Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Charles Royster


The interstate slave trade grew from a haphazard and intermittent enterprise in the early years of the nineteenth century to a central aspect of southern society. With the decline of the international trade and the decline of white migration to the frontier, southerners turned to the trade to supply their labor needs. Farmers in the Chesapeake region increasingly sold their "excess" bondservants to slave traders. These speculators brought a measure of systemization and regularity to the trade. As they did so, however, a significant number of Upper South citizens questioned the trade's efficacy. The wanton exploitation and naked cruelty of speculation caused many to wonder if the trade was worth the price. Evangelical Christians tended to abhor the interstate slave trade since it undermined the Biblical basis of the family and violated the idea of Christian stewardship. Citizens of the Lower South, on the other hand, were consistently worried that they imported the worst type of slaves, therefore increasing the risk of rebellion. The slave trade, in essence, caused southerners to question the justification for the peculiar institution. Speculators modified their practices to make slave trading more palatable to southern citizens. They promoted the idea that they bought slaves in family units, did not traffic in kidnapped slaves, and treated their purchases with a modicum of dignity. Traders separated themselves from the more objectionable portions of the trade by employing agents and actively promoting the idea that there were "good" and "bad" traders. At the same time speculators worked to rehabilitate their image, northern abolitionists became more strident in their attacks on slavery. One of their favorite targets was the slave trade. Southerners could hardly admit to the charges without creating the opportunity for further criticism of slavery. Their doubts about the trade's efficacy disappeared as southerners began to blame abolitionists for slavery's excesses while simultaneously believing in a negative stereotype of the slave trader. In this manner, southerners effectively disregarded the abolitionist attacks while fashioning a justification for slavery that relied on blaming slave trader for the worst abuses of the peculiar institution.