DCSIMG

Slavery: The Business of Slavery

Slave dealer’s shop on Whitehall (now Peachtree) Street, Atlanta, 1864
Slave dealer’s shop on Whitehall (now Peachtree) Street, Atlanta, 1864
Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Slave dealer’s shop on Whitehall (now Peachtree) Street, Atlanta, 1864
Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

American slavery was big business. On the eve of the Civil War, four million slaves produced cash crops—cotton, tobacco, and rice—that were exported at high prices. In addition to the crops they raised, slaves themselves were commodities to be bought, sold, bred, and borrowed against. A variety of service industries supported the slave economy including dealers, insurance companies, and shippers.

In 1862, the federal government instituted a series of domestic taxes to fund the Civil War. Slavery remained legal in six Union states—Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, and West Virginia—and the sale of slaves in these states was taxable. These documents bear federally-issued revenue stamps as evidence that the tax was paid and are poignant reminders of a time when people were property.
 

Davis, Deupree and Company cover and letter, October 13, 1860

Davis, Deupree and Company letter, October 13, 1860
Davis, Deupree and Company letter, October 13, 1860


Our market is fair at this time several here who wish to buy some good negroes...

Richmond, Virginia was the center of the domestic slave trade on the eve of the Civil War. Despite the large volume of mail that must have been sent by slave dealers, just a few examples survive today.

Davis, Deupree and Company cover, October 13, 1860
Davis, Deupree and Company cover, October 13, 1860


Transcript

Cover from Joseph Bryan, May 2, 1860

Cover from Joseph Bryan, May 2, 1860
Cover from Joseph Bryan, May 2, 1860
Loan from David Mielke
Loan from David Mielke

Joseph Bryan conducted one of the largest slave auctions in U.S. history. More than 400 men, women and children were sold over two days in 1859, an event remembered in Georgia folklore as “the weeping time.”

First Federal Issue Revenue Stamps on Slave Mortgage Document, March 3, 1863

First Federal Issue revenue stamps on slave mortgage document, March 3, 1863
First Federal Issue revenue stamps on slave mortgage document, March 3, 1863
Loan from Hermann Ivester
Loan from Hermann Ivester
First Federal Issue revenue stamps on slave mortgage document, March 3, 1863
First Federal Issue revenue stamps on slave mortgage document, March 3, 1863
Loan from Hermann Ivester
Loan from Hermann Ivester

Kentucky slaveowner Margaret Jones secured a loan of $600 by mortgaging her “negro man, named George, of copper color and aged about forty five years.” Under the terms, George would be deeded back to Jones if the loan was paid off in six months.

First Federal Issue revenue stamps on slave sale document, October 1, 1863

First Federal Issue revenue stamps on slave sale document, October 1, 1863
First Federal Issue revenue stamps on slave sale document, October 1, 1863
Loan from Michael Mahler
Loan from Michael Mahler
First Federal Issue revenue stamps on slave sale document, October 1, 1863
First Federal Issue revenue stamps on slave sale document, October 1, 1863
Loan from Michael Mahler
Loan from Michael Mahler

A total of six cents tax was due on $305 paid for a “negro boy Charles” at a court-ordered auction in Bourbon County, Kentucky.