The Slave Trade in Colonial Charleston, South Carolina Essay

The ways and reasons in which the slave trade in colonial Charleston, South Carolina was so relevant are surprisingly interesting. The slave trade was important economically and capitalistically speaking: the economy highly depended on the slave trade and was literally dominated by it in some states. Besides the economy, other reasons of its importance were implied in politics and business: what made it really big in Charleston and in South Carolina in general was that slaves ended constituting the majority which means that slavery was focussed much more in this state than in any other one.

Another reason we can mention why the slave market was so alive in South Carolina and also well present in other states and islands is because whites considered the blacks to be inferior to them, considering an African to be the 3/5 of a human being at that time and so they gave themselves the right to run the African slave trade without hesitating, and it is amazing to know how the slave trade was able to last for so long before it was officially banned and abolished through politics and war, only 145 years ago in 1865 (common knowledge).

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Charleston has clearly been the slave trade leader in America during all that time and the upcoming explanation of this will let others know if they should agree or not with this argument. Charleston was once called Charles Towne, named after King Charles II of England during the American Revolution. The port of Charleston is located at the center of inland waterways and it expanded from St John’s River in Florida to the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. This port was the best located one since it went more largely into the midland than any other one in South Carolina (see map p. 0). Charleston was told to be the “center of government and social life” (Littlefield, 1986, p. 93); what we mean is that Charleston was the main destination for slaves taken from Africa to North America. Slave labour helped to advance the production of goods that made the colony’s prosperity. Slaves that already lived in South Carolina could have been sold as auctions and this generally happened when planters settled debts when they retired or when the importations of slaves were banned for a short while because there were enough slaves in Charleston at that point.

Even if slave importations could be paused, the slave sales in North America did not: In fact, the slave business in South Carolina was mostly focussed in Charleston, which served as an outlet for the distribution of slaves for practically the whole region between the lower Chesapeake and St. Augustine (Morgan, 1998). All this information helps to show that the city and port of Charleston were the biggest ones in all southern America throughout the eighteenth century and was the fourth biggest city in North America! The center of trade for southern America at Charleston helped benefit the merchants’ slave business.

The distribution and transaction fees were smaller in Charleston than in other ports because merchants could gain faster there, there was the credit availability, better detailed business information on prospects for imported slave shiploads, and transportation rates for return shipments. Additionally, bigger vessels could be used where goods were focussed in a port and Charleston was a good one because of its great location and its Ashley and Cooper rivers that went past the city (Morgan, 1998). At Charleston, the slave business occurred all over town.

At least 405 merchants paid taxes for imported black shiploads in the forty years past 1735 which shows that most merchants in Charleston would want to get into the slave business knowing it was the most competitive one of all. In this business, there was a large concentration of firms: Sixty per cent of slaves brought to Charleston during the colonial period were sold by only eighteen firms and only three of them brought in over twenty ships, which explains that to be a great slave trader, large capital and access to credit were needed (Morgan, 1998).

A well known firm named Austin & Laurens noted that “African factors in Charleston needed a substantial capital to negotiate for large, regular importations of slaves” (Morgan, 1998, p. 910). Furthermore, slave customers most likely did business with merchants with whom they were comfortable with, which of course advantaged firms with a higher amount of sales.

I will refer to Benjamin Smith, the senior partner in the large slave-trading firm of Smith, Brewton & Smith, who had a great influence on the planters and a considerable knowledge and talent in the way he carried out his business: the fact that several head South Carolina planters lived in Charleston meant that they easily had great access to merchants, goods and slaves, and that they were also in a good position to take advantage of credit provided by Charleston merchants in the local mortgage market.

Basically, Charleston had the advantage of being the commercial center of the state and could then bring to it several wealthy customers, even from different states (Morgan, 1998). In fact, their allies in North Carolina and in Georgia were great clients for these South Carolinians of Charleston even though every state was in completion with the other, none ever reached the size to be in real competition with Charleston. Another way to show how Charleston was the center of it all is that only eight per cent of its slave importations in the colonial period were moved elsewhere because they mostly stayed in Charleston (Morgan, 1998).

Before ships can enter Charleston, they were obligated to stop at a quarantine house on Sullivan’s Island for ten days because of diseases such as smallpox. The South Carolina Assembly demanded taxes on slaves imported from all areas starting from 1703 as a means of raising income; this became one the most solid sources of revenue for the state (Britton, 2001). Implying details of the slave market, merchants paid import taxes according to the size, age and gender of slaves; the highest costs were for slaves over 4. in height. They also paid much higher taxes on slaves brought from the West Indies and elsewhere in North America than on those landing directly from Africa. Slaves brought to South Carolina from any other English colony were normally taxed at five or six times the rate for freshly imported slaves. By the 1750s, an extra tax of fifty pounds was added to the regular one of 10 pounds for slaves that had been in other English colonies for over six months.

A particular law in 1740 called the Negro Duty Law, demanded public officials to catch sales so they can oversee the tax payments made by merchants or shipmasters bringing slaves to South Carolina and no new slave could be taken away by his master until this tax was paid (Morgan, 1998). Slaves on sale were advertised and promoted in various local newspapers such as the South-Carolina Gazette, which was very popular and always included advertisements detailing the number of slaves, their homeland, and the time and place of the sale.

Besides newspapers, publicized posters illustrating the slave sales were posted against walls in town and throughout country parishes (see p. 9-10) (Morgan, 1998). Involving the buyers and sellers’ roles: sellers were Charleston merchants playing the role of factors from British merchant principals and their jobs were to obtain the best deals for slave shiploads, to finish transactions as fast as possible, to compete as best as they could with other local firms involved in the business, and to assure and save a good amount of money obtained (Morgan, 1998).

The slave business in colonial Charleston worked in an economically stable way: buyers and sellers were attentive of English merchants choosing regional areas for the settlement of slaves where the hope for the best prices could be gained; therefore, slaves were brought to Charleston simply because English merchants concluded that they would make more profit there than they would in the West Indies. It appears that changes in the prices paid for slaves in South Carolina have been caused by corporate provision and demand functions within the Atlantic trading world more than it has by factors within the colony’s economy.

It appears that modifications in the prices paid for slaves in South Carolina have been caused by corporate provision and demand functions within the Atlantic trading world more than it has by factors within the colony’s economy; planters calculated if they could afford to buy slaves mostly on the support of their income from sales of plantation goods. Therefore, the slave market was completely linked with the plantation economy (Littlefield, 1986). War on the other hand, simply affects the economy in general.

It was harmful for the business by bringing down prices because planters could never be convinced that ports in Europe would stay open for the exportation of goods. As a reference to the previous sentence, the Austin & Laurens firm stated that: “the produce of South Carolina fell by at least a quarter in price with the prospect of war in the mid-1750s” (Morgan, 1998, p. 914). Involving the seasons, the right time for selling slaves in Charleston was from March to October.

March, April and May were the best month for the business before the summer heat can come and spoil it and at the same time, planters had just earthed rice and intended to offer good prices for slaves. Winter was inconvenient for sales because slaves could suffer from the cold temperature and catch pneumonia and sick slaves were obviously cheaper (Mancall, 2001). The age and gender of slaves were important for the pricing as well. Young, strong and tall slaves were very much wanted for the crop cultivation because of its demanding physical work.

Slaves between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five suited the market perfectly while slaves for thirty were inconvenient. To give more details: the chief demand for male slaves were for them to be between fourteen and twenty-five, and for females it was suggested for them to be between fourteen and twenty without fallen breasts and preferably never having been pregnant (Mancall, 2001). A final detail involving the pricing of slaves implied the slave’s homeland or ethnic background. Merchants had a negative perspective of slaves from Calabar and from the Bright of Biafra because hey were generalized as being too weak and to miss behave. On the other hand, slaves from the Gold Coast and Gambia were seen as stronger and behaved better which made them wanted by merchants (Littlefield, 1991). The slave sales in colonial South Carolina were closely related to the success of rice and indigo crop cultivations. Rice owned the life of the low country and associated it to the wider Atlantic trading world. Indigo was able to pull out a surplus of slave labour when a lack of rice cultivation occurred during war, and allowed land (unsuitable for rice) to suit the indigo growth and cultivation (Littlefield, 1991).

A man named David Ryden has used econometric theory and an econometric model to state that: “planters brought slaves with a higher degree of economic rationality: an increase of 3. 05 barrels (c. 1600 lb. ) in the expected output of rice resulted in the importation of one additional slave and an anticipated amount of 2000 lb” (Morgan, 1998, p. 922). What is concluded from the previous statement is that slave buyers calculated the production profits that came from the possession of extra slaves put against the future price of goods at sale.

Furthermore, the demand for slaves in South Carolina was very much related with the money made from the exports of its major goods, and as the crop economies and slaveholding moved into the unoccupied land areas, the demand for slaves by new colonials led to very high prices. By the early 1770s, the costs of exports had reached more than forty pounds. One shipload of 220 slaves coasted about fifty-two pounds in July 1772, which has never been seen before at Charleston (Morgan, 1998).

During the trip from Africa to Charleston, the slaves were so badly treated that some didn’t make it at all to the coast. In fact, their chances of living were not strong for a majority of them due to several reasons: some died from starvation because there wasn’t enough food to assure their lives until the arrival, some died from diseases because they were not hygienically taken care of, and the conditions were so bad for them, that some simply jumped over board to die preferably drowned than suffering through those slow deaths.

Apparently, the sailors held a lot of greed. They wanted to fill the boats with as many slaves as possible without caring about their conditions, and so they chained and compacted them like sardines without any room to sit and fresh air to breath so some just suffocated to death in that hot and tight air (see images p. 12) (Falola, 2007). Implying the role of Jews during this period in which they have played a very important one.

As we heard in class, the port Jews were excellent merchants and some were even high ranked involving the leadership and control of this transatlantic trade market. What wasn’t mentioned was that South Carolina happened to be the state in which Jews formed a majority; which is another point to explain how South Carolina was the main state to attract colonials and immigrants looking to get in business.

However, the role of Jews didn’t simply consist in trading goods; for a minority of them, some also played a direct role in the slave trade: a business report indicated that out of 128 slave ships arriving in Charleston, 120 of those were under the names of Jews from South Carolina. Another surprising fact involving the Jews was that they created a new form of revenue: during the middle passage where slaves would get sick, it was hard for a captain to sell them once on shore and he would desperately accept any offer to at least leave with something in his pockets.

So these Jews from Newport, South Carolina would offer to buy them at a cheap price; once the slaves in their possession, these Jewish merchants would simply treat the slaves and then sell them for as much as they could. The Jews were shown to be the ones owning that business tactic: occasionally, when the captain was once again stuck in that situation of not finding any buyers to purchase the sick slaves, he knew that the Jews were willing to bargain over them and therefore he would head to Newport.

The Jews of Newport admitted in owning about half of all slave ships going from Newport to Africa (300/600). This interestingly explains how Jews grew their way up the latter from small time merchants to highly successful ship owners and why Newport by itself had around 5000 black slaves in the year 1756; Newport being the second greatest city in South Carolina after Charleston implying its commercial success (Blake, 1995).

Nonetheless, it was possible for a slave to become a free man. For instance, a slave was freed if fought in the Continental army or in the British army during the American Revolution for a certain period of time. Another example is that a slave could simply be freed by his master instead of being sold, and ironically, that free black man can now own slaves if he ever found the capability to do so.

In South Carolina for instance, since black slave traders saw that they can benefit from slavery and make some money, they could explain that because the business was so profitable, they could not give up their land without having money given in return, and so some blacks kept their slaves up until 1864 right when the civil war was still in action (Koger, 1985). The United States Constitution has decided to ban the slave trade for twenty years after 1787, and that meant that no new slaves were legally imported into South Carolina between that date and 1803.

The transatlantic slave trade to the United States was finally abolished in 1808, but the slave sales obviously still occurred in South Carolina professionally and domestically until the American Civil War making it end in 1865 (Weir, 1997). This fairly well enough explains the ways and reasons that mark the leadership importance of the colonial slave trade in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as a good given detailed analysis of every aspect of the entire colonial South Carolinian slave trade.

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