white slaves but most people here strongly dissent that opinion, so, even if the slave appeared white (whiteness?) but had a black mother or grandmother that would then render the response skewed yet again because they were not white but black (mulattoe). So, people put for the opinion that a mixed race person is white on one hand and black on the other and yet others insist that white slave are yet another myth.

So, Pat, you have asked a question that has no answer!
 

jackt62

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#14
The fact that an insignificant percentage of African Americans owned slaves is essentially irrelevant and should never be used as any kind of excuse for those seeking to justify the practice of southern slavery before the Civil War. There will always be these kinds of curious exceptions that can not be extrapolated to any larger conclusions.
 

jgoodguy

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#16
Pat, this is your forum. To answer your Question, "How Many African Americans owned white people?"

To properly answer that would return skewed results. The article posted by Jgoodguy discounts or dilutes black ownership due to white fathers of the owners (and doesn't address how these men gained their own freedom.

To that end, there were white slaves but most people here strongly dissent that opinion, so, even if the slave appeared white (whiteness?) but had a black mother or grandmother that would then render the response skewed yet again because they were not white but black (mulattoe). So, people put for the opinion that a mixed race person is white on one hand and black on the other and yet others insist that white slave are yet another myth.

So, Pat, you have asked a question that has no answer!
We have touched on white slaves. for examples Morrison v. White
 

WJC

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#18
Other threads have mentioned South Carolina's William Ellison (c1790-1861), a wealthy free Black supporter of the so-called 'Confederate States'.
After buying his own freedom, he bought the freedom of his wife and children. At his death, he owned forty slaves.
Truth be told, slavery was a pervasive evil in all races. Only our narrow focus on U. S. history misleads us into thinking that all slaveholders were White and all slaves Black. We also tend to forget that the slaves sent from Africa to the Americas were, for the most part, captured, enslaved and sold to seagoing slave traders by other Black Africans.
 

jgoodguy

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#19
Other threads have mentioned South Carolina's William Ellison (c1790-1861), a wealthy free Black supporter of the so-called 'Confederate states'.
After buying his own freedom, he bought the freedom of his wife and children. At his death, he owned forty slaves.
Truth be told, slavery was a pervasive evil in all races. Only our narrow focus on U. S. history misleads us into thinking that all slaveholders were White and all slaves Black. We also tend to forget that the slaves sent from Africa to the Americas were, for the most part, captured, enslaved and sold to seagoing slave traders by other Black Africans.
True, but without the demand of the Suger Industry in the Carribean, there would be little market to justify slave raids. The Americas got the less desirable leftovers from the Carribean slave trade.
 



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