White Slaves, African Slave Traders, and the Hidden History of Slavery

Black slave owners in the United States

Little has been published regarding those Blacks who owned Black slaves in the USA, however, more research is bringing this little-known subject to light.

Philip Burnham, in the article "Selling Poor Steven" published in the February/March 1993 issue of American Heritage, found that in the US Census of 1830 there were 3,775 free blacks who owned 12,740 black slaves.[32] Burnham wrote about the slave John Casor, who was denied his freedom by Black slave owner Anthony Johnson.

    "In the 1640s John Casor was brought from Africa to America, where he toiled as a servant for a Virginia landowner. In 1654 Casor filed a complaint in Northampton County Court, claiming that his master, Anthony Johnson, had unjustly extended the terms of his indenture with the intention of keeping Casor his slave for life. Johnson, insisting he knew nothing of any indenture, fought hard to retain what he regarded as his personal property. After much wrangling, on March 8, 1655, the court ruled that "the said John Casor Negro shall forthwith be returned unto the service of his master Anthony Johnson," consigning him to a bitter lifetime of bondage. Given the vulnerable legal status of servants - black and white - in colonial America, the decision was not surprising But the documents reveal one additional fact of interest: Anthony Johnson, like his chattel Casor, was black...."[33]

Carter G. Woodson, whose grandparents and father had been slaves, was one of the first to write about the Black slave owners. In Free Negro Owners of Slaves in the United States in 1830 (published in 1924) Woodson gives the names and number of slaves owned by free blacks counted in the U. S. Census of 1830, listing them by name and the number of slaves owned.[34]

Michael P. Tremoglie, in "The Black Roots of Slavery" also noted the issue of Black slave owners.

    "There were many free blacks in the American colonies. They were enfranchised and as early as 1641, Mathias De Sousa, were elected to legislatures. These free blacks owned slaves - some for philanthropic reasons, as Carter G. Woodson suggests. However as John Hope Franklin wrote, "...free Negroes had a real economic interest in the institution of slavery and held slaves in order to improve their economic status."

    The census of 1830 lists 965 free black slave owners in Louisiana, owning 4,206 slaves. The state of South Carolina, lists 464 free blacks owning 2,715 slaves. How ironic it is that so many blacks owned so many slaves in South Carolina. Yet, no one seemed to mention this during the flag controversy.

    Some blacks served in the Confederate army, which is another omission in our popular culture. The movie Glory did not happen to mention that blacks served in the Confederate army. It did give the impression that the black soldiers in the 54th Massachusetts were former slaves - which was not true."

Harry Koger, in Black Slave Owners. Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, reported on the success of Black women in Charleston.

    "By 1860, so many Black women in Charleston had inherited or been given slaves and other property by white men, and used their property to start successful businesses, that they owned 70% of the Black owned slaves in the city."[36]

From Kroger's work, it is noted that free Black slave owners resided in states as north as New York and as far south as Florida, extending westward into Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Missouri. According to the federal census of 1830, free blacks owned more than 10,000 slaves in Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina, and Virginia. The majority of black slave owners lived in Louisiana and planted sugar cane.[37]

John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, in Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, revealed that conditions under Black masters could be such that slaves would run away.

    "The largest black slaveholder in the South, John Carruthers Stanly of North Carolina, faced a number of problems in the 1820s in dealing with a slave labor force on his three turpentine plantations in Craven County. With a total of 163 slaves, Stanly was a harsh, profit-minded taskmaster, and his field hands would run away. Stanley dealt with this through his two white overseers and with a spy network that included a few trusted slaves. Brister, his slave barber in New Bern, was responsible for relaying to his owner rumors of planned escapes ...Nor did Stanly have any pangs of conscience about selling children away from their parents or holding free blacks in bondage."

    "Free black slave owners who lived in urban areas - Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, Natchez, and New Orleans - also faced difficulties with their slave property. Free mulatto barber William Johnson of Natchez was not certain what had happened to his recently purchased slave, Walker, when he disappeared in 1835. He had either been stolen or had run away to Kentucky to rejoin his wife. When on 4 July 1833, authorities in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, jailed the twelve- or fourteen-year-old black boy named Isaac taken off the steamer Watchman, he admitted he was owned by a 'free woman of color in New Orleans named Jane'."

In "Dixie's Censored Subject: Black Slaveowners", published in The Barnes Review, Robert M. Grooms furnished several examples of Black slave owners in the USA.

    "In the rare instances when the ownership of slaves by free Negroes is acknowledged in the history books, justification centers on the claim that black slave masters were simply individuals who purchased the freedom of a spouse or child from a white slaveholder and had been unable to legally manumit them. Although this did indeed happen at times, it is a misrepresentation of the majority of instances, one which is debunked by records of the period on blacks who owned slaves. These include individuals such as Justus Angel and Mistress L. Horry, of Colleton District, South Carolina, who each owned 84 slaves in 1830. In fact, in 1830 a fourth of the free Negro slave masters in South Carolina owned 10 or more slaves; eight owning 30 or more.

    ... The majority of slaveholders, white and black, owned only one to five slaves. More often than not, and contrary to a century and a half of bullwhips-on-tortured-backs propaganda, black and white masters worked and ate alongside their charges; be it in house, field or workshop. The few individuals who owned 50 or more slaves were confined to the top one percent, and have been defined as slave magnates.

    In 1860 there were at least six Negroes in Louisiana who owned 65 or more slaves The largest number, 152 slaves, were owned by the widow C. Richards and her son P.C. Richards, who owned a large sugar cane plantation. Another Negro slave magnate in Louisiana, with over 100 slaves, was Antoine Dubuclet, a sugar planter whose estate was valued at (in 1860 dollars) $264,000 (3). That year, the mean wealth of southern white men was $3,978 (4).

    Interestingly, considering today's accounts of life under slavery, authors Johnson and Roak report instances where free Negroes petitioned to be allowed to become slaves; this because they were unable to support themselves.

    ... [regarding Black ex-slave William Ellison] As with the slaves of his white counterparts, occasionally Ellison's slaves ran away. The historians of Sumter District reported that from time to time Ellison advertised for the return of his runaways. On at least one occasion Ellison hired the services of a slave catcher. According to an account by Robert N. Andrews, a white man who had purchased a small hotel in Stateburg in the 1820s, Ellison hired him to run down "a valuable slave. Andrews caught the slave in Belleville, Virginia. He stated: "I was paid on returning home $77.50 and $74 for expenses.

    ...Following in their father's footsteps, the Ellison family actively supported the Confederacy throughout the war. They converted nearly their entire plantation to the production of corn, fodder, bacon, corn shucks and cotton for the Confederate armies. They paid $5,000 in taxes during the war. They also invested more than $9,000 in Confederate bonds, treasury notes and certificates in addition to the Confederate currency they held."

As an interesting sideline to Black slave owners in the South of the USA, is that there were also an estimated 65,000 Southern blacks in the Confederate military, including over 13,000 who fought against the North in battle.[40]

A well-known and favourably reviewed novel, The Known World, by Black author Edward P. Jones, has tackled the issue of Black-owned slaves, much to the surprise of those readers who had never heard of Black slave owners.[41] However, the interesting story of Blacks who owned slaves is largely ignored by the media and educators.

White Slaves, African Slave Traders, and the Hidden History of Slavery