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The free black population

Complicating the picture of the antebellum South was the existence of a large free black population. In fact, more free blacks lived in the South than in the North; roughly 261,000 lived in slave states, while 226,000 lived in northern states without slavery. Most free blacks did not live in the Lower, or Deep South: the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. Instead, the largest number lived in the upper southern states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and later Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia.

Part of the reason for the large number of free blacks living in slave states were the many instances of manumission—the formal granting of freedom to slaves—that occurred as a result of the Revolution, when many slaveholders put into action the ideal that “all men are created equal” and freed their slaves. The transition in the Upper South to the staple crop of wheat, which did not require large numbers of slaves to produce, also spurred manumissions. Another large group of free blacks in the South had been free residents of Louisiana before the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, while still other free blacks came from Cuba and Haiti.

Most free blacks in the South lived in cities, and a majority of free blacks were lighter-skinned women, a reflection of the interracial unions that formed between white men and black women. Everywhere in the United States blackness had come to be associated with slavery, the station at the bottom of the social ladder. Both whites and those with African ancestry tended to delineate varying degrees of lightness in skin color in a social hierarchy. In the slaveholding South, different names described one’s distance from blackness or whiteness: mulattos (those with one black and one white parent), quadroons (those with one black grandparent), and octoroons (those with one black great-grandparent) ( [link] ). Lighter-skinned blacks often looked down on their darker counterparts, an indication of the ways in which both whites and blacks internalized the racism of the age.

A collage painting depicts a tall, dark-skinned woman standing beside her small daughter, who has more European features, with lighter skin and curly, dark hair. Both women are elaborately dressed. In the background, a large, stately house is visible.
In this late eighteenth-century painting, a free woman of color stands with her quadroon daughter in New Orleans. Families with members that had widely varying ethnic characteristics were not uncommon at the time, especially in the larger cities.

Some free blacks in the South owned slaves of their own. Andrew Durnford, for example, was born in New Orleans in 1800, three years before the Louisiana Purchase. His father was white, and his mother was a free black. Durnford became an American citizen after the Louisiana Purchase, rising to prominence as a Louisiana sugar planter and slaveholder. William Ellison, another free black who amassed great wealth and power in the South, was born a slave in 1790 in South Carolina. After buying his freedom and that of his wife and daughter, he proceeded to purchase his own slaves, whom he then put to work manufacturing cotton gins. By the eve of the Civil War, Ellison had become one of the richest and largest slaveholders in the entire state.

Questions & Answers

what mistakes did Britain mak the lost them the colonies
Victor Reply
tax without representation
JOE'S
the american revolution
Angelica Reply
what started the American revolution
Futuremfan
hi...can you state benefit of U.S constitution
Chimi Reply
bill of rights
Tom
it provided a political framework which provifed stability while at the same time permitting freedoms which allowed the American people to flourish
Victor
Among the major cause of American civil war, can I have a brief account on social cause?
Rinchen Reply
The issue of slavery between South America and North America that lead to the American Civil War
Sanusi
not sure what you mean by "social" causes. Do you mean things like differences between Northern ers & southerners?
Victor
what was the purpose of Operation Valkyrie?
Matthew Reply
I have no idea
Sanusi
which culture developed the writting system in the western hemisphere?
cierra Reply
the phoenicians
Victor
Treaty of Greenville
The Reply
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QuizOver Reply
Columbus didn't discover ish. He stole America from the Natives
LovingN Reply
Who was Nat Turner? What was the cause and impact of the Nat Turner Rebellion?
LovingN
which culture developed the only writing systems in the western hemisphere
rose Reply
economic causes of American civil war
Samten Reply
do you mean the major causes of American civil war
CHEGWE
yes
Samten
idealistic birth of industries in great britain
Rinchen Reply
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Jessica Reply
what year was America found
Adaregba Reply
i think America was discovered by Christopher Columbus in the year 1492
Samten
yes samten ,it was discovered by Christopher Columbus in August 3rd 1492
CHEGWE
but, we're was the name (America gotten from
CHEGWE
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Samten
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Samten
ok
CHEGWE
how did texas settlers view of mexico and its people contribute to the history of texas in the 1830s
Princess Reply
They felt that they had to get their independence and be annexed to the U.S.
tapha

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Source:  OpenStax, U.s. history. OpenStax CNX. Jan 12, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11740/1.3
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