Slavery And The Making Of America
From 1654 until 1865, slavery for life was legal within the boundaries of much of the present United States. Most slaves were black and were held by whites, although some Native Americans and free blacks also held slaves; there were a small number of white slaves as well. The majority of slaveholding was in the southern United States where most slaves were engaged in an efficient machine-like gang system of agriculture, with farms of fifteen or more slaves featuring a higher factor of productivity compared to those farms without slaves. According to the 1860 U.S. census, nearly four million slaves were held in a total population of just over 12 million in the 15 states in which slavery was legal. Of all 8,289,782 free persons in the 15 slave states, 393,967 people (4.8%) held slaves, with the average number of slaves held by any single owner being 10. The majority of slaves were held by planters, defined by historians as those who held 20 or more slaves. Ninety-five percent of black people lived in the South, comprising one-third of the population there, as opposed to 2% of the population of the North. Despite being an efficient economic system, slavery did not spread northward due to the nature of the soil in the region and the types of crops typically produced there. At the time, principal importers of slaves were sugar and cotton growing regions. Both of these crops were more suitably farmed on plantations and in the soil of the southern regions. Thus, when land more suitable for these crops was discovered towards the west, slavery spread westward and not to the north. The wealth of the United States in the first half of the 19th century was greatly enhanced by the labor of African Americans.