Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Mapping Slavery
January 7, 2011 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Mapping Slavery. In September 1861 Edwin Hergesheimer of the United States Coast Survey produced a map based on data from the 1860 census showing the distribution of slaves across the South. It's interesting to compare this to other maps.

Map of secession votes by counties throughout the South (with the color scale reversed) and for secession in Virginia. Areas with fewer slaves were less likely to vote for secession.

Presidential votes by county in the 2008 election corresponds with cotton production in 1860. The "black belt" region has rich soil from when it was the shore of a tropical sea during the ate Cretaceous Period. African-American population distribution in the 2000 census shows some correlation to the distribution of slavery.

The Coast Survey map is pictured in Francis Bicknell Carpenter's painting First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln. The president used the map to identify possible areas of Southern Unionists and follow the advance of Union troops. The map on the table behind Secretary of State William Seward is the Coast Survey's 1863 "Map of the State of Virginia."

The Cartography of Slavery and the Authority of Statistics is an extensive discussion of antebellum and Civil War maps of the free and slave states, notably Reynolds's Political Map of the United States and A.K. Johnson's General Map of the United States.

Charting a More Perfect Union is a collection of Coast Survey maps prepared during the war.
posted by kirkaracha (32 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader discusses the original secession documents in great detail, and also the more recent revisionist movement to re-brand the Civil War being more about tariffs and state trade issues than the clearly stated intent of keeping slaves.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:17 AM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I recently learned that one of my direct ancestors owned slaves in Frederick County, Maryland. I would have liked to think that his owning human chattel was simply a sad reflection of his time, but according to that first map, slavery was relatively uncommon there -- only 7.8% of the population were property. I work with statistics for a living, but I don't usually come across a number that feels like a kick to the stomach.
posted by theodolite at 8:21 AM on January 7, 2011


wow! thanks for this.
posted by liza at 8:29 AM on January 7, 2011


This is pretty fantastic. Depressing, but great history.
posted by empath at 8:29 AM on January 7, 2011


I don't think the secession revisionist movement should be all that surprising. The South had to be careful not to overstate the real rationale for secession since the majority of its fighting force was comprised of non-slave owners with nothing to gain economically from the war. "States' Rights" was the perfect strawman to rally the troops without the danger of them realizing they were going to war against their own best interests.
posted by tommasz at 8:29 AM on January 7, 2011


"States' Rights" was the perfect strawman to rally the troops without the danger of them realizing they were going to war against their own best interests.

Plus ça change...
posted by uncleozzy at 8:35 AM on January 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


The South had to be careful not to overstate the real rationale for secession since the majority of its fighting force was comprised of non-slave owners with nothing to gain economically from the war.

While it's true that most white Southerners didn't own slaves, don't underestimate the value slaves imparted to non-slave-owning white Southerners. Sure, you may be on the shit end of the capitalism stick, but at least you're better than them.

The same logic holds true today.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:47 AM on January 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is fascinating. For me, it reiterated that for all of the geographic freedom that we have, family roots and inertia (and maybe segregation) are still very strong factors in where people live. And brought into clearer focus that slavery is in the relatively recent past for the United States - the Civil War ended less than 150 years ago.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:49 AM on January 7, 2011


B-B-BUT IT'S NOT ABOUT RACE
posted by DU at 8:54 AM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pope Guilty: "don't underestimate the value slaves imparted to non-slave-owning white Southerners. Sure, you may be on the shit end of the capitalism stick, but at least you're better than them."

This is a major theme of To Kill a Mockingbird. The Ewells were utter trash, but thought themselves better than Tom Robinson solely due to race.
posted by I am the Walrus at 9:10 AM on January 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the real lesson here is: Maryland is the worst state. Had slavery, and got away with it.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 9:32 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the real lesson here is: Maryland is the worst state. Had slavery, and got away with it.

Kentucky got off relatively easy as well. Lexington was aparently a major slave region (probably the horse farms) yet the state as a whole stayed in the Union and doesn't carry as much residual stigma as the deep South states. Although we shamefully failed to ratify any of the 13th, 14th or 15th Ammendments.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:53 AM on January 7, 2011


don't underestimate the value slaves imparted to non-slave-owning white Southerners. Sure, you may be on the shit end of the capitalism stick, but at least you're better than them.

The same logic holds true today.


Twain among other abolitionists at the time argued directly against this view, pointing out that the availability of cheap slave labor went directly counter to the economic interests of poor Southern whites (who were often unable to compete with slaves on the labor market). There was a strong current within the Southern abolitionist movement arguing that the institutions of slavery were just as oppressive to poor Southern whites as to slaves, and the feelings of cultural superiority over blacks that rural whites felt was often portrayed as a kind of false consciousness, helping to keep them united around a system that was in reality oppressive to them as well.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:55 AM on January 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is a major theme of To Kill a Mockingbird. The Ewells were utter trash, but thought themselves better than Tom Robinson solely due to race.

And Atticus Finch thought he was better than both due to class.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:02 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia article on scalawags, a derogatory term for white Southerners who supported the Republican party during Reconstruction.
posted by nangar at 10:06 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader discusses the original secession documents in great detail, and also the more recent revisionist movement to re-brand the Civil War being more about tariffs and state trade issues than the clearly stated intent of keeping slaves.

I'll never buy that argument. Well as long as the Jim Crow laws being enacted by slave states right after the end of the civil war stick in my memory.

The enslavement of an entire race was the reason the South fought...well at least why those in power wanted the South to fight.

Fuck revisionists. Embrace your embarrassing ancestors,"dirty" south.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:16 AM on January 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Strange coincidence. I obsessively catalog and collect old maps. The map in the first links (on NYT) was in my restoration queue less than a week ago.

Here's a zoom.it navigable image of it, and a (5,500px, 8.5mb) jpeg if anybody wants it for any reason, and here's the bib record from Library of Congress.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 10:17 AM on January 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


(Update: I was wrong. That's the map/bib record for a very similar, but different map. This is the map in the first links. I restored that one as well... but I'm having trouble finding it at the moment.)
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 10:21 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


While it's true that most white Southerners didn't own slaves, don't underestimate the value slaves imparted to non-slave-owning white Southerners.

” The last idea that enters the mind of a Southerner is that of doing work.... for in a slave country, labour is degrading.”

What's truly sad, is we can watch this same shit today, with the usual charges put up against Indians, black folks and immigrant workers. Millions of people, busting their asses in horrible work, who are somehow "stealing from the system" and "not contributing".
posted by yeloson at 10:41 AM on January 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is a fantastically interesting assembly of links. Thanks so much for posting!
posted by Pecinpah at 11:05 AM on January 7, 2011


One tiny corner of the map loads for me. I hate Flash so much.
posted by legion at 11:09 AM on January 7, 2011


theodolite, it depends on the time period. By 1860, Maryland was settled with multiple cities. A century earlier, the primary population was planters (slaveowners with tobacco plantations). I had family in the same area with the same last name as known planters, but I haven't been able to document whether they were connected (though it seems more likely than not; perhaps cousins).

don't underestimate the value slaves imparted to non-slave-owning white Southerners.

True enough, because in the South, being white was social capital. It didn't pay well by itself, though.

In the north you had the Free Soil movement: farmers concerned that they would be out-competed by planters with unpaid labor, who opposed slavery on economic grounds.
posted by dhartung at 11:15 AM on January 7, 2011


Maryland is the worst state. Had slavery, and got away with it.

No comment on that, but why is Delaware on the slave map? The Mason-Dixon line very clearly zags around it.
posted by kittyprecious at 11:47 AM on January 7, 2011


why is Delaware on the slave map?

Because of its 1798 slaves.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:57 AM on January 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


One problem with the "states' rights" excuse is that it didn't include everyone in the state. Sizable minorities voted against secession. Slaves couldn't vote, despite being a majority in South Carolina and Mississippi and over 40% of the population in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. The Union army had troops from every Southern state except South Carolina, both white Unionists and free or emancipated blacks.

States ranked by enslaved percentage of population:
  1. South Carolina
  2. Mississippi
  3. Louisiana
  4. Alabama
  5. Florida
  6. Georgia
  7. North Carolina
  8. Virginia
  9. Texas
  10. Arkansas
  11. Tennessee
  12. Kentucky
  13. Maryland
  14. Missouri
  15. Delaware
States ranked in order of secession:
  1. South Carolina
  2. Mississippi
  3. Florida
  4. Alabama
  5. Georgia
  6. Louisiana
  7. Texas
  8. Virginia
  9. Arkansas
  10. Tennessee
  11. North Carolina
The Deep South states seceded between December 1860 and February 1861. The middle states (Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina) seceded April and May 1861, after Fort Sumter. The border states (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri) had the lowest slave populations and didn't secede.

Two explicitly racist third parties, Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrats in 1948 and George Wallace's American Independents in 1968, won electoral votes in the Deep South.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:36 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The South had to be careful not to overstate the real rationale for secession since the majority of its fighting force was comprised of non-slave owners with nothing to gain economically from the war.

This is an oft-cited but--as I was surprised to learn--pretty misleading statistic: young men tend to make up the majority of soldiers in every war, and a good portion of the young men who fought for the Confederacy were in line to inherent slaves or slave-owning estates, even if they didn't own slaves when they fought. So the truth is a bit more complicated than "oh, poor white men misled by the powers-that-be to fight against their interests."

There's a pretty good blog post about it by Andy Hall on TNC's blog, which quotes some historical work about the Army of Northern Virginia:
Among the enlistees in 1861, slightly more than one in ten owned slaves personally. This compared favorably to the Confederacy as a whole, in which one in every twenty white persons owned slaves. Yet more than one in every four volunteers that first year lived with parents who were slaveholders. Combining those soldiers who owned slaves with those soldiers who lived with slaveholding family members, the proportion rose to 36 percent... The attachment to slavery, though, was even more powerful. One in every ten volunteers in 1861 did not own slaves themselves but lived in households headed by non family members who did. This figure, combined with the 36 percent who owned or whose family members owned slaves, indicated that almost one of every two 1861 recruits lived with slaveholders. Nor did the direct exposure stop there. Untold numbers of enlistees rented land from, sold crops to, or worked for slaveholders. In the final tabulation, the vast majority of the volunteers of 1861 had a direct connection to slavery. For slaveholder and nonslaveholder alike, slavery lay at the heart of the Confederate nation.
The sentiment that the majority of soldiers fighting for the Confederacy were misled into a fight that was against their direct interests is a kind one, but it's still Lost Cause-ism that papers over the fact that the war was motivated by white supremacy and those who fought for the South were fighting to preserve a system of white supremacy.
posted by iminurmefi at 1:25 PM on January 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Content aside, this map is a beautiful visualization.

I had no idea that over 50% of South Carolina was slaves. Or that 6 Southern states were over 40% slaves in 1860. I'd naively thought slavery was an aberration confined to just some farm areas, like 10% or so of the total population. And I grew up in Texas, I should have known better.
posted by Nelson at 1:27 PM on January 7, 2011


Here's the relevant quote for slave-owning, I think, from Sam Watkins, the best source for the cantankerous poor Southerner on the ground. He's talking about the moment volunteer service turned into conscript service:
From this time on till the end of the war, a soldier was simply a machine, a conscript. It was mighty rough on rebels. We cursed the war, we cursed Bragg, we cursed the Southern Confederacy. All our pride and valor had gone, and we were sick of war and the Southern Confederacy.

A law was made by the Confederate States Congress about this time allowing every person who owned twenty negroes to go home. It gave us the blues; we wanted twenty negroes. Negro property suddenly became very valuable, and there was raised the howl of "rich man's war, poor man's fight." The glory of the war, the glory of the South, the glory and the pride of our volunteers had no charms for the conscript.

Even people who were fighting for the rights to own slaves got a little irked when the people who owned a lot of slaves got a pass.
posted by LucretiusJones at 1:51 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


He's talking about the moment volunteer service turned into conscript service

The federal government of the "states' rights" Confederacy instituted conscription before the US government did.

And I grew up in Texas, I should have known better.

Texas actually fought two wars to keep slavery. One of the main causes of the Texas Revolution was the abolition of slavery by the Mexican government.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:01 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


"don't underestimate the value slaves imparted to non-slave-owning white Southerners. Sure, you may be on the shit end of the capitalism stick, but at least you're better than them."

Was that a common sentiment before the war? Certainly it's a useful trope for a certain kind of post war writer, but I'm not familiar with it coming up earlier than that. Please advise!

Worth noting too that there were certain jobs so dangerous (swamp logging, mining) that it was cheaper to hire free (white) labor getting killed or maimed than to risk the substantial capital investment of slaves.

Or at least, so I have read. If true, not sure where those people fit on the social scale.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:10 PM on January 7, 2011


why is Delaware on the slave map? The Mason-Dixon line very clearly zags around it.

Delaware was a slave state that didn't secede. The Mason-Dixon line does go around it because Delaware was originally part of Pennsylvania and the line was drawn to divide the colony of Pennsylvania owned by the Penns, from the colony of Maryland owned by the Calverts.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:33 PM on January 7, 2011


Lexington was aparently a major slave region (probably the horse farms) yet the state as a whole stayed in the Union and doesn't carry as much residual stigma as the deep South states.

One of the striking things in Confederates in the Attic is that there are areas of the South that were Unionist during the Civil War but are now full of Confederate enthusiasts.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:02 PM on January 24, 2011


« Older Animal Farm; or, a Short and Somewhat Political Hi...  |  "Just months before the Nazis ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments