Number of Slaves in the Territory Enumerated, 1790 to 1850

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By 1830, slavery had become very much a regional, as opposed to a national institution. The New England and Middle States had, through a combination of gradual abolition and immediate emancipation measures, dramatically decreased the number of slaves in their territories, while the Southern states had increased their reliance upon slave labor in the production of various cash crops, chief among them “King Cotton.” Nevertheless, there were individuals in both sections of the country who recognized the need for continued prudential reform. In December 1833, dozens of Northern activists met in Philadelphia to found the American Anti-Slavery Society. Although the group called for the immediate and uncompensated emancipation of all enslaved persons, they also denounced the use of violent resistance – an important concession to Southern slaveholders fearful of additional armed uprisings like Nat Turner’s Rebellion (1831). Southern activist Angelina Grimke addressed similar fears in her Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. Grimke urged Southern women to speak out against slavery as an unjust and oppressive system, but also counseled them to encourage patience and submission on the part of their slaves until freedom was obtained.

As the decade wore on, such moderate positions were eclipsed by a hardening of views and greater entrenchment on both sides. Southern newspapers carried advertisements for runaway slaves that described them in horrific, brutalizing terms, which Northern publishers delighted in reprinting to highlight the inhumanity of slaveholders. In 1849, Frederick Douglass – a self-emancipated former slave – emphatically denounced all plans related to abolition that did not also aim at ending racial prejudice and lead towards the formal equality of blacks and whites. Yet five years later, Southern sociologist George Fitzhugh was still defending race-based slavery as positive good, arguing that it benefited the slave as well as the owner.

United States Bureau of the Census, A Century of Population Growth, From the First Census of the United States to the Twelfth, 1790-1900 (Government Printing Office, Washington, DC: 1909), 133.

1790 1800 1810 1820 1830 1840 1850
New England
Maine 2
New Hampshire 157 8 3 1
Massachusetts 1
Rhode Island 958 380 108 48 17 5
Connecticut 2,648 951 310 97 25 17

G3701.E9 1857 .R6 MLC

Middle States
New York 21,193 20,903 15,017 10,088 75 4
New Jersey 11,423 12,422 10,851 7,557 2,254 674 236
Pennsylvania 3,707 1,706 795 211 403 64
Delaware 8,887 6,153 4,177 4,509 3,292 2,605 2,290
Southern States
Maryland and District of Columbia 103,036 107,707 115,056 111,917 107,499 93,057 94,055
Virginia 287,959 339,796 383,521 411,886 453,698 431,873 472,028
West Virginia2 4,668 7,172 10,836 15,119 17,673 18,488 20,500

  1. 1. Exclusive of 37 slaves captured on the slaver Amistad.
  2. 2. The totals for the counties which in 1863 and 1866 were set off from Virginia to form West Virginia are here shown separately, because of the marked difference between the two sections of the state with respect to slavery.
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