South Carolina & Slavery

South Carolina and the African Slave Trade

Slavery was instituted in the “New World” by the Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch, each dispatched African slaves to work in North America during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The English embarked in slave trading in what was called “black ivory” through the middle 17th century, this slave trade was driven by the need for laborers in the sugar fields in the West Indian islands of Barbados, Bermuda, and Jamaica.

By the time Charles Towne (Charleston, SC ) was settled in 1670, Englishmen from the West Indies were accustomed with slavery and the vast profits they could obtain from the labor of others. For this reason slavery was deemed a necessity in order to have a successful and established crop on plantations in South Carolina. Like many other European nations, England created the Royal African Company to finance the slave trade. A string of forts and “slave factories” were established from the Cape Verde Islands to the Bight of Biafra (Western African coast between the Niger River and Cape Lopez). The slave trade would not been as effective had it not been for the “unholy alliance” between the English and other European nations, along with the African nations where these forts were positioned. The English slave traders would try to deceive the African kings, and the African king would do their best to acquire the greatest amount of goods in exchange for each slave for sale. For their shipments of slaves, the traders offered iron and copper bars, brass pans and kettles, cowrey shells (used as money in certain parts of Africa), guns, gun powder, cloth, and alcohol. The African kings would send ships loaded with slaves, anywhere from 200 to over 600 slaves, piling them like cord wood and allowing almost no breathing room for the slaves. With the overcrowding, the bad ventilation, and poor nutrition during the five weeks to three month voyage there were around 14%- 20% of the slaves died. This was thought to be a natural routine when doing business in slave trading. The slave trade is believed to have transported at least 10 million, and possibly over 20 million, Africans to the American.

The Carolina’s and their planters fostered an image of ” the “ideal slave– tall, healthy, male, between the ages of 14 and 18, “free of blemishes,” and as dark as possible. For these “ideal” slaves Carolina planters in the 18th century would pay between 100 and 200 sterling, today that would be somewhere between $11,500 and $24,000. Just about all of these slaves entered the Charleston port, they would be held temporarily on Sullivan’s Island where they were quarantined before being sold in Charleston’s slave markets. Most of these slaves were put to work in South Carolina’s rice fields.


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