The trail of the tears

“During the half century preceding the Civil War, slave owners moved hundreds of thousands of ‘surplus’ slaves west, mostly from non-cotton producing states to cotton-producing states. … By breaking up existing families and forcing slaves to relocate far from everyone and everything they knew, the long-distance domestic slave trade, which reached significant dimensions just when the international slave trade was coming to an end, not only replaced that international trade but also replicated (if on a reduced level) many of its horrors.

“While precise statistics are lacking, about one million slaves … moved west between 1790 and 1860.”

Dr. Peter Kolchin, American Slavery 1619-1877 at 96 (Hill and Wang, 2003).

“The Slave Trail of Tears is the great missing migration—a thousand-mile-long river of people, all of them black, reaching from Virginia to Louisiana. …

“This forced resettlement was 20 times larger than Andrew Jackson’s ‘Indian removal’ campaigns of the 1830s, which gave rise to the original Trail of Tears as it drove tribes of Native Americans out of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. It was bigger than the immigration of Jews into the United States during the 19th century, when some 500,000 arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe. It was bigger than the wagon-train migration to the West, beloved of American lore. This movement lasted longer and grabbed up more people than any other migration in North America before 1900.

“The drama of a million individuals going so far from their homes changed the country. It gave the Deep South a character it retains to this day; and it changed the slaves themselves, traumatizing uncountable families.

“But until recently, the Slave Trail was buried in memory. …”

Edward Ball, Retracing Slavery’s Trail of Tears (Smithsonian Magazine, Nov. 2015) at