Jason Treat and Kelsey Nowakowski, NG Staff. Art: Thom Tenery
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On a grueling, six-week passage 110 Africans were transported from West Africa to Alabama on the Clotilda, the last slave ship to the United States, in 1860.

Jason Treat and Kelsey Nowakowski, NG Staff. Art: Thom Tenery

How slavery flourished in the United States

See 400 years of data tracking the rise and fall of the slave trade.

Four hundred years ago the first slave ship docked on North American shores, launching a chapter of the trans-Atlantic trade that saw more than 12.5 million people kidnapped from Africa and sold at ports throughout the Americas. In the United States, their story begins with the Portuguese ship San Juan Bautista, which picked up 350 captured people in what is now Angola in 1619. After illness and a pirate attack took its toll, around 20 African men and women were diverted on an English ship called the White Lion to Point Comfort in Virginia, then a British colony, and sold into slavery.

The rise and fall of slavery

In 1619, a Dutch boat carrying 20 enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. That arduous journey 400 years ago marks the brutal beginning of the slave trade in the United States. The following centuries would see hundreds of thousands of Africans forced into slavery as rebellions, revolutions, and civil war further shaped their fates, and the fate of the nation.

Total number of enslaved people disembarked

year

5K

25K

0

10K

15K

20K

1655

1660

Rise of tobacco

The early tobacco industry relied heavily on indentured white labor. But those impoverished Europeans, unlike Africans, had the chance to win freedom and land at the end of their contracts.

1670

1680

1690

1700

Stono Rebellion (1739 – 1750)

1710

A large slave uprising in the colony of South Carolina resulted in some 75 deaths, legislation making it harder for slaves to assemble or be educated, and a 10-year moratorium on the African slave trade through the port of Charleston.

1720

1730

1740

1750

1760

Fight for US

Independence

(1775 – 1783)

1770

Slave trade slowed to a halt during the Revolutionary War. Many slaves were forced to fight on both sides with the unkept promise of freedom.

1780

1790

1800

1808

15K

20K

25K

5K

10K

0

The trade’s peak and end (1808)

The Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807 took effect on January 1, 1808. The highest number of enslaved people imported per year—23,864—were brought in throughout 1807 just before the ban took effect.

TAYLOR MAGGIACOMO, NGM STAFF. SOURCES: ATLAS OF SLAVERY; SLAVERYVOYAGES.ORG

The rise and fall of slavery

25,000

The trade’s peak and end (1808)

In 1619, a Dutch boat carrying 20 enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. That arduous journey 400 years ago marks the brutal beginning of the slave trade in the United States. The following centuries would see hundreds of thousands of Africans forced into slavery as rebellions, revolutions, and civil war further shaped their fates, and the fate of the nation.

The Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807 took effect on January 1, 1808. The highest number of enslaved people imported per year—23,864—

were brought in throughout 1807 just before the ban took effect.

20,000

Total number of enslaved people disembarked

15,000

Stono Rebellion (1739 – 1750)

Fight for US

Independence

(1775 – 1783)

15,000

A large slave uprising in the colony of South Carolina resulted in some 75 deaths, legislation making it harder for slaves to assemble or be educated, and a 10-year moratorium on the African slave trade through the port of Charleston.

Slave trade slowed to a halt during the Revolutionary War. Many slaves were forced to fight on both sides with the unkept promise of freedom.

10,000

10,000

Rise of tobacco

The early tobacco industry relied heavily on indentured white labor. But those impoverished Europeans, unlike Africans, had the chance to win freedom and land at the end of their contracts.

5,000

5,000

0

0

1655

1660

1670

1690

1700

1720

1740

1750

1790

1800

1808

1680

1710

1730

1760

1770

1780

TAYLOR MAGGIACOMO, NGM STAFF. SOURCES: SLAVERYVOYAGES.ORG; ATLAS OF SLAVERY

In the years following, ships transported at least 400,000 slaves from Africa to ports in New England and the southern states. Their free labor allowed the tobacco, cotton, and sugar industires to flourish. The importation of slaves was banned in 1808, but the trade continued. In 1860, a United States census counted nearly four million enslaved people living in the country. The Civil War was fought between abolitionists and the pro-slavery Confederacy, until the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in 1863. Two years later, the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment officially abolished the practice and ended 246 years of slavery.

Slave Ports of the U.S.

By 1776 when the United States severed ties with Great Britain and declared independence, the 13 former colonies had already participated in the Atlantic slave trade for 157 years. A ban on the slave trade would go into effect in 1808, but was often disregarded. By then some 300,000 Africans had already been uprooted and pressed into slavery. Nearly half of them—150,000 people—had been brought in through the country’s largest slave port, Charleston, S.C.

Ports or areas where African enslaved people

were disembarked, 1619-1860

Number of enslaved

people disembarked

(in thousands)

Era of arrival

150

Colonial

100

After U.S.

independence

50

25

10

Both

1

Specific port or area of landing unspecified

Md.

Va.

N.C.

S.C.

Ga.

La.

Fla.

BRITISH

NORTH

AMERICA

DISTRICT

OF MAINE

(MASS.)

200 mi

Vt.

N

N.H.

MASS.

200 km

R.I.

IND.

TERR.

N.Y.

CONN.

N.J.

PA.

DEL.

MIch.

TERR.

MD.

Washington, D.C.

York R.

Ill.

TERR.

IND.

TERR.

VA.

Ohio

Upper James R.

Ky.

N.C.

UNITED STATES

Charleston

S.C.

Tenn.

GA.

la.

TERR.

Savannah

Miss.

TERR.

W. FLA.

FLA.

NEW

SPAIN

(SPAIN)

Orleans TERR.

MATTHEW W. CHWASTYK, NG STAFF

Boundaries are shown as of 1810.

SOURCES: SLAVE VOYAGES.ORG; IPUMS-NHGIS,

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA; U.S. CENSUS BUREAU

BRITISH NORTH AMERICA

DISTRICT

OF MAINE

(MASS.)

IND.

TERR.

Vt.

Illinois

TERRitory

ATLANTIC

OCEAN

N.H.

Piscataqua R.

Boston

MASS.

New york

MIchigan

TERR.

Rhode Island area

CONN.

Newport

Middletown

New London

New York

Slave Ports of the U.S.

PA.

Perth Amboy

UNITED STATES

Eastern New Jersey

Philadelphia

N.J.

IND. TERR.

Ohio

Delaware R.

By 1776 when the United States severed ties with Great Britain and declared independence, the 13 former colonies had already participated in the Atlantic slave trade for 157 years. A ban on the slave trade would go into effect in 1808, but was often disregarded. By then some 300,000 Africans had already been uprooted and pressed into slavery. Nearly half of them—150,000 people—had been brought in through the country’s largest slave port, Charleston, S.C.

Specific port

or area of landing

unspecified

DEL.

MD.

Annapolis

Md.

North Potomac R.

Londontowne

Washington, D.C.

Oxford

Potomac R.-Va.

Patuxent R.

Va.

Rappahannock R.

S. Potomac R.-Va.

N.C.

Virginia

Hampton

KENTUCKY

S.C.

Upper James R.

louisiana

TERRitory

Lower James R.

Ga.

York R.

La.

Roanoke R.

Fla.

North

carolina

TennESSEE

South

carolina

Mississippi

TERRitory

Tybee Island

Beaufort

Charleston

Ports or areas where African enslaved people

were disembarked, 1619-1860

148,452

Savannah

Georgia

Number of enslaved

people disembarked

(in thousands)

Amelia Island

Mobile

W. FLA.

Biloxi

Pensacola

St. Augustine

New Orleans

150

Era of arrival

FLORIDA

Mississippi R.

Orleans

TERRitory

100

Colonial

La Balize

(SPAIN)

50

After U.S.

independence

25

Gulf of Mexico

10

1

Both

100 mi

MATTHEW W. CHWASTYK, NG STAFF

Boundaries are shown as of 1810.

SOURCES: SLAVE VOYAGES.ORG; IPUMS-NHGIS,

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA; U.S. CENSUS BUREAU

100 km

Key West

As the United States continues to grapple with the legacy of those centuries, archaeology is helping answer some of these questions. Excavations of plantations have turned up artifacts like handmade jewelry and pipes that shed light on the little-known personal lives of enslaved Africans. In 2019, scientists pulled DNA from a 19th century pipe and traced it back to Sierra Leone. In the deep sea, a group of marine archaeologists called Diving With a Purpose is searching for wrecks of slave-carrying ships and parsing the stories of those transported across the Atlantic. Four hundred years after those 20 Angolans arrived, little is known about the millions of enslaved people who shaped America's formative years.

Census of Slavery

The census of 1810, taken every ten years, serves as a record of both the enslaved and free population of the United States at the turn of the century. Although 1808 saw the official end of U.S. involvement in the slave trade, the market for transporting captives throughout the U.S. was thriving. Even in the North, where the practice of slavery had been legislated to a gradual end or abolished, more than 30,000 enslaved people still toiled.

Total enslaved population in states or territories with more than 1,000 enumerated (in thousands)

400

Enslaved population was 1,191,364 in 1810, 16.5 percent of the

total population.

392,518

300

Mass., N.H., Ohio, and Vt. had no enslaved population.

200

100

0

Enslaved population density by county

Each dot represents 200 people

(placement random)

BRITISH

NORTH

AMERICA

DISTRICT

OF MAINE

(MASS.)

N.H.

N

Vt.

200 mi

MASS.

200 km

R.I.

IND.

TERR.

N.Y.

CONN.

N.J.

PA.

DEL.

MIch.

TERR.

MD.

Ill.

TERR.

Washington, D.C.

Ohio

IND.

TERR.

VA.

N.C.

Ky.

UNITED STATES

S.C.

Tenn.

la.

TERR.

Miss.

TERR.

GA.

W. FLA.

FLA.

NEW

SPAIN

(SPAIN)

Orleans

TERR.

MATTHEW W. CHWASTYK, NG STAFF

Boundaries are shown as of 1810.

SOURCES: SLAVE VOYAGES.ORG; IPUMS-NHGIS,

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA; U.S. CENSUS BUREAU

BRITISH NORTH AMERICA

DISTRICT

OF MAINE

(MASS.)

IND.

TERR.

Illinois

TERRitory

Vt.

N.H.

ATLANTIC OCEAN

Boston

Albany

MASS.

MIchigan

TERR.

New york

CONN.

Newport

Detroit

Detroit

R.I.

Detroit

Census of Slavery

New York

PENNSYLVANIA

NEW

JERSEY

louisiana

TERRitory

Philadelphia

INDIANA

TERR.

The census of 1810, taken every ten years, serves as a record of both the enslaved and free population of the United States at the turn of the century. Although 1808 saw the official end of U.S. involvement in the slave trade, the market for transporting captives throughout the U.S. was thriving. Even in the North, where the practice of slavery had been legislated to a gradual end or abolished, more than 30,000 enslaved people still toiled.

Ohio

Dover

Annapolis

Chillicothe

DEL.

Washington, D.C.

MD.

UNITED STATES

Richmond

Virginia

Ky.

Williamsburg

Raleigh

Tenn.

North

carolina

Columbia

South

carolina

Enslaved population density by county

Mississippi

TERRitory

Milledgeville

Each dot represents 100 people

(placement random)

Charleston

Georgia

NEW

SPAIN

Total enslaved population by state or territory, 1810

W. FLA.

400,000

Enslaved population was 1,191,364 in 1810, 16.5 percent of the total population.

392,518

New Orleans

FLORIDA

300,000

Orleans

TERRitory

100 mi

Mass., N.H., Ohio, and Vt. had no enslaved population.

(SPAIN)

100 km

200,000

Gulf of Mexico

100,000

MATTHEW W. CHWASTYK, NG STAFF

Boundaries are shown as of 1810.

SOURCES: SLAVE VOYAGES.ORG; IPUMS-NHGIS,

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA; U.S. CENSUS BUREAU

0