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Louisiana Slave Trade

The Domestic Slave Trade

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the new economic boom in the cotton and sugar industries provoked the Great Migration to the New South. Thousands of planters moved from the Old South to the lower Mississippi River, leaving behind lands impoverished by more than a century of one-crop agriculture. On March 26, 1804, the U.S. Congress adopted legislation organizing the Orleans Territory, which later became the present state of Louisiana. This was the time of the conclusion of the slave revolts in Saint-Domingue, which ended with the creation of the Republic of Haiti. This revolution played a very important role in the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade since no country, especially not the United States, was willing to experience the fate of Saint-Domingue. In order to prevent slave uprisings in Louisiana, Congress prohibited the introduction of slaves from outside of the United States to this territory, starting October 1, 1804. Finally, in March 1807, the U.S. Congress adopted a law forbidding the importation of slaves on the soil of the United States, starting from January 1, 1808.

The internal slave trade became a very lucrative business between the 1820s and the 1860s. This was the time when identifications like “nègre américain” and “négresse américaine” became frequent on the German Coast slave inventories to designate those who came from the East Coast of the United States. Some of them were identified according to the state or city of origin; for instance “nègre de Virginie” or “nègre de Baltimore.” From 1821 to 1841, The Franklin & Armfield Co. became the most famous among the internal slave trading companies. This Company was created in 1818 by Isaac Franklin, a native of Tennessee, and his nephew John Armfield, who was a resident of Alexandria, near Washington D.C. From there, he sent cargos of slaves to Franklin who sold them in New Orleans and upstream toward the Red River and Natchez, Mississippi. Slave stealing also became a major business, involving networks in the North where even free people of color were kidnapped and sold down South. The most famous case was Solomon Northrup, kidnapped in March 1841 in Washington, D.C. and taken to New Orleans where he was sold to a planter from the Red River. He was freed in 1853 after twelve long years in bondage. The internal slave trade was mostly sustained by the natural growth of the slave population. Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and the District of Columbia were the slave exporting areas. Of all these states, Virginia was the biggest supplier. Slaves were also smuggled directly from Africa or from the Caribbean islands, mainly Cuba. In the southern United States, the natural environment was more than favorable to smugglers, especially in Louisiana with its lush wilderness, swamps, and bayous. The island of Barataria was the main way by which smugglers of various nationalities introduced slaves into Louisiana. Among the pirates of Barataria, the celebrated Lafitte brothers (Jean and Pierre) were probably the most successful.