America’s forget migration – the journeys of a million African-Americans indigenous the tobacco south to the cotton South

A coffle of servants being marched indigenous Virginia west into Tennessee, c. 1850. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller people Art Museum, colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia

When Delores McQuinn was farming up, she father told her a story around a find for the family’s roots.

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He stated his own father knew the name of the world who had enslaved their family members in Virginia, knew wherein they lived—in the same house and on the exact same land—in Hanover County, among the rumpled hills phibìc of Richmond.

“My grand went to the folks who had actually owned our family and also asked, ‘Do you have any documentation about our background during the slave days? we would like to check out it, if possible.’ The man at the door, who I have to assume to be from the slaveholding side, said, ‘Sure, we’ll offer it come you.’

“The man entered his house and also came earlier out through some records in his hands. Now, whether the documents were trivial or really plantation records, who knows? yet he stand in the door, in prior of my grandfather, and lit a match to the papers. ‘You want your history?’ that said. ‘Here that is.’ the town hall the things burn. ‘Take the ashes and get turn off my land.’

“The intent was to save that history buried,” McQuinn claims today. “And i think something like that has actually happened over and also again, symbolically.”

McQuinn was elevated in Richmond, the resources of Virginia and also the former funding of the Confederacy—a city crowded through monuments to the Old South. She is a politician now, chosen to the city council in the so late 1990s and also to the Virginia residence of Delegates in 2009. One of her proudest accomplishments in politics, she says, has actually been to throw new light ~ above an alternating history.

For example, she convinced the city to fund a tourist walk around slavery, a kind of mirror photo of the flexibility Trail in Boston. She has actually helped raise money for a heritage site incorporating the excavated continues to be of the well known slave stop cell well-known as Lumpkin’s Jail.

“You see, our history is often buried,” she says. “You need to unearth it.”

Virginia Delegate Delores McQuinn has actually helped advanced funds for a heritage site that will show the excavated stays of Lumpkin’s slave jail. Wayne Lawrence


Not long back I was analysis some old letter at the library that the college of north Carolina, act a small unearthing of my own. Among the thousands of hard-to-read and also yellowing papers, I discovered one note dated April 16, 1834, native a guy named James Franklin in Natchez, Mississippi, come the residence office of his firm in Virginia. He functioned for a partnership of slave dealers referred to as Franklin & Armfield, run by his uncle.

“We have about ten thousand dollars to salary yet. Must you acquisition a good lot because that walking i will bring them the end by floor this summer,” Franklin had written. Ten thousands dollars was a considerable sum in 1834—the indistinguishable of virtually $300,000 today. “A great lot because that walking” was a corridor of enslaved men, women and children, maybe numbering in the hundreds, who can tolerate three months hath in the summer heat.

Scholars of enslavement are quite familiar with the for sure of Franklin & Armfield, i m sorry Isaac Franklin and John Armfield developed in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1828. Over the following decade, through Armfield based in Alexandria and Isaac Franklin in new Orleans, the two became the undisputed moguls of the domestic slave trade, through an economic influence that is difficult to overstate. In 1832, for example, 5 percent of all the advertisement credit available through the second Bank of the unified States had actually been extended to their firm.


This letter native 1834 organized riches, and “I will carry them out by land” was, because that me, the invaluable line: It described a compelled march overland from the fields of Virginia to the servant auctions in Natchez and brand-new Orleans. The letter was the first sign that ns might be able to trace the course of one of the Franklin & Armfield caravans.

With the signal indigenous Natchez, Armfield started vacuuming up people from the Virginia countryside. The partners employed stringers—headhunters who functioned on commission—collecting enslaved human being up and also down the east Coast, knocking ~ above doors, asking tobacco and also rice planters whether they would sell. Plenty of slaveholders to be inclined to carry out so, as their plantations made smaller sized fortunes than many princeling boy would have liked.

It took 4 months to assemble the huge “coffle,” to usage a once-common native that, like so much of the vocabulary the slavery, has actually been effaced indigenous the language. The company’s agents sent people down to Franklin & Armfield’s slavepens (another native that has disappeared) in Alexandria, just nine miles south of the U.S. Capitol: seamstresses, nurses, valets, field hands, hostlers, carpenters, cooks, houseboys, coachmen, laundresses, boatmen. There were so-called an intricate girls, young women who would work mainly as concubines. And, always, children.

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By August, Armfield had an ext than 300 all set for the march. About the 20th of that month the caravan began to assemble in former of the company’s offices in Alexandria, in ~ 1315 duke Street.

In the library in ~ Yale i did a bit an ext unearthing and also found a travelogue through a man named Ethan Andrews, who occurred to pass through Alexandria a year later and also witness the arranging of an Armfield coffle. His publication was not lot read—it had a due-date an alert from 50 years ago—but in it Andrews described the scene as Armfield directed the loading because that an enormous journey.

“Four or five tents were spread, and the huge wagons, which were to accompany the expedition, were stationed” whereby they might be piled high through “provisions and also other necessaries.” new clothes were loaded in bundles. “Each negro is furnished through two entire suits native the shop,” andrew noted, “which that does not wear top top the road.” Instead, these garments were saved for the end of the expedition so every slave might dress well because that sale. There was a pair the carriages for the whites.

In 1834, Armfield sat on his equine in former of the procession, armed with a gun and also a whip. Other white men, an in similar way armed, to be arrayed behind him. They were guarding 200 men and boys inside wall up in twos, their wrists handcuffed together, a chain running the size of 100 pairs of hands. Behind the males were the women and girls, one more hundred. They were not handcuffed, although castle may have been tied through rope. Part carried little children. ~ the females came the huge wagons—six or 7 in all. These carried food, plus youngsters too tiny to walk ten hrs a day. Later on the very same wagons hauled those who had actually collapsed and could no be roused v a whip.

Then the coffle, choose a large serpent, uncoiled onto battle each other Street and also marched west, the end of town and into a momentous event, a blanked-out saga, an unremembered epic. I think the it as the servant Trail that Tears.


The servant Trail the Tears is the an excellent missing migration—a thousand-mile-long river of people, every one of them black, reaching from Virginia to Louisiana. During the 50 years prior to the polite War, about a million enslaved people moved from the top South—Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky—to the Deep South—Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama. They were made to go, deported, you can say, having actually been sold.

This forced resettlement to be 20 times larger than Andrew Jackson’s “Indian removal” projects of the 1830s, which provided rise come the original Trail the Tears together it drove people of native Americans the end of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. It to be bigger 보다 the immigrant of Jews right into the united States during the 19th century, once some 500,000 arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe. It to be bigger 보다 the wagon-train migration to the West, lovely of American lore. This motion lasted longer and grabbed up more people than any other hike in phibìc America before 1900.

The drama of a million people going so far from their homes adjusted the country. It offered the Deep southern a character it maintain to this day; and also it readjusted the servants themselves, traumatizing uncountable families.

But till recently, the slave Trail was hidden in memory. The story the the masses who trekked a thousands miles, indigenous the tobacco southern to the cotton South, occasionally vanished in an financial tale, one around the invention of the cotton gin and also the climb of “King Cotton.” It sometimes sank right into a politics story, other to carry out with the Louisiana Purchase and the “first Southwest”—the young claims of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Historians know around the servant Trail. During the critical ten years, a variety of them—Edward Baptist, Steven Deyle, Robert Gudmestad, Walter Johnson, Joshua Rothman, Calvin Schermerhorn, Michael Tadman and also others—have been composing the million-person-migration back into view.

Some museum curators know around it, too. Last fall and also this previous spring, the Library of Virginia, in Richmond, and the Historic new Orleans Collection, in Louisiana, working separately, placed together huge exhibitions around the residential slave trade. Both institutions broke attendance records.

Richmond to be a hub because that exporting servants southward. In 1857 alone, says chronicler Maurie McInnis, sales come to more than $440 million in today’s dollars. Wayne Lawrence

Maurie McInnis, a historian and also vice provost in ~ the college of Virginia, who curated the Richmond exhibit, stand in front of a servant dealer’s red flag the she tracked down in Charleston, southern Carolina, wherein it had lain unseen in a box for much more than 50 years. It sat under a piece of glass and measured about 2 through 4 feet. If friend squinted, you could see pinholes in it. “Red flags fluttered down the roadways in Richmond, on wall surface Street in Shockoe Bottom,” she said. “All the certified dealer pinned tiny scraps of document on your flags to describe the human being for sale.”

Virginia was the source for the greatest deportation. Nearly 450,000 people were uprooted and sent southern from the state between 1810 and 1860. “In 1857 alone, the revenue of civilization in Richmond price to $4 million,” McInnis said. “That would be an ext than $440 million today.”

Outside universities and also museums, the story of the servant Trail resides in shards, broken and also scattered.

The expression “sold under the river,” for instance. During the move to the Deep South, plenty of slaves found themselves top top steamboats winding down the Mississippi to new Orleans. Over there they were sold to brand-new bosses and also dispersed in a 300-mile radius to the sugar and cotton plantations. Many went without your parents, or spouses, or siblings—and some without their children—whom they were made to leave behind. “Sold under the river” labels a raft of loss.

The “chain gang” also has root in the servant Trail. “We were handcuffed in pairs, v iron staples and bolts,” recalled Charles Ball, who marched in number of coffles prior to he escaped from slavery. Round was purchase by a slave trader top top Maryland’s east Shore, and also later composed a memoir. “My purchaser...told me that us must collection out that really day because that the South,” he wrote. “I joined fifty-one other slaves who he had bought in Maryland.” A padlock was added to the handcuffs, and the hasp of each padlock closed on a link in a chain 100 feet long. Sometimes, as in Ball’s case, the chain ran through an steel neck collar. “I might not shake turn off my chains, nor relocate a yard without the consent of my master.”

(My own ancestors hosted slaves in south Carolina for 6 generations. I have actually studied Charles Ball and found no family attach to him. But names and background contain shadows.)

Franklin & Armfield put more people on the sector than anyone—perhaps 25,000—broke increase the most families and made the most money. About fifty percent of those human being boarded pearl in Washington or Norfolk, bound because that Louisiana, wherein Franklin sold them. The other fifty percent walked indigenous the Chesapeake to the Mississippi River, 1,100 miles, with riverboat steerage for quick distances along the way. Franklin & Armfield’s marches started in the so late summer, sometimes the fall, and they took 2 to four months. The Armfield coffle that 1834 is far better documented than many slave marches. Ns started adhering to its footsteps, hoping to find traces the the slave Trail the Tears.


The coffle headed west out of Alexandria. This particular day the road leaving city becomes U.S. Course 50, a big-shouldered highway. Part of Virginia’s ar of that highway is known as the Lee-Jackson Highway, a love note to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, the two Confederate generals. However when the slaves marched, the was recognized as tiny River Turnpike. The coffle moved along at 3 miles one hour. Caravans choose Armfield’s covered around 20 mile a day.

People sang. Occasionally they were compelled to. Slave traders brought a banjo or two and demanded music. A clergyman that saw a march toward Shenandoah remembered the the corridor members, “having left their wives, children, or other near connections and also never most likely to meet them again in this world,” sang to “drown the experiencing of mental they were lugged into.” Witnesses claimed “Old Virginia never ever Tire” was one song all the coffles sang.

After 40 miles, the small River Turnpike met the city of Aldie and became the Aldie and also Ashby’s gap Turnpike, a toll road. The turnpike ran furthermore west—40 mile to Winchester, and also then come the brow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Every couple of miles, Armfield and also his chained-up gang concerned a toll station. The would avoid the team in that tracks, pull out his purse and also pay the man. The tollkeeper would lift the bar, and the coffle would march under it.

About respectable 25, they got to Winchester and turned south, beginning the Shenandoah Valley. Among the world who lived in these parts was man Randolph, a congressman and a cousin of thomas Jefferson. Randolph when wrote a friend to complain that the roadway was “thronged with droves of this wretches & the person carcass-butchers, that drive castle on the hoof to market.” comparing Virginia come a protect against on the West African servant trade, Randolph sighed, “One might nearly fancy oneself ~ above the road to Calabar.”

The corridor headed down the an excellent Wagon Road, a path that came from Pennsylvania, already some centuries old—“made through the Indians,” in the euphemism. Follow me the way, the coffle met various other slave gangs, building crews rebuilding the Wagon Road, widening it to 22 feet and putting down gravel. Castle were transforming out the brand-new Valley Turnpike, a macadam surface with ditches in ~ the sides. The marchers and the roadwork gangs, servants all, traded lengthy looks.

Today the an excellent Wagon Road, or valley Turnpike, is known as U.S. Path 11, a two-lane that runs in between soft and also misty mountains, with pretty byways. Long stretches that U.S. 11 look lot like the sink Turnpike did throughout the 1830s—rolling fields, horses and cattle ~ above hills. North Shenandoah was wheat nation then, with one in five world enslaved and hoeing in the fields. This day a few of the plantations survive. I protect against at one of the oldest, Belle Grove. The sink Turnpike when ran on its edge, and the coffle the 300 witnessed the location from the road.

shown map through Laszlo Kubinyi. Map sources: Digital Scholarship Lab, college of Richmond; Edward Ball; Guilbert Gates; Dacus Thompson; Sonya Maynard

Relatives of chairman James Madison put up the stone mansion at Belle Grove throughout the 1790s, and it resides on as a fine home museum operation by a historian, Kristen Laise. A walk v the house, a look at the kitchen where all the occupational was done, a walk through the servant cemetery, a outline of the people who lived and died here, white and also black—thanks to Laise, Belle Grove is not a house museum the shorts the stories of slaves.

Recently, Laise speak me, she stumbled on evidence that in the 1820s a huge number of people went up because that sale in ~ Belle Grove. She pulls out an October 1824 newspaper ad, placed by Isaac Hite, grasp of Belle Grove (and brother-in-law to president Madison). “I shall proceed to market sixty slaves, of miscellaneous ages, in families,” Hite said. Hite express regret that he had actually to charge interest if buyers insisted on using credit. The nicest families in the Shenandoah tipped human being into the pipeline south.

I traction in at assorted towns and also ask around. In Winchester, the Winchester-

Frederick ar Visitor Center. In Edinburg, a background bookshop. In Staunton, the visitor Center. In Roanoke, in ~ a tourist details outlet referred to as Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

Do you understand anything about the chain gangs the streamed southwest v these parts?

No. Never ever heard that it. You to speak it to be 150 year ago?

Well, more like 175.

Don’t recognize what you’re talk about.

People perform know, however, around Civil war battles. The bloodletting here has actually a type of glamour. A few people launch into stories about the brave Confederates. A few bring up their own ethnic lore.

Well, Germans and Scots-Irish resolved the Shenandoah, that’s who was here.

A mrs at a tourist store clarified. My five my, the Scots-Irish—they were prefer made of brass.


One night in September 1834, a traveler stumbled into the Armfield coffle’s camp. “Numerous fires to be gleaming with the forest: it was the bivouac of the gang,” wrote the traveler, George Featherstonhaugh. “The female servants were warming themselves. The children were sleep in part tents; and also the males, in chains, to be lying on the ground, in groups of about a dozen each.” Meanwhile, “the white men...were standing around with whips in their hands.”

Featherstonhaugh, a geologist top top a surveying tour for the federal government, defined the slave trader as a raw male in pretty clothes. Man Armfield wore a big white hat and striped pants. He had a long dark coat and also wore a mustache-less beard. The surveyor talked to him because that a few hours and also saw him together “sordid, illiterate and also vulgar.” Armfield, it seems, had overpowering bad breath, due to the fact that he love raw onions.

Early the next morning, the gang readied again because that the march. “A singular spectacle,” Featherstonhaugh wrote. That counted nine wagons and carriages and also some 200 males “manacled and also chained to each other,” lining increase in dual file. “I had never viewed so revolting a sight before,” the said. As the gang dropped in, Armfield and also his guys made jokes, “standing near, laughing and also smoking cigars.”

On September 6, the gang was marching 50 mile southwest of Roanoke. They involved the brand-new River, a big flow about 400 feet across, and to a dock well-known as Ingles Ferry. Armfield walk not want to pay for passage, not v his hundreds. So one of his males picked a shallow place and also tested that by sending out over a wagon and also four horses. Armfield climate ordered the men in irons to gain in the water.

This was dangerous. If any type of man lost his footing, everyone might be washed downstream, yanked one after another by the chain. Armfield watched and also smoked. Men and boys sold, on average, for about $700. Multiply the by 200. That involves $140,000, or about $3.5 million today. Servants were regularly insured—plenty of suppliers did that kind of business, with policies guarding versus “damage.” yet collecting on such “damage” would be inconvenient.

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The men made that across. Next came wagons through the young children and those who could no much longer walk. Last come the women and also girls. Armfield crossed them on flatboats.