Slavery by the Numbers: The Upper South

Welcome back to Slavery by the Numbers. Yesterday, I followed up my overview of slavery in the South with a more detailed survey of the Border States. Today Slavery by the Numbers goes further South.

The Upper South: Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia
The Upper South constitutes those states which did not secede prior to the attack on Fort Sumter but which did so thereafter. All these states are clearly Southern by both modern and period usage. Cotton, if not quite King outside Arkansas, at least stood in the higher ranks of nobility. North Carolina and Tennessee both had significant cotton planting regions, though it shared space with tobacco in both. Tobacco dominated to the exclusion of cotton in more northerly Virginia.

The cultivation does not tell the whole story. The Upper South, and the Border States as well, raised many of the slaves bought and moved south and west into the Deep South to work the growing cotton plantations. Richmond housed one of the nation’s great slave markets, where Deep South cotton planters often made yearly or semiannual trips to add to their human stables. That cotton planting took a greater toll on the slaves and often involved harsher treatment (not that slavery was ever humane) only added to the terror that breakup of families and being moved to a strange and distant place entailed in being sold South.

The Upper South in the 1860 census. (Click to enlarge.)

Black people made up 31.56% of the Upper South’s population, only 7.35% of which were free. Virginia had the greatest proportion of free blacks in 1860 at 10.57%, leaving 89.43% enslaved. Arkansas, site of the newest cotton expansions, had the least, with fully 99.89% of its black population in bondage and might be seen as a Deep South state in training. (Only 114 free blacks lived in the state.) Tennessee comes second at 97.42% and North Carolina third with 91.57%. Even in the freest Upper South state the vast majority of black people lived as property. The least free Border State, Missouri (96.99% enslaved black population), stood still marginally freer than the most free Upper South state.

George H. Thomas, son of Virginian planters disowned for his Unionism.

Of white Upper South residents, 135,111 formally held slaves. This works out to 5.80% of families. Arkansas boasted the least slaveholding families (3.54%) and Tennessee (11.27%) the most. North Carolina (5.49%) and Virginia (4.98%) fall in between.The matter deserves more research, but Arkansas numbers suggest a planter elite that hold far more slaves than average and that would fit with its place as the new frontier in cotton planting. North Carolina’s and Virginia’s lower proportions and higher number of free blacks point to a legacy of manumission in decades prior that faded greatly by 1860.

Once again these number tie into the acts of Secession Winter. Just as the Border States, aside Delaware, had significant secessionist minorities, each state of the Upper South had a significant Unionist minority. (At least in principle, many had narrow Unionist majorities until Sumter changed minds.)  Those Unionists included Virginia’s Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief of the Army, and George H. Thomas, who would destroy the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Nashville.

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