Some numbers

In the midst of all the turmoil, lots of talk about the “Peculiar Institution” which has been frequently discussed.

A number of times in various online conversations (or arguments) the question of just how many people – YT, of course — participated in that same Peculiar Institution.

Probably in an effort to absolve themselves or ancestors of perceived guilt. a lot of people state that a very tiny percentage of landowners or planters actually participated. In any case, even if one had some kind of documentation which would nullify any ascribed guilt, it wouldn’t help. No excuses allowed. YT is being judged in advance and has been found guilty. And there’s no statute of limitations, no pardons or no hope of exoneration.

Anyway, just out of curiosity I looked for some documentation of the number of landowners who did hold slaves. Yes, it was a minority not a majority, but here are statistics from a 1938 book by Almon Parkins titled The South, Its Economic and Geographic Development. In it he presents statistics.

“In 1860 there were in the thirteen Southern states 663,000 farms; only 4,576 had 1,000 acres or more; the total number of slaveholders was about 4,000,000…

The total white population numbered about 8,000,000. The census data show that only one slave owner in the entire South had 1,000 or more slaves; 13 owned from 500 to 1,000; only 298 held from 200 to 500; 1,980 held 100 to 200. On the other hand, 77,000 held one slave only, 110,000 held 2 to 5, 189,000 held 5 to 50. Only about 50 per cent of the owners of farms or plantations held slaves; and considering both rural and urban population, probably not much more than one-third of the population was slaveholding.

Plantations of 50 or more slaves, if evenly distributed over the South, would number about 7 or 8 to the county. But these large plantations were far from being evenly distributed.
The percentage of farmers that were slaveholders varied greatly in the [thirteen southern] states. In South Carolina 81 per cent of the farmers held slaves; in Alabama about 60 per cent; in Tennessee about 45 per cent; in Kentucky about 42 per cent; and in Virginia about 56 per cent. Thus the percentage of slaveholders of total owners was largest in the Lower South, in the Cotton Belt, and in the older states of the Upper South.”

p.206, The South, Its Economic-Geographic Development
Almon Parkins, 1938

[Emphasis above is mine]

Parkins’ statistics give us some kind of idea of the numbers. I hear people citing percentages that seem to come out of thin air, no sources cited, just out-of-the-blue assertions. All those who claim it was a minuscule percentage never offer any support for their statements.

The people who say that only the richest of the rich had slaves are just trying to put a good face on it. But these figures indicate that slave-owning was not as rife or universal as our enemies want us to think.

History is what it is. The fact that some people are at war with reality doesn’t change anything.

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