Episode 4: Enslaved Migration, Part 1

We've begun our segment on enslaved migration. It's gonna be a rocky road for a little while here at Migration Nation, because this topic is fraught with difficult issues. However, the plus side is that I have lots and lots of data to share, so the blogs should be interesting. Let's dive right in.


Let's start with Hernando de Soto. For those that don't know, he was a Spanish explorer and conquistadore apparently searching for the mythical "Fountain of Youth." More importantly, he's a guy who wandered through the southeastern United States for years with a sizable party, and came away thinking it wasn't worth colonizing seriously. This tells you something about Spanish vs. English vs. French priorities. Spaniards wanted to conquer. French wanted to trade. British wanted to settle. Hernando de Soto found few societies whose conquest could yield great riches. So Spain saw the area as a throw-away. But Britain found fertile areas ripe for settlement.

So here's a map of De Soto's possible route, from Wikipedia:


Next up: some basic western hemisphere slavery statistics. This is from the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database. We mentioned that the Caribbean was the really big destination for the forced migrations of enslaved people. We weren't kidding. Here's some estimates of slave trading from Africa to the Western Hemisphere:

As you can see, the biggest American receiving-region, the Chesapeake, comes in 12th on the list of destinations. In other words, the future United States was really not a heavy-hitter when it came to the transatlantic slave trade. Even if we restrict to just 1650-1775, to exclude periods where British America wasn't settled, the Chesapeake still only reaches 10th place. 

So when Brian and I talk about the Caribbean and Latin American colonies being the really lucrative plantation-slavery economies, we're talking about Brazil, Jamaica, Barbados, Saint-Domingue, Dutch Guiana, Martinique, etc. More than twice as many enslaved people were forced to migrate just to Jamaica than to all of the future United States. Tiny Barbados received almost twice as many forced, enslaved immigrants as the whole U.S. Saint-Domingue was not far behind. Brazil received fully six times as many enslaved people as the United States over the 1650-1775 period. All totaled up, the entire French Caribbean received over twice as many enslaved people as the U.S., despite having a land area about the same size as Virginia alone, with 3/4 of that land in sparsely-populated French Guiana. Martinique, at just 436 square miles, received 183,000 forced, enslaved immigrants. Virginia, at 43,000 squares miles, received no more than 100,000, even when we include domestic inflows.

 As we'll discuss more later on, the map of major slave-receiving areas is basically a map of where sugar was grown. But there will be a lot more detail on sugar and slavery in the next episode.


I'm also from here on out gonna try to link to Podcasts we like. So, here's the site for Revolutions. It's good. The series on the Haitian Revolution is particularly relevant to the current discussion we're having at Migration Nation.


Now we're on to indentured servants. The data is really fuzzy here. I've got pretty good data on enslaved immigration. I've got good total estimates of prisoner movements, which I've just distributed evenly. And I've got reasonable estimates of the total number of indentured immigrants.

But allocating them by year is a bit trickier. To do it, I just come up with a share of non-prisoner, non-enslaved migrants for each year who seem likely to be be indentured. That share is higher during peaceful times and higher before Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. The chart below shows my annual estimates for each kind of immigration from 1630-1825. 

As you can fairly clearly see, indentured migrants were the dominant group until the 1680s. Free migrants briefly took the lead until 1700, when I begin allocating prisoner migrants. Then enslaved migrants take the lead, until a brief free migrant dominance in the 1710s. Free and enslaved migration remain close until 1740, but after the 7 Year's War until the Revolutionary War, enslaved migration completely dominates free migration. 

But then, after the revolution, things change. Free migration heats up, while enslaved inflows are lower, except in the odd year of 1807, which will be discussed more later. Prisoner inflows certainly cease. I have also opted to show indentured inflows ending in 1803. This is not technically correct; some indentured immigration continues until 1917. But legal changes in the UK in 1803 make British indenturehood vastly less prominent, and most immigrants in this period were from the U.K. U.S. courts and laws were also increasingly hostile to the enforcement of indenturehood contracts against white servants, and in 1833, debtors' prisons were closed down. This resulted in easier ways for indentured servants to escape their bonds. The issue is I don't have even ballpark-estimates available on post-Revolutionary indentured migration. It does seem that it became much less frequent, especially after 1803. But I don't have data on how much less frequent. So I feather it out after the Revolution, but understand this is probably inaccurate.

We can also combine all the unfree immigrants together.

As should be clear, the period 1630-1775 was the Age of Unfree Immigration. Of the about 865,000 immigrants who came to the future United States during this period, 610,000 were either enslaved, indentured, or prisoners. The prototypical pre-Revolutionary immigrant, then, is not a free Puritan settling for religious freedom, or a British craftsman looking for new opportunities. No. When you think about pre-Revolutionary immigration, think about bonded laborers, slaves, and prisoners. Most of our nations' founders were the dregs of society, the poor, the downtrodden, the indebted, the criminal, the enslaved, and the kidnapped. The stories we tell of planters and Puritans are stories of the elite minority of immigrants.


So where did the enslaved immigrants go? Well, I'm actually not going to give you data on that today. Because it would be a spoiler! The next episode will finish addressing the distribution of enslaved people before 1775, and that is when I'll publish my estimates of inflows for each region.

I guess that's all for this post. Until next time!