The Domestic Slave Trade
Exporters and Importers
Modes of Transportation
The Victims of the trade
The Slave traders
The National Debate
The End of the Domestic Slave trade

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The great majority of forced migrants trekked southward chained together in "coffles" . Sella Martin described such a convoy in which he and his mother had made "that dreaded and despairing journey [from North Carolina] to Georgia":

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 coffle:

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.

Slavery in the United States: A Narrative  of the Life and Adventures of Charles Ball, a Black ManSlavery in the United States: A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Charles Ball, a Black Man by Charles Ball

Major traders moved south with "droves" 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.

Interview with Ben SimpsonTexas Narratives, Volume 16, Part 4Interview with Ben Simpson from Texas Narratives, Volume 16, Part 4

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.

Manifests of Slave Shipments Along The Waterways, 1808-1864Journal of Negro History, 27, no. 2 (1942)Manifests of Slave Shipments Along The Waterways, 1808-1864 from Journal of Negro History, 27, no. 2 (1942) by Charles Wesley

The coastal shipping route was of importance in supplying part of New Orleans’s 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 Natchez.

Interview with Daniel GoddardSouth Carolina Narratives, Volume 14, Part 2Interview with Daniel Goddard from South Carolina Narratives, Volume 14, Part 2

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. "

Ship Manifest, New Orleans Brig BourneShip Manifest, New Orleans Brig Bourne

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