Slavery in the United States facts

Simon Legree and Uncle Tom: A scene from Uncle Tom's Cabin, the famous 1851 abolitionist novel that galvanized Northern opinion against slavery.

The history of slavery in the United States began soon after Europeans first settled in what became the United States. All slaves were freed by 1865 during the Civil War, most by Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation but finally and completely by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

From about the 1640s until 1865, people of African descent were legally enslaved within the boundaries of the present United States by whites and also by Indians and free blacks. Some Indians were also held as slaves.

About 585,000 slaves were imported into the U.S., or 5% of the 12 million slaves brought across from Africa. The great majority went to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and to Brazil, where life expectancy was short and the numbers had to be continually replenished. Life expectancy was much higher in the U.S. (because of better food, less disease, lighter work loads, and better medical care) so the numbers grew rapidly by excesses of births over deaths, reaching 4 million by the 1860 Census. From 1770 until 1860, the rate of natural growth of North American slaves was much greater than for the population of any nation in Europe, and was nearly twice as rapid as that of England.

Slaves imported to
American colonies
Period Number
of slaves
1620 − 1700 21,000
1701 − 1760 189,000
1761 − 1770 63,000
1771 − 1790 56,000
1791 − 1800 79,000
1801 − 1810 124,000
1811 − 1865 51,000
Total 583,000

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