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Tuscaloosa Area Virtual Museum

Time of Slavery - 1816-1863

Time of Slavery – 1816-1863

Slavery was profitable in a large portion of Tuscaloosa County where agriculture, especially cotton, flourished.  According to the US Census for 1820, 1840, and 1860 the numbers of white people and slaves and free Negroes was:

                White                    Slaves                   Free Negroes                    Total

1820        5,958                    2,325                                    0                             8,283

1840       9,948                    6,479                                    79                           16,427

1860       12,971                   10,145                                   84                           23,116

Only about one third of families owned slaves, and about 60% of slave owners owned one to five slaves.  Some of the owners of the largest number of slaves were Hardy Clements, Robert Jemison, William M. Marr, Alfred Battle, T.J. Carson, R. H. and N. Gray, John W. Prewett, John S. Bealle, Rufus W. Clements, and James H. Dearing.

The price of a slave varied on economic conditions, and on the age, sex, and ability of the slave.  Field hands values were based on the price of cotton.  If cotton sold for eight cents per pound, a good field hand was worth $800.  Carpenters, brick masons and other skilled workers were valued higher than field hands.

House servants usually got better food, clothing and housing than those who worked in the fields.  Field hands worked under the direction of a driver, who was a slave, or an overseer, who was white.

Most slaves lived in log cabins with chimneys built of mud and sticks or bricks.  Their food usually consisted of cornbread, molasses and hog meat.  In season they had vegetables and fruits grown in their gardens.

Religion was encouraged among slaves and as most accepted the religion of their owners most slaves were Baptists and Methodists.  Separate services were often held for whites and slaves.

Slaves could not own or sell property, be taught to read and write, carry a gun without permission, own a dog, or go to town at night without a pass.  They could not testify in court against a white person.  After 1860 it was illegal to emancipate a slave.

Free Negroes

Horace King was a slave of John Godwin who came to Alabama in the 1830s to work on construction projects especially bridges.  In 1835 then built the first bridge over the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa.  In 1846 Godwin emancipated King.  As a free man, King submitted bids for large state commissions including the Alabama Insane Hospital.  King even served from 1869 to 1872 as a legislator from Russell County. 

Solomon Perteet was another free Negro who achieved prominence in Tuscaloosa.  He arrived in the 1820s to work on the many buildings needed in the state capitol.  He was a skilled plasterer and a financial success.  In 1829 he was able to post a bond to free his wife and her child.  He also bought slaves and allowed them to earn their freedom by repaying him.

Information sources:  Matthew William Clinton, Tuscaloosa, Alabama:  Its Early Days, 1816-1865. 1958. G. Ward Hubbs, Tuscaloosa: Portrait of an Alabama County. 1987.

For more information click on the images below.

Time of Slavery - 1816-1863