Wednesday, December 9, 2009


The first slaves entered what was to become Arkansas in about 1720, when settlers moved into the John Law colony on land given to them on the lower Arkansas River by the king of  France.  The Law colony failed within two years, but a small number of inhabitants, including African Americans who probably were slaves.... remained in the area for the rest of the French and Spanish territorial periods.

In the first official US census of Arkansas as the "District of Lousiana".. in 1810,the census takers found 136 slaves in the total population of 874 persons.  The development of this area and its creation as Arkansas Terriroty in 1819 --- spurred a rapid growth in the slave population. 

By the end of 1820, it had almost doubled to 1617.  These trends continued thru the territorial period and up to the Civi War.  By 1830 -- the slave populationreached 4576; then 19935 in 1840;  7100 in 1850; and 111,115 in 1860. 

As the slave population grew, it also constituted a larger and larger portion of the total population, growing from eleven percent in 1820 to twenty -five percent by 1860.

Slaves lived in every county and in both rural and urban settings in antebellum AR.   historian Orville Taylor estimated that roughly one in four white Arkansans either owned slaves or lived in families that did.  many more probably benefited from slavery, however, as leasing slaves was not an uncommon practice.  Although slavery clearly touched the lives of many white Arkansans, most slave owners possessed only a few slaves.   The largest number of slaves were the property of the owners of large plantations in the state's lowlands, -- particularly in the rich valley and delta lands along the state's waterways.   A relatively large slave holding would have been ten slaves, a workforce valued at about $9000 on the average in 1859 -- and amount equal to approximately to $200,000 in 2002. 

By 1860, seventy-three percent of slaves were on plantations and farms of that size.  They were owned, however by only about 26% of the state's slave owners.  Elisha Worthington of Chicot County was the state's largest slave owner, holding more than 500 slaves on the eve of the Civil War.

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