I was told that slave owners were supposed to sell their slaves to a more northern plantation. There was no law to do this, and I am not sure when this custom began (or even if it was really a custom). I thought that this was discussed in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

Was it frowned upon to sell slaves to the south? Was it encouraged to sell slaves to the north so they get closer to freedom? If so, when did this custom start?

  • 5
    I was told - by whom / where?
    – Semaphore
    Aug 3 '19 at 3:03
  • As this answer explains, going South (or more precisely, "down the [Mississippi] river") was considered bad for the slave, from which one could guess that going in the opposite direction was "good". Maybe you got the idea from here, but certainly there appears not to be any social rule for or against it.
    – SJuan76
    Aug 3 '19 at 10:45
  • 1
    @Pieter Geerkens No doubt you meant to write something like "In the decades following the 1808 ban on importation of slaves from outside the USA, as cotton production exploded and demand for slaves in..." but you accidentally left out a few important words leaving your meaning uncertain to those who don't already know the facts.
    – MAGolding
    Aug 3 '19 at 19:59
  • Just the opposite is factually demonstrated in the decades following the 1808 ban on importation of slaves, as cotton production exploded and demand for slaves in the Deep South states out stripped supply. "Most of the slaves sold from the Upper South were from Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas, where changes in agriculture decreased the need for their labor and the demand for slaves. ... but after 1810 Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas of the Deep South received the most slaves. This is where cotton became king." Aug 3 '19 at 20:07
  • @MAGolding: Thank you - corrected. Aug 3 '19 at 20:07

Short answer:

No, it is very unlikely that there was an assumed convention, understanding etc. that slaves should be sold further north for whatever reason.

All though there may be documented cases of individuals that had such thoughts, there is more reliable documentation showing that the opposite is more likely to be true.

Long Answer:

As is other cases, proving something that does not exist is almost impossible.

However when such questions are properly analysed (i.e. split into separate aspects), some of which can be proven, one can come to a likely conclusion.

Question 1

Is it likely that a slave owner would deliberately consider selling their slave to a northern area with the intended purpose of assisting the slave to escape?

  • no, more likely they would have considered this a pursuance of fraud

The Wikipedia chapter Robert E. Lee and the Custis slaves show many different aspects of what people thought of the time.

The summary, due to the historical figure of Robert E. Lee, can be considered extensively researched and possibly reflected the general opinion of the times.

There is no hint of the idea of selling slaves further north to assist them in escaping.

On the contrary, the selling of a difficult, rebellious slave further south was probably considered the best solution for most.

Question 2:

How was a slave sold?

Other than the direct selling between owners (in most cases a local solution), Auctions would be, most probably, the norm.

A description of a Slave Auction, 1859 also contradicts the idea that selling a slave to the furthest northern buyer was the last thought on their mind.

Despite the fact that the image shown is from 1829, the conditions described by the New York City reporter in 1859 conforms to the generally accepted way such auctions were held.


Reliable documentation on how slave owners perceived slaves and how they sold slaves at the time contradicts the notion:

that slave owners were supposed to sell their slaves to a more northern plantation.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.