Demographics & Agriculture

The forced migration of African Americans did not end in 1807 with passage of the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves and the end of the legal slave trade into the United States.  The expropriation of native American land in the southwestern United States in the early 1800s, coupled with the growth of the cotton and sugar economies in these territories saw both a growing black market for slaves from the Caribbean  and an overland trade in slaves from the southern Atlantic States - particularly from Virginia and Maryland.  This overland trade has been characterized  as slavery's Trail of Tears.1 Over one million slaves were sold from their homes and families by owners in the coastal states and were forced south and west in the years from 1807 to 1860 and the start of the Civil War. The growth in the number of slaves in the new South and the relative decline in the states of the old South is evident in the graphs below.

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The United States constitution requires a census every decade. We, thus, have complete census data going back to 1790 including the total population and the number of slaves in each U.S. county. The data allows a more focused look at the changes in the southern population than the statewide data in the graphs provides. An agricultural census was begun in 1840 giving us a sense of the changing nature of the farm economy on a county-by-county and crop-by-crop basis as well. Data from each census is included in the Slavery Map at right.

To Start You Thinking

1) Explore the Slave Population graph. Which states saw the most dramatic increase in slave population from 1830 to 1860? Describe what happened to the percentage of slaves in these states over the same period of time.

2) Prior to the successful 1807 slave revolt in Haiti led by Toussaint L'Ouverture slaves made up almost 90% of the Haitian population. How do the slave states in the American south compare in this regard?

3) The initial views for each decade in the Slavery Map show the concentration of the slave population in each county. Begin with the Southern States 1790 layer and open each layer successively thru 1860. Describe the shift in the concentration of the slave population over time.

4) During the 1700s tobacco production was concentrated in the region around Chesapeake Bay. Examine the agricultural data available for 1840 and 1860. Change style in these layers to show the number of pounds and value of tobacco produced in counties throughout the South. Describe the patterns you notice.

5) Perform a similar analysis for sugar and cotton.

6) Change style once again and map both the value of tobacco produced and the number on nonwhite slaves in 1840 and 1860. Do the same for the value of cotton produced and the number on nonwhite slaves. Compare and contrast the results.


slave population data from U.S. Census Bureau (1860). "Table 60. Number of Slaves," Vol XIV, Statistics of Slaves. Downloaded Dec 3, 2016.

Last modified in February, 2017 by Rick Thomas