Confederate History & Heritage Month: Lower Chattahoochee Valley Slavery (By the numbers)

An excerpt from Anthony Gene Carey's “Sold Down the River: Slavery in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley of Alabama and Georgia” iBooks.

"The Old South, as historians and the public have typically thought of it, came and went in the Valley in the span of two generations. Little was languid about the pace of life in this slice of the supposedly leisurely South. Slaves who carved plantations out of former Creek country lived to see Emancipation and to see some of their children and grandchildren hold titles to the soil. So much transpired in so short a period partly because slavery and plantation agriculture were extremely well adapted to expansion over space. Agricultural practices developed in the older South were transplanted to the Valley in ways similar to the growth of other western branches of the cotton kingdom.
These parallels owed much to the market's shaping of behaviors. Whites flocked into the lower Chattahoochee country eager to find or to augment fortunes by growing cotton. A comparatively large proportion of them dragged slaves along on the journey or made fresh purchases after arrival. In doing so, they participated in the defining process in the history of the old South, the massive movement of the enslaved from the Chesapeake and the Carolinas to the Old Southwest and the Trans-Mississippi. Ira Berlin, one of the celebrated historians of New World slavery, has called this exodus a “Second Middle Passage” for African Americans. This chapter examines how the demand of Great Britain and the northern United States for cotton and the demand of cotton planters for slaves fueled the creation and expansion of a slave society in the Valley. While white apologists liked to portray the slave trade as incidental to slavery, in reality it was the essence of it. The commerce in human flesh scarred victims, destroyed families, and necessitated the reconstitution of lives and communities. While slaves tried to avoid or to influence sales through persuasion or resistance, their fates lay in the hands of buyers and sellers who generally considered profits first and who measured their worldly progress by the accumulation of enslaved people." [1]

Slave population of the Southern States in 1860.

"Census statistics capture the scope of the Valley's demographic and economic transformation after 1825 (see Table 1). [2] The Georgia side of the Chattahoochee River opened earlier for American settlement and developed first, but the population on the Alabama bank surpassed that on the eastern bank by 1860. Population figures for the Georgia counties were affected by the frequent creation of new counties and the consequent lopping off of eastern sections from existing river counties. County line changes on the Alabama side were fewer but likewise reduced population totals. Population grew fastest during the 1830s, essentially a frontier decade, and less spectacular growth in the 1840s and 1850s carried the Valley's total population to 209,568 in 1860. Georgia Valley counties were already experiencing large-scale outmigration by the 1850s, and the Alabama counties, had the Civil War not intervened, would have become departure points rather than destinations during the 1860s. The entire Valley population in 1860 represented just over one-tenth of the combined populations of Alabama and Georgia. Chattahoochee Valley trends reflected the seemingly inexorable westward movement of the American population, North and South."

"The growth of the Valley's enslaved population early outstripped that of its free population. Slaves comprised one-third of the population in 1830 and almost one-half of the population by 1860 (See Table 2). The huge influx of the 1830s, when close to 40,000 slaves migrated with masters or were sold into the region, established the core enslaved population. Growth slowed during the 1840s and even more markedly during the 1850s. In the latter decade, the increase in the Valley slave population barely exceeded the national rate of 23.4 percent. The lure of fresher lands and high cotton prices persuaded numbers of Valley masters to transfer their operations westward in the 1850s or convinced them to take profits from selling chattels to western buyers. The Valley counties were positioned to become significant net exporters of slaves during the 1860s, just as older counties from the Chesapeake Bay to the Ocmulgee River had fed slaves to the Valley during previous decades." [3]

"A slight majority of the Valley's whole population in 1860 lived in Alabama, but a majority of slaves lived in Georgia (see Table 3). The three most populous Valley counties by far, Barbour, Russell, and Chambers, were Alabama plantation counties, which together contained 40.6 percent of Valley slaves. The other two sparsely settled and had much lower slave populations. The largest concentration of population on the Georgia side of the river was in Muscogee and Troup counties. With the exception of the city of Columbus and its immediate environs, the Georgia Valley was a relatively homogeneous plantation district; slave population percentages ranged from 44.9 percent to 66 percent. Clay, Chattahoochee, and Quitman counties were carved out of the older counties in the 1850s."

"Stewart, Troup, and Harris counties were long established and heavily enslaved, and Early County boasted some of the largest plantations in the Valley. Almost three-fourths of Valley slaves in 1860 lived in just seven of the fifteen counties: Barbour, Chambers, Russell, Harris, Muscogee, Stewart, and Troup, whose collective population was 52.4 percent enslaved. As standards of comparison, slaves comprised 45.1 percent of Alabama's 1860 population and 43.7 percent of Georgia's, while slaves had for decades made up about one-third of the population of the entire South. The Valley was, then, a heavily enslaved region within the heavily enslaved Deep South.
An atypically large percentage of white families in the Valley owned slaves (see Table 4). The die was cast early. Barbour County was an uncertain, dangerous place in 1833. Nonetheless, almost 20 percent of the pioneering American households contained slaves, and two of antebellum Barbour's largest and best-known planters, Dr. Cullen Battle and John Linguard Hunter, already had over one hundred slaves apiece clearing and tilling fields—and keeping watch for Creeks. Nearly one-third of the county's population at its first state census was enslaved.4 By 1860, the average white household in the Valley contained 5.4 free persons. Analysis by families offers the truest picture of the number of whites directly interested in slaveholding, since even if every adult white man in the Valley had owned slaves, which was not the case, slaveholders still would have been a small minority within a population that consisted overwhelmingly of slaves and white women and children—the gender and age composition of the Valley's population is discussed below. About one-fourth of southern white families in 1860 owned slaves; 44.9 percent of free families in the Valley held slaves. Few counties in the South had higher proportions of slaveholding families than Chambers (65.4 percent) and Troup (64.5 percent) counties, and Stewart County (59.3 percent) was not far behind. Conversely, Dale and Henry counties belonged to the general class of wiregrass or mountain counties, which had the lowest levels of slaveholding within the Deep South. Dale and Henry did, however, have proportions of slaveholders greater than some of the states of the Upper South. Proportions of slaveholding families in the Valley counties ranged from enormous to merely significant: slaveholders were every-where." [5]

"Most slaveholders in the Valley, as elsewhere in the South, owned small numbers of slaves (see Table 5). One-quarter of “Valley slaveholders held one or two slaves; almost half of Valley slaveholders owned five slaves or fewer. To the regret of historians, the numerically dominant small slaveholders are vastly under-represented in surviving records, not only in the Valley but in the whole South. Using the traditional definition of a planter as the owner of twenty or more slaves, 17.3 percent of Valley slaveowners qualified as planters. About one in two hundred slaveholders in the Valley was among the ranks of the planter elite who owned more than one hundred slaves. There were only eleven planters in Dale County, amounting to just 3.5 percent of slaveholders; almost two-thirds of the slaveowners in Dale held five slaves or fewer. In Russell County, in contrast, the 243 planters comprised almost one-quarter of slaveholders. Over one-quarter of the slaveholders in Early County were planters, and nearly two-thirds of the masters in Troup County owned more than five slaves. County variations aside, the Valley's distribution of slaves among slaveholders essentially mirrored that of Alabama and Georgia, which contained a larger proportion of planters than did states of the Upper South."

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[1] Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 161.

[2] Data from United States Censuses were found at, which is a searchable database. My definition of the Lower Valley counties is Barbour, Chambers, Dale, Henry, and Russell in Alabama and Chattachoochee, Clay, Decatur, Early, Harris, Muscogee, Quitman, Randolph, Stewart, and Troup in Georgia. This list includes the counties as they existed in 1860.

[3] Tadman, 12, documents interregional movement of slaves from 1790 to 1859.

[4] Helen S. Foley, compiler, 1833 State Census for Barbour County, Alabama (n.p.: By Author, 1976), 44, 48, 54, and passim.

[5] The geographic distribution of slaves and slaveholders within counties was uneven, with plantations clustering in “more fertile areas, especially along watercourses, as will be seen throughout this book. Within Russell County, for example, was a large piney woods area primarily used for grazing; see Reverend F. L. Cherry, “The History of Opelika and Her Agricultural Tributary Territory,” Alabama Historical Quarterly 15 (Summer 1953): 203. Some good discussions of patterns of slaveholding and difference within the South are Peter Kolchin, American Slavery; William W. Freehling, Road to Disunion, and Otto H. Olsen, “Historians and the Extent of Slave Ownership in the Southern United States,” Civil War History 50 (December 2004): 401–17.

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