Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-ttngx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-24T17:18:18.227Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Slaveholders and slaves in Savannah's 1860 census

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 July 2014

School of Comparative American Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, UK


This article re-examines the 1860 census for Savannah Georgia. It melds the free and slave census to gain insights into slave ownership, owners’ occupations and makes tentative suggestions as to slave occupations. It argues that the concentration of slaveholding among a minority of locally born residents explains both the tensions evident in white society during the 1850s and actions taken to ease them. It also demonstrates that the widely used data for the number of urban slaves in Savannah overstates the actual number by c. 20 per cent. The census thus complicates our understanding of the vitality of late antebellum urban slavery.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 The most notable to use the census in this manner are Richard Wade who argued that slavery was ‘disintegrating’ in cities by 1860, and Claudia Goldin who conversely argued that the ‘decline’ of slavery in cities was more due to a rapid rise in white populations than an actual decline in urban slave populations. R.C. Wade, Slavery in the Cities: The South 1820–1860 (Oxford, 1964), 3; C.D. Goldin, Urban Slavery in the American South, 1820–1860: A Quantitative History (Chicago, 1976).

2 For some indication of the variety of occupations done by the enslaved, see Lewis, R.L., Coal, Iron, and Slaves: Industrial Slavery in Maryland and Virginia, 1715–1865 (Westport, 1979)Google Scholar; and Dew, C., Bond of Iron: Masters and Slaves at Buffalo Forge (New York, 1994)Google Scholar.

3 On the involvement of enslaved people in the management of water flows on rice plantations, see Edelson, S.M., Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina (Cambridge, MA, 2006)Google Scholar.

4 See Fox-Genovese, E., Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (Chapel Hill, 1988)Google Scholar

5 Goldin, Urban Slavery, 12. Goldin counts 139,000 slaves living in incorporated towns and cities with populations over 2,500. The best general overview of urban slavery remains Wade, Slavery in the Cities.

6 Ball, C., Slavery in the United States: A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Charles Ball, a Black Man (New York, 1837), 369Google Scholar.

7 The best examinations of black life in Savannah are Wood, B., Women's Work, Men's Work: The Informal Slave Economies of Lowcountry Georgia (Athens, GA, 1995)Google Scholar; and Johnson, W.B., Black Savannah, 1788–1864 (Fayetteville, AR, 1996)Google Scholar. On the interaction of the enslaved with poor whites, see Lockley, T.J., Lines in the Sand: Race and Class in Lowcountry Georgia, 1750–1860 (Athens, GA, 2001)Google Scholar. Among the several works that stress the opportunities open to urban bondsmen that were denied rural slaves, see Egerton, D.R., ‘Slaves to the marketplace: economic liberty and black rebelliousness in the Atlantic world’, Journal of the Early Republic, 26 (2006), 617–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Ball, Slavery in the United States, 368.

9 For a detailed study of the policing regime in Richmond, Virginia, see Campbell, J., Slavery on Trial: Race, Class, and Criminal Justice in Antebellum Richmond, Virginia (Gainesville, 2007)Google Scholar.

10 Data on the relative sizes of populations can be found in Goldin, Urban Slavery, 52.

11 Fraser, W.J., Savannah in the Old South (Athens, GA, 2003), 348Google Scholar.

12 Data on 1840 was included in Bancroft, J., Census of the City of Savannah (Savannah, 1848), 13Google Scholar. All population data cited regarding the 1860 census comes from the manuscript slave and free schedules for Chatham County, Georgia.

13 Goldin, Urban Slavery, 25.

14 See Martin, J.D., Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the Antebellum South (Cambridge, MA, 2004), 105–60Google Scholar.

15 Using different methodology, Dennis Rousey has shown that 53% of southern-born men aged over 30 resident in Savannah in 1850 owned slaves compared to 17% of comparable immigrants. Rousey, D.C., ‘Friends and foes of slavery: foreigners and northerners in the Old South’, Journal of Social History, 35 (2001), 375CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Rousey, D.C., ‘From whence they came to Savannah: the origins of an urban population in the Old South’, Georgia Historical Quarterly, 79 (1995), 312Google Scholar. Irish immigrants alone constituted 31.8% of the adult white population.

17 At a large sale of slaves in Savannah in March 1859, prime adult males fetched $1,600. New York Daily Tribune, 9 Mar. 1859.

18 The list of those elected appears in the Savannah Morning News, 18 Oct. 1859.

19 Goldin's study of the occupations of Savannah's slaveholders is based on sampling every eighth page of the slave census; my own analysis includes every individual listed in the slave census.

20 Goldin calculates that 53.9% of Richmond's adult white males were employed in manufacturing. Goldin, Urban Slavery, 26.

21 M. Granger (ed.), Savannah River Plantations, 2nd edn (Savannah, 1997), 471, 47–52.

22 Jones, J., Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present, 2nd edn (New York, 2010), 21Google Scholar.

23 For more on slave hire, see Johnson, Black Savannah, 95–7; and Lockley, Lines in the Sand, 64–6.

24 On the preference of owners to use female slaves as domestics and the popularity of children as suitable replacements see Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, 21–3.

25 An 1848 census of Charleston that attempted a survey of enslaved occupations concluded that 87.6% of women and 55.7% of men worked in a domestic capacity. Census of the City of Charleston, South Carolina, for the Year 1848 (Charleston, 1849), 34.

26 Goldin, Urban Slavery, 22.

27 Granger, ed., Savannah River Plantations, 471, 47–52.

28 Daily Morning News, 5 Dec. 1856.

29 Bancroft, Census of the City of Savannah, 34. In 1848, Bancroft counted 4 cotton presses, 2 rice mills, 7 saw mills, 3 steam works and 2 iron foundries in the city.

30 Fraser, Savannah in the Old South, 248–51; Starobin, R.S., Industrial Slavery in the Old South (Oxford, 1970), 128–45Google Scholar; Dew, Bond of Iron, 32–40, 67–70.

31 Starobin, Industrial Slavery, 15–16.

32 Bancroft, Census of the City of Savannah, 3.

33 On this aspect of slave childhood, see King, W., Stolen Childhood: Slave Youth in Nineteenth Century America (Indianapolis, 1995), 6774Google Scholar; and Schwartz, M.J., Born in Bondage: Growing up Enslaved in the Antebellum South (Cambridge, MA, 2000), 75130Google Scholar.

34 Baltimore, Washington and St Louis had far more enslaved women than men, while Richmond was one of the few to have a male majority due to the large numbers of men in industrial occupations. Charleston's gender ratio was similar to Savannah’s. All data is from Goldin, Urban Slavery, 66.

35 See Lockley, T., ‘Trading encounters between non-elite whites and African Americans in Savannah, 1790–1860’, Journal of Southern History, 66 (2000), 2548CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

36 Lockley, T., Welfare and Charity in the Antebellum South (Gainesville, 2007), 197–8Google Scholar.

37 Report of Charles C. Jones, Jr., Mayor, of the City of Savannah for the Year Ending September 30, 1861 (Savannah, 1861), 21.

38 Lockley, Welfare and Charity in the Antebellum South, 149.

39 For a detailed analysis of black life on Argyle Island, very close to Savannah, see Dusinberre, W., Them Dark Days: Slavery in the American Rice Swamps (Oxford, 1996)Google Scholar.

40 Goldin, Urban Slavery, 52.

41 See T. Lockley, ‘Black mortality in Antebellum Savannah’, Social History of Medicine (online publication 30 Apr. 2013).

42 Wade, Slavery in the Cities, 243–81.

43 Goldin, Urban Slavery, 123–32.

44 The discrepancy perhaps comes from confusion as to the status of the suburb of Charleston Neck that was annexed to the city in 1849.