Who Profited?

The business of the domestic slave trade permeated every aspect of the American economy. The profits from the trade in enslaved people flowed to many places. Traders were not the only ones to profit from America's internal slave trade. Slave owners in the Upper South profited because they received cash for the people they sold. Slave owners in the Lower South profited because the people they purchased were forced to labor in the immensely productive cotton and sugar fields. The merchants who supplied clothing and food to the slave traders profited, as did steamboat, railroad, and ship owners who carried enslaved people. Capitalists in the North profited by investing in banks that handled the exchange of money for people or in insurance companies who provided insurance for the owners’ investments in enslaved people. So did foreign investors in southern securities, some of which were issued on mortgaged slaves. Ironically, the hotbed of American abolitionism—New England—was also the home of America's cotton textile industry, which grew rich on the backs of the enslaved people forced to pick cotton. The story of America’s domestic slave trade is not just a story about Richmond or New Orleans, but a story about America.