After its incorporation in the late 18th century, the population of Baltimore grew very quickly along with the expansion of the new country. One of the many “trades” that grew along with the city was the sale of people. There was a strong market in Baltimore in the early 19th century for enslaved workers. Several things contributed to this development. First, local Maryland farmers had shifted from a labor-intensive tobacco crop to the growing of cereal grains, which required less work and contributed to a surplus of slave labor in the area. Secondly, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, which quickly and easily separated cotton fibers from their seeds. The cotton industry then became incredibly profitable and that fueled a desire for more land and forced labor in the South. The third factor was that the importation of people for sale was outlawed in 1808, meaning enslavers could only obtain enslaved workers from other places within the United States. Farmers in Maryland began to sell their surplus enslaved people to enslavers in the South and West.
This internal slave trading, known as the Second Middle Passage, replaced the international slave trade and became a cornerstone of the new nation’s economy. Historians estimate that about one million enslaved people were sold and moved around the country between 1808 and the abolition of slavery in 1865. About one-third of all marriages between enslaved people were broken up by these forced relocations. About one-fifth of enslaved children were separated from their parents. The trauma of these forced separations was devastating for the people who suffered through them.
This tour focuses on where enslaved people were sold in Baltimore. Sites include hotels, offices, public markets, jails, and private homes. Although many of the associated buildings no longer exist, the overall map shows the deeply interwoven relationship between the trade of human beings and our streets of Baltimore.
**The research and writing of this tour was funded by two grants: one from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and one from the Baltimore National Heritage Area.