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Missouri History, Geographical Distribution of Slavery, by Courtney, Jimmy, Billy, & Cassandra... 

Geographical Distribution of Slavery

Slavery in Missouri generally followed the river systems from the southeast corner up to the entire line of the Mississippi and swinging west along the Missouri into the states northwest corner. By far the strongest concentration of slaves was to be found in that group of central Missouri counties from Calloway west to Clay. The slave population of the state rose steadily in the 40 years before the civil war from 10,222 in 1820 to 114,931 by 1860. It's growth did not keep pace with white population increase. While slaves made up 15% of the population in 1820 by 1860 the ratio had dropped to 9.7%. This made Missouri the 2nd smallest slave holding state next to Delaware. Over the same time span the biggest negotiable change was in St. Louis where the black population increase considerably but was dwarfed by the tidal flood of whites. Slavery had its strongest gains in the counties from Calloway west to the Kansas border which were undergoing a similar surge of white population while retaining a basically agricultural economy.
There are at least a few slaves in every county. By 1860 Lafayette had the greatest number with 6,374. White Howard had the highest concentration with 36.4% of its population slave. Other large slave holding counties were Boon, Calloway, New Madrid, Saline, and St. Louis. Slaves were sparest in the Ozark region. For example Carter, Oregon, Stone, Ozark, and Shannon counties each had less than 25 slaves. This area was settled later by immigrants from the Appalachian hill county of North Carolina. Neither of the land they left or the new home lent themselves to the production of crops that required slave labor.

From the Howard County Advertiser 9 Jan 1903


The death at Independence last week of a pioneer resident and announcement that before the war he was one of the largest slave owners in Jackson county called to mind the fact that this county was once a place where slavery was common. In fact there was time when not to owns slaves was in this county an evidence of poverty, or what was worse in the eyes of many people, an inclination toward abolition ideas.

Jackson County was credited by the census of 1860 with having 3,944 slaves, the property of 898 different owners. The fact that the number of slaves averaged considerably less than five to each owner was due largely to the existence of three very fair sized towns in which each family, of any standing, social or financial, had one or two slaves for household work. Lafayette County, our nearest neighbor, on the east, had 909 slave owners, eleven more than Jackson County, but the census credits Lafayette county with 6,374 slaves, or 2,330 more than Jackson county had. In Lafayette county the average was a little more than seven slaves to each owner and the number of owners who had only one or two slaves was much smaller than in Jackson county.

In those days hemp was the principal product in Lafayette County. Hemp rope was used to tie cotton bales and it was always in demand. The late General Jo Shelby owned a rope walk in Lafayette County in those days. R. H. Keith, who lived in Lafayette county and came of a family of extensive slave owners, says that in those days little besides hemp was shipped out. The farmers raised everything their families and slaves needed to eat and wear and the hemp rope brought ready money for taxes, luxuries and to buy more slaves with.

In Jackson County the farming was votes now as there were slaves then, but in Lafayette the Negro population is not as large today as it was in slave times. Howard was another of the large slave owning counties, and Boone ranked high. Boone County is the home of the Missouri University, and it is an odd fact that the only person now connected with the State University who considered himself a part of the institution forty-five years ago is the old negro janitor who went to Columbia as a slave to the president of the university, and when given his freedom became at once an employee of the institution.

Sometimes men in politics refer to the river counties of Missouri as strongholds of Democracy. The river counties were the home of slavery in the early days. Half of the slaves in the state were owned in counties that border on the Missouri River. The element that predominated in politics in those days is today in many counties the ruling influences. The counties along the Mississippi above St. Louis had more slaves than those along the river south of St. Louis. They were settled earlier and were more prosperous. The counties along the river were settled first because they had the means of transportation. They also had the level, fertile river lands where farming was profitable and slaves would be worked to the best advantage. These counties are, with few exceptions, strongly democratic to this day.

Away down in the Barren Ozark Country, 150 miles in those days from the nearest means of transportation, the settlers took their slaves with them. The counties of Missouri in 1860 were the same as now, except St. Louis. Yet only one county in all the state was without slaves. That was Douglas county, on the southwest slope of the Ozarks, where to this day the screech of a locomotive whistle has never echoed from the rocky hillsides and where men and women may be found 40 years of age who never saw a railroad and do not believe that the same element which makes lightening can possibly be made to draw carriages full of people on the streets of the big cities.

As reference has been made to the democratic proclivities of the old slave-holding counties it is but fair to add that in proportion to the total vote cast Douglas County has the second largest republican majority of any county in Missouri. The total number of slaves held by Missourians in 1860 was 114,931. They represented an investment of a good many millions of dollars and when they were freed many men who had been rich before became poor.

The counties that held slaves in Missouri in 1860, with the number of slaves and slave owners in each were as follows, the figures being taken from the United States census of that year.

Adair                            33                                            86
Andrews                      240                                          880
Atchison                       29                                            59
Audrain                        327                                          1,166
Barry                           54                                             247
Barton                        11                                             21
Bates                          112                                          442
Benton                        123                                          599
Bollinger                     55                                             245
Boone                        885                                           5,034
Buchanan                   468                                           2,011
Butler                        15                                              52
Caldwell                    72                                              222
Callaway                    855                                           4,523
Camden                     66                                             266
Cape Girardeau         302                                           1,533
Carroll                      262                                            1,068
Cass                         307                                            1,010
Carter                       8                                                20
Cedar                      72                                              111
Chariton                   410                                            2,839
Christian                  66                                               229
Clark                       122                                             455
Clay                         651                                            3,455
Clinton                     283                                           1144
Cole                        169                                            987
Cooper                   732                                            3,800
Crawford                52                                             182
Dade                      107                                            346
Dallas                     40                                              114
Davies                   116                                             358
DeKalb                  52                                              137
Dent                      45                                               156
Dunklin                 44                                                171
Franklin                293                                              1,601
Gasconade           28                                                76
Gentry                  44                                               118
Greene                 338                                              1,668
Grundy                 97                                                285
Harrison               13                                                25
Henry                   298                                             1,245
Hickory                 69                                               195
Holt                      88                                                309
Howard                801                                              5,886
Howell                  67                                               136
Iron                      67                                                313
Jackson                898                                              3,944
Jasper                  107                                               335
Jefferson              137                                               564
Johnson               465                                               1,896
Knox                   94                                                1,895
Laclede               67                                                 305
Lafayette             909                                              6,374
Lawrence            76                                                  284
Lewis                  350                                              1,279
Lincoln                573                                              2,840
Linn                     143                                              577
Livingston             139                                             605
Macon                 200                                             660
Madison               197                                             467
Maries                  26                                               64
Marion                 817                                            3,017
McDonald            25                                               72
Mercer                 12                                               24
Miller                    71                                              238
Mississippi            160                                           1,010
Moniteau               137                                          745
Monroe                  733                                          3,022
Montgomery           373                                          1,647
Morgan                  138                                           649
New Madrid           238                                          1,777
Newton                  141                                           426
Nodaway                35                                            127
Oregon                   13                                             26
Osage                     71                                           256
Ozark                     11                                             43
Pemiscot                 74                                            268
Perry                      187                                          739
Pettis                      393                                          1,882
Phelps                     24                                           84
Pike                       871                                           4,055
Platte                     674                                         3,313
Polk                       145                                           512
Pulaski                   20                                             56
Putnam                   12                                             31
Ralls                       378                                         1,791
Randolph                504                                       2,619
Ray                         475                                      2,047
Reynolds                 14                                            38
Ripley                      30                                            78
St. Charles                379                                     2,181
St. Clair                    133                                       574
St. Francis                 195                                        877
Ste. Genevieve            119                                     618
St. Louis                    1,156                                   3,346
Saline                        693                                      4,876
Schuyler                    16                                          39
Scotland                    51                                        131
Scott                          91                                         503
Shannon                    3                                            13
Shelby                      234                                          724
Stoddard                   83                                         215
Stone                        8                                              16
Sullivan                     28                                          102
Taney                        24                                          82
Texas                        21                                          57
Vernon                     54                                          136
Warren                     229                                        1,034
Washington              188                                        1,028
Wayne                      71                                          261
Webster                     73                                         220
Wright                        29                                         66
Total                          24,320                                  114,931



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