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AfriGeneas Slave Research Forum

Re: Slave Breeding
In Response To: Re: Slave Breeding ()

Ed and Terrence,

If you do read this book, please post a review, or at least your comments.

The allegation of "Slave breeding" is an inflammatory topic that many people want to believe. Nevertheless, while earlier generations of historians might have discounted the idea for ideological reasons, the revisionists since the 1960s have been looking for this kind of thing (also for ideological reasons!), but the evidence just does not appear to be there. If there was real evidence out there of breeding farms, in the strict sense, some student would have earned a doctorate and a professorship from that topic by now!

Many people, on first encountering the term "breeding wench" or "breeding negro" in reference to a slave woman, conjure sordid scenes of stud farms and forced matings. In fact, while slave owners did rejoice at the "natural increase" of their enslaved women as a source of wealth, this increase was usually (not always) the result of natural human interactions (including within marriage). It was seldom the result of direct interference by slave masters. Nevertheless, to separate the economics of slave trading – the buying and selling of men, women and children – from the holding and use of slave labor is as impossible as separating the cultivation of cotton from marketing the picked and bagged bales.

Cotton was only one of two cash products raised on antebellum farms and plantations: the other was slave labour; indeed slaves were a product explicitly and openly discussed in the marketplace, just as were crops and animal livestock. Population growth by ordinary human connection was enough to ensure a human “increase” that added to slaveholders’ wealth.

Some slave owners freely talked and wrote about how they wanted their human investments to multiply. In Zebulon, Pike County, James Eppinger wrote, “I have a prime young negro woman for sale. . . . [A]s she has never had a child I do not wish to keep women who do not breed.” (James Eppinger to James N. Sutton, March 9, 1859). And again, “Unless my negro women breed they are not a source of profit to me.” (James Eppinger to R. P. McLendon, January 24, 1860). Eppinger wrote of his neighbors: “A few dry years have occasioned some to sell out & move. Were it not for our swamp lands which are being cleared & cultivated generally & the natural increase of negroes, many others would quit these diggins for a more productive region.” (James Eppinger ltr to Jonathan Adams, 3 Jan 1857, James Eppinger Papers, Hargrett Library, University of Georgia.) In other words, Eppinger’s neighbors found enough profit in “the natural increase of negroes” to offset poor crops. Of course, such increases were only "paper profits" unless the owners sold their slaves.

Is there evidence that Eppinger deliberately or forcibly bred slaves? No. Did he regard breeding ("natural increase") as a necessary part of his wealth strategy? Most definitely.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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