America’s forgotten migration – the journeys the a million African-Americans from the tobacco southern to the noodle South

A coffle of slaves being marched indigenous Virginia west into Tennessee, c. 1850. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller individual Art Museum, early american Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia

When Delores McQuinn was cultivation up, her father told she a story around a find for the family’s roots.

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He claimed his own father knew the name of the human being who had enslaved their family in Virginia, knew wherein they lived—in the very same house and also on the very same land—in Hanover County, amongst the rumpled hills north of Richmond.

“My grand went come the persons who had actually owned ours family and asked, ‘Do you have any type of documentation about our background during the slave days? we would prefer to watch it, if possible.’ The guy at the door, who I need to assume was from the slaveholding side, said, ‘Sure, we’ll offer it come you.’

“The man entered his house and came back out v some documents in his hands. Now, whether the documents were trivial or really plantation records, that knows? yet he was standing in the door, in front of my grandfather, and lit a complement to the papers. ‘You desire your history?’ he said. ‘Here it is.’ the town hall the things burn. ‘Take the ashes and also get turn off my land.’

“The intent was to store that history buried,” McQuinn states today. “And ns think something prefer that has actually happened over and again, symbolically.”

McQuinn was elevated in Richmond, the funding of Virginia and the former capital of the Confederacy—a city crowded v monuments to the Old South. She is a politician now, chosen to the city board of directors in the so late 1990s and to the Virginia house of Delegates in 2009. Among her proudest achievements in politics, she says, has been come throw new light ~ above an alternate history.

For example, she persuaded the city to fund a traveler walk about slavery, a kind of mirror image of the liberty Trail in Boston. She has helped advanced money for a heritage website incorporating the excavated continues to be of the notorious slave stop cell known as Lumpkin’s Jail.

“You see, our history is often buried,” she says. “You have to unearth it.”

Virginia Delegate Delores McQuinn has helped progressive funds because that a heritage site that will display the excavated continues to be of Lumpkin’s slave jail. Wayne Lawrence


Not long earlier I was reading some old letter at the library of the college of phibìc Carolina, law a little unearthing of my own. Amongst the thousands of hard-to-read and also yellowing papers, I uncovered one note dated April 16, 1834, indigenous a male named James Franklin in Natchez, Mississippi, come the home office the his company in Virginia. He worked for a cooperation of slave dealers called Franklin & Armfield, operation by his uncle.

“We have about ten thousand dollars to salary yet. Should you acquisition a an excellent lot for walking i will bring them the end by land this summer,” Franklin had written. Ten thousands dollars to be a considerable sum in 1834—the tantamount of virtually $300,000 today. “A great lot for walking” was a corridor of enslaved men, women and children, probably numbering in the hundreds, who might tolerate three months afoot in the summer heat.

Scholars of enslavement are quite acquainted with the certain of Franklin & Armfield, which Isaac Franklin and also John Armfield developed in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1828. Over the next decade, v Armfield based in Alexandria and also Isaac Franklin in brand-new Orleans, the two came to be the undisputed magnates of the domestic slave trade, with an economic affect that is hard to overstate. In 1832, because that example, 5 percent of all the advertising credit accessible through the second Bank of the unified States had actually been extended to their firm.


This letter indigenous 1834 organized riches, and also “I will carry them the end by land” was, because that me, the invaluable line: It referred to a required march overland native the fields of Virginia come the slave auctions in Natchez and brand-new Orleans. The letter to be the very first sign that ns might be able to trace the path of one of the Franklin & Armfield caravans.

With that signal indigenous Natchez, Armfield began vacuuming up human being from the Virginia countryside. The partners employed stringers—headhunters who functioned on commission—collecting enslaved civilization up and also down the eastern Coast, knocking top top doors, asking tobacco and also rice planters even if it is they would certainly sell. Plenty of slaveholders were inclined to carry out so, as their plantations made smaller sized fortunes than numerous princeling young would have liked.

It took 4 months to assemble the big “coffle,” to usage a once-common native that, prefer so much of the vocabulary of slavery, has actually been effaced indigenous the language. The that company agents sent human being down come Franklin & Armfield’s slavepens (another indigenous that has actually disappeared) in Alexandria, just nine miles southern of the U.S. Capitol: seamstresses, nurses, valets, field hands, hostlers, carpenters, cooks, houseboys, coachmen, laundresses, boatmen. There to be so-called an intricate girls, young women who would work greatly as concubines. And, always, children.

Bill Keeling, male, age 11, height 4’5” | Elisabeth, female, age 10, height 4’1” | Monroe, male, period 12, elevation 4’7” | Lovey, female, age 10, elevation 3’10” | Robert, male, period 12, height 4’4” | mar Fitchett, female, age 11, elevation 4’11”

By August, Armfield had an ext than 300 ready for the march. Around the 20th of that month the caravan started to assemble in front of the company’s offices in Alexandria, in ~ 1315 fight it out Street.

In the library in ~ Yale i did a bit an ext unearthing and also found a travelogue by a guy named Ethan Andrews, who happened to pass v Alexandria a year later and also witness the arranging of an Armfield coffle. His publication was not much read—it had actually a due-date notification from 50 year ago—but in it Andrews described the scene as Armfield directed the loading because that an huge journey.

“Four or 5 tents were spread, and also the huge wagons, which to be to accompany the expedition, were stationed” whereby they might be piled high through “provisions and also other necessaries.” brand-new clothes were invited in bundles. “Each black is furnished through two whole suits native the shop,” andrew noted, “which the does not wear upon the road.” Instead, these clothes were saved for the finish of the expedition so every slave could dress well for sale. There to be a pair that carriages because that the whites.

In 1834, Armfield sat on his steed in former of the procession, armed with a gun and a whip. Various other white men, likewise armed, were arrayed behind him. They to be guarding 200 men and boys inside wall up in twos, their wrists handcuffed together, a chain running the size of 100 pairs of hands. Behind the men were the women and girls, an additional hundred. Lock were not handcuffed, although lock may have actually been tied through rope. Some carried tiny children. ~ the women came the large wagons—six or 7 in all. These brought food, plus kids too little to to walk ten hrs a day. Later on the very same wagons hauled those who had collapsed and could no be roused with a whip.

Then the coffle, choose a gigantic serpent, uncoiled onto battle each other Street and marched west, out of town and also into a momentous event, a blanked-out saga, an unremembered epic. I think the it together the servant Trail the Tears.


The slave Trail of Tears is the an excellent missing migration—a thousand-mile-long flow of people, every one of them black, getting to from Virginia to Louisiana. During the 50 years before the polite War, about a million enslaved world moved from the upper South—Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky—to the Deep South—Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama. They were made come go, deported, you could say, having been sold.

This forced resettlement was 20 times larger than Andrew Jackson’s “Indian removal” campaigns of the 1830s, which gave rise to the original Trail of Tears together it drove people of aboriginal Americans the end of Georgia, Mississippi and also Alabama. It was bigger 보다 the immigrant of Jews into the joined States during the 19th century, when some 500,000 come from Russia and Eastern Europe. It was bigger than the wagon-train migration to the West, lover of American lore. This activity lasted longer and grabbed up an ext people than any kind of other migration in north America before 1900.

The drama the a million individuals going so far from your homes changed the country. It offered the Deep southern a character it maintain to this day; and it readjusted the slaves themselves, traumatizing uncountable families.

But until recently, the servant Trail was hidden in memory. The story that the masses who trekked a thousands miles, native the tobacco southern to the cotton South, sometimes vanished in an economic tale, one around the creation of the cotton gin and also the increase of “King Cotton.” It occasionally sank right into a politics story, other to carry out with the Louisiana Purchase and also the “first Southwest”—the young claims of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Historians know around the servant Trail. Throughout the last ten years, a number of them—Edward Baptist, Steven Deyle, Robert Gudmestad, Walter Johnson, Joshua Rothman, Calvin Schermerhorn, Michael Tadman and others—have been writing the million-person-migration ago into view.

Some museum curators know around it, too. Critical fall and also this past spring, the Library that Virginia, in Richmond, and the Historic new Orleans Collection, in Louisiana, working separately, put together big exhibitions around the domestic slave trade. Both institutions damaged attendance records.

Richmond to be a hub because that exporting servants southward. In 1857 alone, says historian Maurie McInnis, sales came to much more than $440 million in today’s dollars. Wayne Lawrence

Maurie McInnis, a historian and also vice provost in ~ the college of Virginia, who curated the Richmond exhibit, stand in front of a slave dealer’s red flag the she tracked under in Charleston, south Carolina, where it had actually lain unseen in a box for much more than 50 years. It satellite under a piece of glass and also measured about 2 through 4 feet. If girlfriend squinted, you might see pinholes in it. “Red flags fluttered down the streets in Richmond, on wall surface Street in Shockoe Bottom,” she said. “All the certified dealer pinned little scraps of paper on your flags to describe the people for sale.”

Virginia was the source for the greatest deportation. Nearly 450,000 people were uprooted and also sent south from the state in between 1810 and also 1860. “In 1857 alone, the revenue of human being in Richmond price to $4 million,” McInnis said. “That would be much more than $440 million today.”

Outside universities and also museums, the story of the servant Trail resides in shards, broken and scattered.

The phrase “sold down the river,” for instance. During the relocate to the Deep South, many slaves found themselves ~ above steamboats winding under the Mississippi to brand-new Orleans. Over there they were offered to new bosses and dispersed in a 300-mile radius come the sugar and cotton plantations. Countless went without their parents, or spouses, or siblings—and part without their children—whom they were made to leaving behind. “Sold under the river” labels a raft the loss.

The “chain gang” also has root in the servant Trail. “We were handcuffed in pairs, v iron staples and also bolts,” recalled Charles Ball, that marched in several coffles before he escaped native slavery. Round was bought by a servant trader on Maryland’s eastern Shore, and also later composed a memoir. “My purchaser...told me that we must collection out that an extremely day for the South,” he wrote. “I joined fifty-one various other slaves who he had bought in Maryland.” A padlock was included to the handcuffs, and also the hasp of every padlock close up door on a attach in a chain 100 feet long. Sometimes, together in Ball’s case, the chain ran with an stole neck collar. “I can not shake off my chains, nor move a yard without the consent of mine master.”

(My own ancestors organized slaves in southern Carolina for six generations. I have studied Charles Ball and also found no family link to him. But names and history contain shadows.)

Franklin & Armfield put an ext people on the market than anyone—perhaps 25,000—broke up the many families and made the many money. About fifty percent of those human being boarded ships in Washington or Norfolk, bound for Louisiana, where Franklin sold them. The other fifty percent walked native the Chesapeake come the Mississippi River, 1,100 miles, through riverboat steerage for quick distances along the way. Franklin & Armfield’s marches started in the so late summer, periodically the fall, and they took two to 4 months. The Armfield coffle of 1834 is better documented than most slave marches. I started adhering to its footsteps, hoping to discover traces that the servant Trail of Tears.


The coffle headed west the end of Alexandria. This particular day the roadway leaving town becomes U.S. Course 50, a big-shouldered highway. Part of Virginia’s ar of the highway is known as the Lee-Jackson Highway, a love keep in mind to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, the two Confederate generals. But when the slaves marched, it was known as little River Turnpike. The coffle relocated along at 3 miles one hour. Caravans choose Armfield’s covered about 20 miles a day.

People sang. Occasionally they were forced to. Slave traders carried a banjo or two and demanded music. A clergyman that saw a march towards Shenandoah remembered that the gang members, “having left their wives, children, or other near connections and also never likely to satisfy them again in this world,” sang to “drown the experiencing of mental they were carried into.” Witnesses said “Old Virginia never ever Tire” was one track all the coffles sang.

After 40 miles, the tiny River Turnpike met the city of Aldie and also became the Aldie and also Ashby’s void Turnpike, a toll road. The turnpike ran farther west—40 miles to Winchester, and also then to the brow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Every few miles, Armfield and also his chained-up gang came to a toll station. He would prevent the team in that tracks, pull the end his purse and also pay the man. The tollkeeper would lift the bar, and also the coffle would certainly march under it.

About august 25, they got to Winchester and also turned south, beginning the Shenandoah Valley. Amongst the civilization who stayed in these components was man Randolph, a congressman and also a cousin of thomas Jefferson. Randolph as soon as wrote a friend to complain that the roadway was “thronged through droves of this wretches & the human being carcass-butchers, who drive lock on the hoof to market.” to compare Virginia to a prevent on the West African servant trade, Randolph sighed, “One might almost fancy oneself on the road to Calabar.”

The gang headed down the good Wagon Road, a route that came from Pennsylvania, already some centuries old—“made through the Indians,” in the euphemism. Along the way, the coffle met other slave gangs, building and construction crews rebuilding the Wagon Road, widening it to 22 feet and putting down gravel. Castle were turning out the brand-new Valley Turnpike, a macadam surface with ditches at the sides. The marchers and also the roadwork gangs, slaves all, traded lengthy looks.

Today the good Wagon Road, or sink Turnpike, is well-known as U.S. Path 11, a two-lane the runs in between soft and misty mountains, v pretty byways. Long stretches the U.S. 11 look lot like the valley Turnpike did throughout the 1830s—rolling fields, horses and also cattle top top hills. Northern Shenandoah to be wheat nation then, v one in five human being enslaved and also hoeing in the fields. Today a couple of of the plantations survive. I stop at among the oldest, Belle Grove. The sink Turnpike when ran on its edge, and the coffle of 300 experienced the location from the road.

depicted map by Laszlo Kubinyi. Map sources: Digital Scholarship Lab, university of Richmond; Edward Ball; Guilbert Gates; Dacus Thompson; Sonya Maynard

Relatives of chairman James Madison put up the rock mansion in ~ Belle Grove during the 1790s, and it lives on as a fine house museum operation by a historian, Kristen Laise. A walk through the house, a look in ~ the kitchen wherein all the work was done, a walk with the slave cemetery, a synopsis of the civilization who lived and died here, white and also black—thanks come Laise, Belle Grove is no a residence museum that shorts the story of slaves.

Recently, Laise speak me, she stumbled on proof that in the 1820s a big number of civilization went up because that sale in ~ Belle Grove. She pulls out an October 1824 newspaper ad, inserted by Isaac Hite, grasp of Belle Grove (and brother-in-law to chairman Madison). “I shall continue to sell sixty slaves, of various ages, in families,” Hite said. Hite expressed regret the he had actually to charge interest if buyers insisted on utilizing credit. The nicest families in the Shenandoah tipped human being into the pipeline south.

I traction in at assorted towns and ask around. In Winchester, the Winchester-

Frederick ar Visitor Center. In Edinburg, a background bookshop. In Staunton, the visitor Center. In Roanoke, at a tourist details outlet referred to as Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

Do you recognize anything about the chain gangs that streamed southwest v these parts?

No. Never ever heard that it. You to speak it to be 150 years ago?

Well, much more like 175.

Don’t understand what you’re talking about.

People carry out know, however, around Civil battle battles. The bloodletting here has actually a kind of glamour. A couple of people launch into stories around the brave Confederates. A couple of bring up their own ethnic lore.

Well, Germans and also Scots-Irish cleared up the Shenandoah, that’s who was here.

A mrs at a tourist store clarified. My five my, the Scots-Irish—they were favor made that brass.


One night in September 1834, a traveler stumbled into the Armfield coffle’s camp. “Numerous fires to be gleaming through the forest: it to be the bivouac that the gang,” composed the traveler, George Featherstonhaugh. “The female slaves were warming themselves. The kids were sleep in part tents; and also the males, in chains, to be lying top top the ground, in teams of about a dozen each.” Meanwhile, “the white men...were standing around with whips in your hands.”

Featherstonhaugh, a geologist top top a surveying tourism for the commonwealth government, described the slave trader together a raw male in pretty clothes. John Armfield wore a big white hat and striped pants. He had a lengthy dark coat and wore a mustache-less beard. The surveyor talked to him for a couple of hours and saw him together “sordid, illiterate and vulgar.” Armfield, the seems, had actually overpowering negative breath, since he loved raw onions.

Early the next morning, the corridor readied again for the march. “A singular spectacle,” Featherstonhaugh wrote. The counted ripe wagons and carriages and also some 200 guys “manacled and chained to each other,” lining increase in twin file. “I had actually never watched so revolting a vision before,” that said. Together the gang fell in, Armfield and his men made jokes, “standing near, laughing and smoking cigars.”

On September 6, the gang was marching 50 miles southwest that Roanoke. They involved the new River, a large flow about 400 feet across, and also to a dock recognized as Ingles Ferry. Armfield did not want to pay for passage, not v his hundreds. So one of his guys picked a shallow place and also tested the by sending over a wagon and also four horses. Armfield then ordered the guys in irons to acquire in the water.

This to be dangerous. If any man lost his footing, everyone can be wash downstream, yanked one after an additional by the chain. Armfield watched and also smoked. Men and boys sold, ~ above average, for about $700. Multiply the by 200. That comes to $140,000, or about $3.5 million today. Slaves were regularly insured—plenty of carriers did that sort of business, with policies guarding against “damage.” but collecting on together “damage” would be inconvenient.

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The men made the across. Following came wagons through the young children and also those who can no much longer walk. Last came the women and girls. Armfield crossed them top top flatboats.