How Much did Slaves Sell for in the 17th Century
The 17th century marked a pivotal period in history when the institution of slavery began to take root in the American colonies. This blog aims to delve into a specific aspect of this dark chapter: How much did slaves sell for during this time? Understanding the economic dimensions of slavery is crucial for comprehending the harsh realities that unfolded. We’ll explore the economic factors that influenced the pricing of human lives, examining the demand for slaves, the variables affecting their market value, and the broader economic conditions that shaped this distressing trade. By shedding light on the intricacies of slave pricing in the 17th century, we seek to unveil historical truths and emphasize the importance of grappling with the economic complexities that underpinned this reprehensible practice. Join us on this exploration into the past to better understand the economic forces that shaped the lives and values of those who were tragically bought and sold during this dark era.
Introduction of Slavery in the 17th Century
Economic Dimensions of Slavery
This era witnessed the entrenchment of slavery as an economic and legal institution in the American colonies, particularly in the southern regions. To comprehend the economic underpinnings of this grim practice, it is essential to explore the derived demand for slaves—a demand stemming from their role in producing essential outputs.
The economic value of a slave was not arbitrary; rather, it was a complex calculation influenced by various factors. The age, sex, location, health, and productivity of a slave played pivotal roles in determining their market value. Slaves were considered not just as human beings but as assets whose expected output justified the considerable costs of their maintenance, including provisions like food, clothing, and shelter over their lifetimes.
The profitability of slave ownership was a driving force, prompting slave owners to view the purchase of a slave as a long-term investment. This perspective was reflected in the sustained growth in the demand for slaves, with the purchase of a single slave representing a substantial financial commitment, often exceeding $150,000 in today’s prices by the time the South seceded from the Union.
Market Variation in Slave Prices
During the 17th century, the market for slaves exhibited significant variation in prices, influenced by various factors such as age, sex, and region. Understanding these variations provides insight into the economic complexities of the time.
1. Age and Sex Profile
- Young Adult Males (18-30): Commanded the highest prices, representing strength and productivity. Depending on specific attributes, estimated prices could range from $800 to $1,500.
- Females in Childbearing Years: Valued for labor and the potential to bear children. Prices could range from $600 to $1,200.
2. Regional Disparities
- New South vs. Old South: Prices were generally higher in the New South. A healthy young adult male in the New South might fetch around $1,500, compared to $800 in the Old South.
3. Skill Premiums and Discounts
- Artisans (e.g., Blacksmiths, Carpenters): Commanded up to 55% premiums. Prices for skilled slaves might range from $1,200 to $2,000.
- Runaways, Crippled, Vices: Experienced discounts, with prices potentially dropping by 30% to 60%.
4. Economic Conditions
- Post-War of 1812: Prices increased by around 40%, doubling raw cotton prices. Estimated prices for prime slaves might be $1,200 to $2,000.
- Panic of 1837: Slaves experienced a price spike due to discussions about federal budget surplus refunds. Prices might range from $1,000 to $1,800.
- Post-1843: Prices almost tripled due to increased worldwide demand for cotton and improved productivity in the New South. Estimated prices for prime slaves could be $1,800 to $3,000.