Storm Bear

Black History: Slave Market of Charleston

Filed By Storm Bear | April 02, 2008 12:20 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: gay cartoons and comics, plantation economics, seasoning camps, slave auctions, webcomics

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The seasoning camps of the Caribbean were built to break the will of the Africans before being sold. Any emotional bonds between slaves were torn by selling the slaves in different markets. If families were together, they were brutally separated forever. Africans captured and broken in the seasoning camps were not as valuable as Africans born into slavery as those born into servitude were more accepting of their plight.

They were born broken.

Thus was the economics of slavery and the civilization of the New World was built on slave labor. Seventy percent of the slaves brought to the New World were used to produce sugar, the most labor-intensive crop. The rest were employed harvesting coffee, cotton, and tobacco, and in some cases in mining. The West Indian colonies of the European powers were some of their most important possessions, so they went to extremes to protect and retain them. For example, at the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763, France agreed to cede the vast territory of New France to the victors in exchange for keeping the minute Antillean island of Guadeloupe.

Slave trade profits have been the object of many fantasies. Returns for the investors were not absurdly high (around 6% in France in the 18th century), but they were considerably higher than domestic alternatives (in the same century, around 5%). Risks -- maritime and commercial -- were important for individual voyages. Investors mitigated it by buying small shares of many ships at the same time. In that way, they were able to diversify a large part of the risk away. Between voyages, ship shares could be freely sold and bought. All these made the slave trade a very interesting investment.

By far the most successful West Indian colonies in 1800 belonged to the United Kingdom. After entering the sugar colony business late, British naval supremacy and control over key islands such as Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados and the territory of British Guiana gave it an important edge over all competitors; while many British did not make gains, some made enormous fortunes, even by upper class standards. This advantage was reinforced when France lost its most important colony, St. Dominigue (western Hispaniola, now Haiti), to a slave revolt in 1791 and supported revolts against its rival Britain, after the 1793 French revolution in the name of liberty (but in fact opportunistic selectivity). Before 1791, British sugar had to be protected to compete against cheaper French sugar.

After 1791, the British islands produced the most sugar, and the British people quickly became the largest consumers. West Indian sugar became ubiquitous as an additive to Indian tea. Nevertheless, the profits of the slave trade and of West Indian plantations amounted to less than 5% of the British economy at the time of the Industrial Revolution in the latter half of the 1700s.

But to get to from the slave trader to the plantation owner, the slave was auctioned off. One such slave auction center was Charleston, SC, the birth place of the Civil War ironically.


Charleston was the major point of entry for Africans brought to America in the eighteenth century. Approximately three out of four enslaved Africans came to America through this port city, which had a black majority by 1790. In 1808, the foreign slave trade was abolished, but American-born slaves continued to be bought and sold until the Civil War.

Lowcountry planters purchased slaves at public auctions on the streets of Charleston and used them to cultivate crops on their plantations. Many slaves were also purchased by city dwellers to perform a variety tasks, working as sailors, fishermen, blacksmiths, brick masons, carpenters and cabinetmakers. The majority of slaves in the city, however, were domestic servants.

In Charleston, bells tolled the curfew every night at ten o'clock, by which time all slaves had to be off the streets. Those found out after curfew without written permission from their masters could be imprisoned and severely beaten.

In the years preceding the Civil War, slaves comprised about half of the city's population. Many of these slaves were highly trained and skilled house servants who worked as laundresses, seamstresses, cooks and footmen, gardeners, hostlers, and carriage drivers. Some slaves had very specific skills and worked in occupations such as carpenter, blacksmith, brick mason, cabinetmaker, tailor and shoemaker, boatmen and fishermen.

Enslaved African Americans contributed to the rich urban culture that evolved in Charleston. The city's cuisine, patterns of speech, and its customs and manners reflect the influence of black residents. As an institution, slavery limited the most basic freedoms. Slaves could not live and work as they pleased, and the local militia closely monitored their movements.

Life in a busy seaport did provide opportunities not available to slaves on the plantations. Although it was illegal for slaves to learn to read and write, many became literate through the efforts of black churches. Highly skilled slaves, such as brick masons and carpenters, were often hired out by their masters to work for others. The slave's salary was usually paid directly to the master, but a highly skilled artisan could negotiate to keep a portion of his wages. The "hiring out" system created greater knowledge of the outside world and facilitated communication between slaves and free blacks. Many used their incomes to purchase their freedom or the freedom of their wives and children.


When I went to school, we were never taught Black History. We never learned about the Black leaders, the long, agonizing history that brought most Blacks to America. Those atrocities were glossed over in favor of mindlessly boring topics like the X Y Z Affair.

This series of cartoons will review Black history as told from a Black mother to an interracial child. This series will be ugly, course, horrific and truthful. I will mostly abandon the commentary for an article on Black history.

This series is not about Obama or Hillary. I want to you to try to imagine how Black families tell their children of the atrocities their ancestors, all of them, suffered because of the color of their skin. Try to imagine how Black families counsel their children when someone calls them "nigger" for the first time. Can you imagine the bone crushing emotion that must well up? Can you imagine the agony, frustration and anger?

Can you imagine being the Black preacher who tries to paint a picture of a just God every Sunday? Especially in a country that claims where the notion of racism is a thing of the past, the job is difficult.

These strips may at times be entertaining and sometimes they may not - mostly not.

I don't want you to laugh so hard you cry, I want you to cry so hard you do something about it.

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My great great Grandfather would go to Charleston, SC to buy back shanghaied black freeman sailors and boat workers who had been taken from the boat works in Boston. He lost his fortune, and later ran for his life because of the banking thugs who were cashing in on the slave trade. As a Transsexual, I have had the experience of seeing first hand the bigotry and hatred of the South, and treatment of being a lesser being under the law. Sadly, now it also is in Boston, and is spreading across the nation in the anti-Transgender movement. Gramp's is rolling over in his grave!

Good article!

What a great story, Stelle. I'm proud of your great great grandfather. I hope you continue the legacy of equality. (I already know you do though!)

Jane DanForth | November 20, 2010 6:27 PM

Just came back fro. Charleston..went to the Magnolia Plantation..leaned about slave labor for the rice black people were sold by another tribe in Africa..blacks who knew a lot about growing were valuable in Charleston..other blacks went to south America..saw where the slaves lived..some treated better than others..but that does not matter..they were robbed of their wrong

Again over and over again abuse anyone for heed is so evil...

MAY we llearn about this injustice and never again treat another human being so unjustly
Pray to be fee of ignorance and open to the love of God