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David Duke has a video on YouTube about Jewish participation in various slave trades in Western history. At the 7:40 mark he states:

In the pre-Civil War United States 2% of white gentile households owned slaves. 40% of Jewish households owned slaves. Jews were 2000% more likely to own slaves than white gentiles.

It's unclear if he means that those percentages were the average during the period of the nation's founding up until the Civil War, or just during one period of the pre-Civil War era. He claims to be using Jewish sources for these stats.

Are these claims valid?

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    Is this the same David Duke who is well known white supremacist & former Grand Wizard of the KKK? I'm not sure that I'd trust his assertions about Jewish history. – Mark C. Wallace Dec 26 '14 at 11:57
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    I can't discuss the figures Duke gives in the video, but I would need a LOT of convincing to take his word for it! He is a well-known anti-Semitist and white supremacist. – TheHonRose Dec 26 '14 at 14:23
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    I don't know about the south, but when doing genealogy on East Bethlehem Township in Pennsylvania I entered in the entire 1860 census for the town in a spreadsheet and I noticed while I was doing this that there was only one slave in the entire town and only one Jewish householder in the entire township, which had a couple thousand people in it. The slave was a member of that household. A coincidence maybe, I don't know. – Tyler Durden Dec 26 '14 at 14:58
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    +1.poster heard an inflammatory statement, kept a cool head and came to the right place to see it thoroughly debunked. People should take this approach to racist liars like David Duke, which is much more productive than ad hominem, however justified such statements may be, as in this case they manifestly are. – Ne Mo Dec 26 '14 at 16:44
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    @TylerDurden: I found two households in East Bethlehem that had both white and black members: the Bennet Norton household and the John H. Norton household. Are either of these the slaveholding families you found? If not, would you mind sharing the family name? – two sheds Dec 26 '14 at 17:40
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There is some truth to the claims, but the numbers are extremely prima facie distorted. Especially since they are (apparently) given in terms of "households", with no immediately obvious method by which such figures were fitted to a preconception "estimated" calculated[Note 1]. Even if his numbers are accurate however, they do not necessarily reflect the true picture[Note 2] and should only be taken with a very large grain of salt.

Full disclosure: I have not opened that youtube link, and have no intention of doing so. Please fill me in if I'm misrepresenting his position.


In terms of actual persons, on the eve of the Civil War, the census showed 393,967 slave owners in the United States.

It would also be interesting to know just what portion fo the Southern population actually composed the so-called "slavocracy." Unfortunately, the official United States census did not include "slaveholder" as a data category until 1860 ...

The census showed 12,240,293 of the country's total 1860 population of 31,183,582 lived in slaveholding states. The total number of actual slaveholders was only 393,967. This represents just 3.2 percent of the total Southern population and just 1.26 percent of the nation's population.

- Julius, Kevin C. The Abolitionist Decade, 1829-1838: A Year-by-year History of Early Events in the Antislavery Movement. McFarland, 2004.

In contrast, approximately 25% of all Jewish southerners owned slaves.

A few Jews even became prominent slaveowning planters in the Old South ... as successful as these Jewish Southerners were by Southern standards, they represent a very tiny percentage of the 20,000 Jews residing in the antebellum South who could, or would, ever aspire to own a slave. About 5,000 Jews owned one or more slaves - about 1.25 percent of all the slaveowners in the antebellum South.

- Rodriguez, Junius. The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery, Volume 1, ABC-CLIO, 1997

The last figure is in broad agreement with the previous source - 1.25% of 393,967 total slave owners would equate to 4925 Jewish slave owners.

So there is some essence of truth to (what I presume to be) the main point here, which is that Jewish southerners were more likely to own slaves (25% vs 3.2% 4.9% [See below] of census persons). The veracity of his actual figures (e.g. "40% of household") is a completely different matter altogether.


Note 1:

As far as I can tell, he multiplied the number of slave owners by 1.6 to get the number of slave owning households. Thus 25% of Southern Jews became "40%" of Jewish households owning slaves. Meanwhile, 1.26% of the total American population becomes 2% of all white households.

Of course, the error is that 25% was the number of Jewish southerners, while 1.26% was the entire population of the United States. In fact, the number of whites living in the slave states were only 8,039,000. Those 393,967 slave holders would actually represent 4.9% of that population (thanks to @UriZarfaty for pointing this out). Applying the formula, that becomes 7.84% - nearly four times as many as claimed.

Therefore, without even going into the soundness (or lack thereof) of his calculations, it is obvious these figures are bogus in error.


Note 2:

Regardless of factual accuracy, such numbers are almost completely meaningless, because they do not account for any other difference in demographics besides religion. For example, poorer people were less likely to own slaves than wealthier families. How did the population of southern Jews compare to whites in this regard?

It could well be the case that if we normalise for all other factors, we will find no statistically significant difference between Jews and the overall population in terms of slave ownership. Without accounting for all factors, this becomes a case of (as @TomAu pointed out) comparing apples and oranges.

For those Jews who did own slaves, the records demonstrate that they were not significantly different from other masters in their treatments of their bondsmen.

- Rodriguez, Junius. The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery, Volume 1, ABC-CLIO, 1997

In all honesty I'm inclined to think his numbers were manipulated chosen specifically to inflate Jewish participation in slavery.

  • Great answer. Regarding Note 1: conversely, the Jewish slave ownership rate for the entire US was ~3.3% out of 150,000 people. Of course, even in the South levels slave ownership varied from area to area, which may have skewed the rates for the small Jewish population. For example, forward.com/articles/205455/slaves-of-charleston/?p=all notes that in 1830 the proportion of Jewish residents of Charleston who owned slaves was similar to that of the general white population (83% versus 87%). – Uri Zarfaty Dec 26 '14 at 13:32
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    Also, a question: does the figure of 12,240,293 for the population of the South include just Whites? – Uri Zarfaty Dec 26 '14 at 13:34
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    @UriZarfaty Good catch! That's the entire population of the South including both free and enslaved blacks. The number of whites was only 8,039,000, which would mean 4.9% of the white population were slave owners. – Semaphore Dec 26 '14 at 14:07
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    "I don't think those numbers could be compared." Which is what "apples to oranges" means. (I sometimes confuse people with the use of American idiom.) – Tom Au Dec 26 '14 at 14:29
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    Why haven't you watched the video? Google is owned by Jews, so you'd hardly be helping Duke out financially by watching the video. References:United States Jewry 1776-1985, pg 586 by Jacob Marcus "All through the 18th century, into the early 19th century, jews in the north were to own black servants." "in 1820, over 75% of all jewish families in charleston, richmond, and savannah owned slaves," "Almost 40% of all jewish householders in the united states owned 1 slave or more." – user8547 Dec 28 '14 at 8:28
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Short Answer: Jewish southerners did not differ from other white southerners in their rates of slave ownership.


Long Answer: Because the U.S. Census does not record religious affiliation, all figures regarding Southern Jewish ownership of slaves are necessarily imprecise estimates.

As best I can tell, Duke gets his "40%" figure from a study by Malcolm Stern summarized here by Bertram Korn:

My colleague, Dr. Malcolm Stern, has investigated the 1790 manuscript census returns in his genealogical researches, and has generously provided me with the relevant data. Unfortunately, the returns for Georgia and Virginia were destroyed, but the South Carolina data provide valuable insight. Seventy-three heads of households have been identified as Jewish; of these, at least thirty-four owned one or more slaves, to a total of 151 slaves. The only large holdings of slaves were possessed by Jacob Jacobs of Charleston (11), and Abraham Cohen (21), Solomon Cohen (9), and Esther Myers (11), all of the Georgetown District.

34/73 = 46.6%, which compares to an ownership rate of 34.2% in all South Carolina households in 1790. That makes South Carolinian Jews 36% more likely to have owned slaves than the average South Carolinian, not 2000%. Those 34 Jewish slave-owning households were out of 8,859 total slave-owning households in 1790's South Carolina: Jews were 0.4% of slave owners in South Carolina in 1790.

Still, this figure of "40%" is based on too small a sample to allow for extrapolation of Jewish slaveholding patterns to other states. It also may be high, because Stern's study shows that rates of Jewish slave ownership are correlated with base rates of slave ownership in their home state--South Carolina, of course, had a higher rate of slave ownership than most other Southern states.

The better estimate for rates of slave ownership would be the one Semaphore found in Junius Rodriguez's Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery. That entry estimates that 25% of Jewish Southerners owned slaves. That estimate seems to come from a study of wills, summarized here:

Another statistical indication of Jewish ownership of slaves, probably more accurate in terms of proportions than the census returns, are references to slaves in Jewish wills. Over the years, Professor Jacob R. Marcus has assembled at the American Jewish Archives, one hundred and twenty-nine wills of identifiable Southern Jews who died during the period of our interest. Of these, thirty-three refer to the ownership and disposition of slaves. This would mean, if it is a reliable index, that perhaps one-fourth of Southern Jewish adults were slave-owners. It is instructive that this matches the Federal figures for the 1860 census, namely, that three-fourths of the white population of the South were not slave-owners.

Based on a sample size of 129, it is again important to realize that 25% is a very imprecise estimate and is potentially biased upward: because you don't need to make a will if you don't have property to pass onto your heirs, this method may miss poorer, non-slave-owning Jews. Still, the main finding--that Jews and Christians did not differ much on this dimension--seems sound.

Due to a lack of data on religion, it's hard to make an exact estimate of the percentage of Southern Jews who owned slaves, but the best estimates show that Jewish Southerners were fairly similar to their Christian neighbors in this regard. Due to the small size of the Jewish population in the South, the best takeaway is still Korn's takeaway:

Slavery, therefore, played a more significant role in the development of Jewish life in the Old South, than Jews themselves played in the establishment and maintenance of the institution. The history of slavery would not have differed one whit from historic reality if no single Jew had been resident in the South.


If you want to check the math about the percentage of Southern families owning slaves, you can refer to these figures. Here's my tabulation: enter image description here

You can see that here that "total number of slaveholders" is basically equivalent to "total number of slaveholding households," likely because ownership is usually concentrated in the head of household. So "households" makes sense as the denominator to use here.

393,863/1,515,605 = 26% of Southern households owned slaves--essentially identical to the estimated rate for Jewish Southerners.

  • According to Duke Jacob Marcus writes in his book, United States Jewry 1776-1985 (pg 586): "All through the 18th century, into the early 19th century, Jews in the north were to own black servants." "in 1820, over 75% of all Jewish families in Charleston, Richmond, and Savannah owned slaves," "Almost 40% of all Jewish householders in the United States owned 1 slave or more." Marcus likely found a way to distinguish Jewish slaveowners from gentile slaveowners. – user8547 Dec 28 '14 at 8:32
  • @user8547: It's possible to use detailed knowledge of a state or city to count known Jewish families, as seems to have happened here. The point of my answer is that any statement like "X% of Jews in the US" becomes "34 out of 73 Jewish families in South Carolina in 1790" or "33 out of 129 wills," and I think it's important to keep these limitations of data in perspective. If the Census recorded religion, we wouldn't need to estimate, we'd have an exact count. – two sheds Dec 28 '14 at 13:34
  • @user8547: Also note that Jacob Marcus (Duke's source) is the one who made the estimate of 25% from the wills data. Marcus and Korn think the 25% estimate is more precise and more representative than the earlier estimate of 40%, which (as best I can tell) he got from Stern's study of South Carolina's 1790 Census. – two sheds Dec 28 '14 at 13:37
  • Good answer, +1. Could you precise which period exactly is the period of our interest in Junius Rodriguez's Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery ? – Evargalo Feb 26 at 8:33
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A few Jews even became prominent slaveowning planters in the Old South ... as successful as these Jewish Southerners were by Southern standards, they represent a very tiny percentage of the 20,000 Jews residing in the antebellum South who could, or would, ever aspire to own a slave. About 5,000 Jews owned one or more slaves - about 1.25 percent of all the slaveowners in the antebellum South.

  • Rodriguez, Junius. The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery, Volume 1, ABC-CLIO, 1997

I could not believe what outright blatant propaganda this is. 5,000 is 25% of 20,000 - "they represent a very tiny percentage of the jews residing in the south" thats a blatant lie - 25% of those 20,000 owned slaves. Then he tries to "spin" it by throwing in that jews were 1.25% of the slaveowners in the south.That doesn't change the fact that 25% of jews owned slaves in the south.

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    My answer shows that similar percentages of Christian and Jewish households in the South owned slaves. That's the relevant comparison, and it shows that Duke's point is wrong. – two sheds May 11 '15 at 11:44
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    Yes, and also 100% of the jewish assassins are assassins, and 100% of the black rapists are rapists, etc. No one has denied here your figure of 25% of jews in the south owning slaves, and you're right that the sentence of Rodriguez you quote is plainly false.But the point is that 25% is not a meaningful figure because jews in the south were very few, almost inexistent: 20000, that is less than 0.2% of the jews worldwide. Also, at that time Jews constituted about 2% of the population of Europe/America, but only about 0.36% (20000 out of 5.5 millions) of the total white population of the south. – Joël May 11 '15 at 17:03
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    Rodriguez's sentence has been taken out of context. When he says "THEY represent a very tiny percentage of the 20,000 Jews residing in the antebellum South," he is referring to those "few Jews [who] became prominent slaveowning planters." That is, 25% of Jewish households may have owned slaves, but very few Jewish households owned enough slaves to run a plantation. This is because Jews generally lived in urban areas, and so most Jewish slaveowners had only one or two domestic slaves. [Source: I found all this in Korn's work while researching my answer above] – two sheds Jun 9 '15 at 11:32
  • I think you may be misunderstanding what he meant. – Robert Affinity Jul 9 '17 at 0:30

protected by Community Jun 25 '15 at 18:01

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