When we think of slavery in America, we often think of the transatlantic slave trade and the brutal conditions enslaved Africans faced on plantations in the South. However, there is a dark aspect of slavery in America that is often overlooked: the breeding farms.
In the early 19th century, when the importation of enslaved people from Africa was banned, enslavers turned to breed farms to produce a self-sustaining population of enslaved people. These farms aimed to make as many enslaved people as possible for sale and distribution throughout the South. Richmond, VA, and the Maryland Eastern Shore were home to the two largest breeding farms.
Robert Lumpkin was one of the industry leaders in the slave-breeding business. His "jail" was a compound surrounded by a 12-foot fence with iron spikes. The slave population of the breeding farm was mostly women and children not old enough to be sold, and a limited number of men whose job was to impregnate as many slave women as possible. The enslaved people were often given hoods or bags over their heads to keep them from knowing who they were having forced sex with. It could be someone they know, perhaps a niece, aunt, sister, or mother. The breeders only wanted a child that could be sold.
The breeding farms were an essential part of the slave economy. Richmond was a port city that exported 10,000 to 20,000 enslaved people a month to states further south and west. Slavery, not tobacco, was Virginia's primary domestic crop. Enslaved people could be shipped by rail and boat, allowing them to arrive in better condition and thus fetch a higher price. Slavery was always about economics, and the breeding farms were profitable.
Despite the ban on importing enslaved people, there was still some limited smuggling of enslaved people. However, most new enslaved people in America came from "natural increase," which meant that enslavers were breeding their slaves to produce more workers. The South was making and selling enough enslaved people internally that the slave trade was reducing prices for enslaved people and cutting into profits. This was one of the reasons why the importation of enslaved people was banned, not because of humanitarian concerns but for economic reasons.
The breeding farms are a harrowing reminder of the inhumanity and brutality of slavery. The enslaved people were treated as nothing more than commodities to be bought and sold. The enslavers had no regard for their well-being, and they were forced to endure unspeakable horrors for the profit of their owners.
It is essential to remember this dark aspect of American history and acknowledge the harm done to generations of African Americans. The legacy of slavery can still be seen today in the systemic racism and inequality that persists in our society. We must work towards a more just and equitable future that acknowledges and addresses the deep-seated harm caused by slavery and its legacy.
In recent years, there has been a growing movement to remove Confederate monuments and symbols that glorify the legacy of the South. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has said that Richmond would consider the "potential removal" of statues celebrating the legacy of the South after issues raised in nearby conflicts and protests involving white supremacists. However, the breeding farms receive no mention in public discourse or education.
It is time to acknowledge the full extent of the atrocities committed during slavery and to educate ourselves and future generations about the ugly truth of America's breeding farms. Only by facing our past can we hope to create a better future for all.
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