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 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.

Site of Woolfolk Slave Pen

Austin Woolfolk was one of the first major slave traders in Baltimore, beginning as a 19-year-old in 1816. He was instrumental in turning the trade into a business. Like most traders at that time, he started with informal transactions in taverns and…

Site of Whitman's Eagle Hotel

One of the business addresses for slave trader James Purvis was Whitman's Eagle Hotel on West Pratt Street, between Charles and Light Streets. His two other locations where he acquired and/or sold people were 2 S. Calvert Street and on Harford…

Site of Slatter Slave Jail

A slave jail, located at 224 W. Pratt Street, was completed in 1838 by Hope Hall Slatter at the rear of his mansion. In addition to housing people to be sold from its auction block, the jail was a kind of rooming house with bars on the windows. Slave…

Site of the Purvis Slave Pen

Slave trader James Purvis started operating a slave pen here in 1832, a year after he began operations in Baltimore at Sinner's Hotel. His other business locations were Calvert Street near Baltimore Street and Whitman's Eagle Hotel on W.…

Lexington Market

The "gastronomic capital of the world" declared Ralph Waldo Emerson on a visit to Lexington Market. Originally known as the Western Precincts Market, the first market shed on this site was built around 1805 on land first offered for a…

Site of Donovan Camden & Light St. Slave Jail

Joseph S. Donovan started operating his slave pen here at 13 Camden Street in 1846. This location was at the end of a rail line and near the harbor, information that he included in his advertisements as enticements to prospective sellers. Previously,…

Site of the General Wayne Inn

This was one of many inns where people were purchased or sold. For instance, the following ad was posted August 4, 1817. "10 or 15 Negroes Wanted. From 10 to 25 years of age, for which, if speedy application is made, the most liberal prices will…

Site of Denning Frederick St. Slave Pen

John Denning moved his operation in 1849 to a pen at this location, 18 S. Frederick Street, which he noted was the house "with trees in front." He always made a point in his ads that he was ready to pay "cash for Negroes," often…

Site of General Intelligence Office

Intelligence offices or agencies were similar to employment agencies, acting as brokers between employees and employers collecting a fee from each. They also acted as brokers for enslavers who didn't want to handle the transactions of selling…

Site of Yates & Harrison Auction House on O'Donnell's Wharf

Baltimore was one of the nation’s largest seaports by the early 19th century. In addition to receiving raw goods from the recently opened Northwest Territory (area northwest of the Ohio River) and shipping them around the world, it was also a major…

Site of Donovan Camden St. Slave Jail

Joseph S. Donovan opened a slave jail here in 1858. It was located at the SW corner of Eutaw and Camden Streets, behind today's Babe Ruth Statue that now stands next to Camden Station. The convenient location next to a train station was an asset…

Warden’s House, Baltimore City Jail

The Warden's House on Monument Street is a remarkable work of architecture and a unique reminder of the history of justice and injustice in Baltimore. The Warden's House was built as part of a larger city jail designed by local architects…

Site of Sinners's Hotel

Elijah Sinners's Tammany Hall Hotel was one of the many taverns and hotels where transactions for the sale of people took place. Austin Woolfolk used this location to build up his business until he made enough money to open a slave jail at Pratt…

Site of Indian Queen Hotel

The proprietor of the Indian Queen Hotel, John Gadsby, was at one time the largest holder of enslaved workers in Baltimore City. In 1818, he owned 36 people who worked as waiters.

Site of Denning Exeter St. Slave Pen

This was one of two locations where John N. Denning was operating. He was here at 104 N. Exeter Street in the early 1840s. (Street numbers were changed in 1887, making this 264 N. Exeter today.) His other location was on S. Frederick Street, near…

Centre Market

Many people were sold in the area around Centre market (aka Marsh Market). One section at the north end of the market area was where livestock and people were sold (next to today's Port Discovery). Several slave traders also operated in the area…

Site of Campbell Slave Pen

Bernard Moore Campbell and his brother Lewis operated a slave pen at this location, 26 Conway Street, from 1844 to 1848, when they purchased the more infamous Slatter jail at Howard and Pratt Streets.

Site of Donovan Light St Slave Jail

According to an article titled "Baltimore's Old Slave Markets," in the Baltimore Sun, Sep 13, 1936, Joseph S. Dovovan operated a slave market here around 1840, east side of Light Street, four doors south of Montgomery. However, the…

Site of Barnum's Hotel

James Bates was one of the traders of people who operated out of Barnum’s City Hotel located on Fayette Street between Calvert & St. Paul Streets. It was common to see advertisements for the sale of people in which interested buyers could meet…

Broadway Market

Broadway Market, the first city market in Baltimore, was sometimes used to auction people. For example, Nicholas Strike was an auctioneer who held auctions here regularly. Like Centre Market, its proximity to the docks made this a convenient location…