Richmond, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
Richmond Slave Trail
In Virginia and the rest of the United States, the waterways, both rivers and man-made canals served as the main avenues of commerce. Ships from across the Atlantic or from other American ports transported goods that were transferred to smaller ships and bateaus—flat boats designed to navigate shallow water—which in turn carried them further into the interior. Enslaved men were frequently employed on these boats, responsible for transporting hogheads of tobacco from plantations and down the riverways to cities to be sold and exported.
Many plantations in the Upper South reaped the benefit of one of the regionís most high-yield cash crops: tobacco. Requiring intensive labor and causing heavy depletions of the soil, the practice of tobacco production was a fast and furious enterprise. To address the problem of soil exhaustion, many farms later switched to “gentler” crops such as grains and vegetables. For the enslaved, daily life on these [right panel] post-tobacco plantations was considered “less bad” than elsewhere in the country. Here, African captives endured fewer
However, African captives sent to the Lower South — Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas — experienced much harsher conditions. The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 greatly increased the productivity of the cotton industry and created a massive demand for hands to plow, tend, and harvest the fields. Throughout the Lower South, cash crops, such as cotton, sugar and tobacco, claimed every inch of arable land; consequently, enslaved Africans were not given plots on which to grow their own vegetables, nor were they given the time to build adequate shelters. Gangs of African captives worked from “first light till full dark” as a condition of enslavement under the ready whip of white and black overseers, ruthlessly driven to plant, cultivate and harvest these lucrative crops.
Sources: Wayland Fuller Dunaway, The History of the James River and Kanawha Canal Company; Peter Way, Common Labour: Workers and the Digging of the North American Canals; The South in the Building of the Nation;
Intended to connect the tidewaters of the James River with the navigable stretches of the Ohio River, the Kanawha canal began as an ambitious project that required the back-breaking effort of thousands of laborers. Between 1836 and 1837 the workforce more than doubled, rising from 1,440 to 3,330 men, the majority of whom were white Irish immigrants. However the summer of 1838 brought with it unusually high temperatures and many of the Irish laborers died of hyperthermia, creating a panic — and subsequent northern migration — of two-thirds of the remaining workforce. Regarded essentially as chattel and therefore thought impervious to uncomfortable conditions, “slaves on the James River toiled through the unpredictable Virginia winter, in all but torrential downpours and on through the summer fever season for which the James River was notorious.” Enslaved workers were in the majority by 1839. By 1850, enslaved Africans were becoming stonemasons.
About the Trail
Designed as a walking path, the Richmond Slave Trail chronicles the history of the trade in enslaved Africans from their homeland to Virginia until 1778, and away from Virginia, especially Richmond, to
Title image: “After the Sale: Slaves Going South”, 1853, Painted from live by Eyre Crowe, courtesy the Chicago History Museum
Erected 2011 by Richmond Slave Trail Commission. (Marker Number 11.)
Location. 37° Touch for map. This marker is on the Richmond Riverfront Canal Walk between S 15th Street and S 17th Street. Marker is in this post office area: Richmond VA 23219, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Triple Crossing (a few steps from this marker); Shockoe Slip (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Early Shockoe (about 300 feet away); African Americans and the Waterfront (about 400 feet away); Use of Arms (about 500 feet away); Auction Houses (about 500 feet away); Burnt District (about 500 feet away); Canal Walk / Historic Canals (about 500 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Richmond.
Also see . . . Richmond City Council Slave Trail Commission. (Submitted on April 22, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.)
Categories. • Abolition & Underground RR • African Americans • Man-Made Features • Waterways & Vessels •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on April 22, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page has been viewed 879 times since then and 17 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on April 22, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.