Baltimore's Slave Trade
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 enslaved people, for which there was a burgeoning market in early 19th century Baltimore. Several things contributed to this development. First, local Maryland farmers had shifted from a labor-intensive tobacco crop to the growing of cereal grains that required less work and contributed to a surplus of enslaved 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, fueling a desire for more land and forced labor in the South and West. The third factor was the importation of people for sale was outlawed in 1808, so enslaved workers could only be obtained from within the United States. Maryland farmers then began to "sell South" their surplus enslaved workers.
This domestic 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. Needless to say, the trauma of these forced separations was devastating for the people who suffered through them.
This tour focuses on some of the sites where enslaved people were bought and sold in Baltimore, such as hotels, offices, public markets, and jails. Although most 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.
**Funding for the research and writing of this tour was provided by grants from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and the Baltimore National Heritage Area.