Slavery by the Numbers: The Border States

While defined by slavery to varying degrees, the South of 1860 does not present us with a perfectly uniform, monolithic culture. While it shares slavery, sections of the South differed in, how slaveholders used their human chattel, and politically in to what extent various Southern states committed to disunion. These factors depend on one another to various degrees and, while each state is unique, some generalizations hold.

So welcome back to Slavery By the Numbers. Yesterday we looked at the slave states as a whole. Today begins an exploration of the particular regions within them.

The Border States: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri
Today some of these states do not seem Southern at all. None of them seceded, though the loyalties of all but Delaware could be dubious.

King Cotton held no sway in the Border States. Situated too far north for the crop, they instead raised America’s original slave-grown export: tobacco. However, the tobacco market entered a long decline about the time of the Revolution. This placed many planters in heavy debt to European tobacco merchants, who manipulated prices to their advantage. Jefferson’s and Washington’s debts late in life lay at least partly at their doorstep.

Black people made up 17.45% of the Border States’ population and 21.56% of them were free in 1860. But these totals can obscure the diversity within the group. In Delaware, free blacks constituted 91.69% of the entire black population but no other slate state came near that. Most slave states managed the opposite. In Maryland, free blacks formed 49.05% of the populace, just a bit fewer than were held as slaves, but in Missouri only 3.01% were free. Kentucky comes in scarcely better with 4.52% free.

Of white Border State residents, 77,335 formally held slaves. This works out to 12.87% of families engaged in slaveholding. But once more the region shows substantial diversity. Again Delaware is an outlier, with only 587 slaveholders and about 0.65% of families involved personally in slavery. Maryland and Missouri are nearly tied at 13,783 (12.50% of families) and 24,320 (12.66%) respectively. Kentucky shows a much higher number of slaveholders, 38,645 (23.24%) in total.

The Border States, Per the 1860 census. (Click to enlarge.)

These numbers map very well to the states’ behavior during Secession Winter. Delaware was, demographically, almost Northern. It gave Lincoln his only third-place finish in a slave state in the 1860 election. Free blacks greatly outnumbered those enslaved and only a minuscule proportion of the white populace had a personal or family connection to slaveholding. The other three states all harbored significant secessionist minorities and their loyalty to the Union teetered on the edge. Lincoln spent much of the early months after Sumter ensuring that Maryland and Kentucky in particular would not secede, but the stories of all three other border states are interesting enough warrant their own posts.

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