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The Growth of Slavery in North Carolina

The ban on importing slaves to North Carolina was lifted in 1790, and the state’s slave population quickly increased. By 1800, there were around 140,000 blacks living in North Carolina. A small number were free blacks, who mostly farmed or worked in skilled trades. The majority were slaves working in agriculture on small- to medium-sized farms. There were few large plantations in North Carolina. By 1850, only 91 slave owners in North Carolina owned over 100 slaves.

The slaves in North Carolina lived on farms with smaller groups of slaves, so they had a different life than slaves in other states working on large plantations. The hierarchy of domestic workers and field workers was not as rigid as in the plantation system. North Carolina slaves often worked both in the fields and at a variety of other jobs throughout the year. They also had more interaction with slaves on other farms, where they might visit during their limited free time and even find a spouse.

The white population passed slave codes to prevent threats of slave rebellions. David Walker was a free black abolitionist born in Wilmington. In 1829 he moved to Boston, where he helped escaped slaves establish new lives. He wrote and published a pamphlet calling for immediate freedom for all slaves and urging them to rebel as a group. Copies of the pamphlet spread throughout North Carolina.

The state passed increasingly restrictive slave laws. In 1830 the state legislature made it illegal to distribute Walker’s pamphlet. Another North Carolina law made it a crime to teach a slave to read or write. Laws were even extended to restrict the rights of free blacks. An 1835 law prevented free blacks from voting, attending school, or preaching in public.

These restrictive laws were also passed in response to the increase in slave rebellions in nearby states, such as the Nat Turner Rebellion in Virginia. North Carolina whites hoped that severe slave laws would prevent similar rebellions from happening in their state.


Source: The Growth of Slavery in North Carolina
From Slavery in North Carolina, via NCpedia.org

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