The great majority of forced migrants trekked southward chained together
. Sella Martin described such a convoy in which he and his mother had
made "that dreaded and despairing journey [from North Carolina] to
A long row of men chained two-and-two together, called a "coffle"
and numbering about thirty persons, was the first to march forth from
the "pen," then came the quiet slaves - that is, those who were tame and degraded - then came the unmarried women, or those without children;
after these came the children who were able to walk; and following them
came mothers with their infants and young children in their arms.
Charles Ball was marched from Maryland to South Carolina in a fifty-person
The women were tied together with a rope, about the size of a bed cord,
which was tied like a halter round the neck of each; but the men . . .
were very differently caparisoned. A strong iron collar was closely fitted
by means of a padlock round each of our necks. A chain of iron about a
hundred feet long was passed through the hasp of each padlock, except
at the two ends, where the hasps of the padlocks passed through a link
of the chain. In addition to this we were handcuffed in pairs.
Major traders moved south with
of up to three hundred people. These terrible journeys usually took seven
to eight weeks and covered up to six hundred miles. En route, the captives
would sleep in tents or other rough accommodations. On reaching their
destinations, the traders would often remove the chains, as they prepared
their "product'" for market, while wielding guns and whips to
keep the people under control.
Though coffles were the primary means of transport, as railroad routes
became more extensive they were also used. In 1856, Lyman Abbot, a Northern
visitor to the South found that "every train south has slaves on
board . . . twenty or more, and [has] a "nigger car," which
is generally also the smokers car, and sometimes the baggage car."
Sometimes buyers, as they made their purchases in ones or twos, sent people
down the line to be collected by their trading partners.
Traders also moved the gangs of people along waterways - the Mississippi
River from St. Louis to Natchez and New Orleans; the Alabama River from
Montgomery to Mobile, and then on by sea to New Orleans.
The coastal shipping route was of importance in supplying part of New
Orleanss slave importations, but the coastal traffic probably made up
only 5 percent of the total interstate trade, and even with New Orleans
about half came by land and river.
Those arriving by sea originated mostly from Chesapeake ports (Washington,
Baltimore and the Virginia cities of Alexandria, Richmond and Petersburg)
and from Charleston, South Carolina. Specially equipped ships made month-long
journeys carrying up to 150 people from these ports to New Orleans and
Joshua Levitt, an anti-slavery clergyman, gave this description in 1834:
"The hold was appropriated to the slaves, and is divided into two compartments.
The after-hold will carry about eighty women, and the other about one
hundred men. On one side [of the hold] were two platforms running the
whole length; one raised a few inches, and the other half way up the
deck. They were about five or six feet deep. On these the slaves lie,
as close as they can be stowed. "