Free Blacks c. 1860


Map Code: Ax01506

By 1860, the American black population was nearing 4 million of which c. 12 per cent were free. The proportion varied widely in those states where slavery was permitted. Delaware, largely through the activities of Quaker and Moravian preachers, had freed 92 per cent of its black population, while the Deep South generally had the lowest free populations. Louisiana was a significant exception, with many free mixed-race children of wealthy planters, and a distinctive Creole culture. Freedom was commonly achieved by manumission (usually in wills), sometimes by purchase. As the Abolitionist movement grew, the ‘Underground Railroad’ facilitated escape. A number of successful lawsuits granted individual emancipation, and the legal precept Partum sequitur ventrem decreed that children of coloured free women would also automatically be free. The total number of freed blacks was actually slightly higher in South (although a much lower percentage of the black population): some prosperous freedmen actually owned slaves.

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