Slave breeding in the United States were those practices of slave ownership that aimed to influence the reproduction of slaves in order to increase the wealth of slaveholders.
Slave breeding included coerced sexual relations between male and female slaves, promoting pregnancies of slaves, sexual relations between master and slave with the aim of producing slave children, and favoring female slaves who produced a relatively large number of children.
The purpose of slave breeding was to produce new slaves without incurring the cost of purchase, to fill labor shortages caused by the termination of the Atlantic slave trade, and to attempt to improve the health and productivity of slaves. Slave breeding was condoned in the South because slaves were considered to be subhuman chattel, and were not entitled to the same rights accorded to free persons.
Slave breeding farm
For many enslaved African Americans, one of the cruelest hardships they endured was sexual abuse by the slave-holders, overseers, and other white men and women whose power to dominate them was complete. Enslaved women were forced to submit to their masters’ sexual advances, perhaps bearing children who would engender the rage of a master’s wife, and from whom they might be separated forever as a result. Masters forcibly paired “good breeders” to produce strong children they could sell at a high price. Resistance brought severe punishment, often death. “I know these facts will seem too awful to relate,” warns former slave William J. Anderson in his 1857 narrative, “. . . as they are some of the real ‘dark deeds of American Slavery.’”
Charles Ball, a slave from Maryland, commented on a slave market that sold pregnant slaves. “The stranger, who was a thin, weather-beaten, sunburned figure, then said, he wanted a couple of breeding wenches, and would give as much for them as they would bring in Georgia. He then walked along our line, as we stood chained together, and looked at the whole of us – then turning to the women; asked the prices of the two pregnant ones. Our master replied, that these were two of the best breeding-wenches in all Maryland – that one was twenty-two, and the other only nineteen – that the first was already the mother of seven children, and the other of four – that he had himself seen the children at the time he bought their mothers – and that such wenches would be cheap at a thousand dollars each; but as they were not able to keep up with the gang, he would take twelve hundred dollars for the two.”
Young women were often advertised for sale as “good breeding stock“. To encourage child-bearing some population owners promised women slaves their freedom after they had produced fifteen children. One slave trader from Virginia boasted that his successful breeding policies enabled him to sell 6,000 slave children a year.
He had so many slaves he did not know all their names. His fortune was his slaves. He did not sell slaves and he did not buy many, the last ten years preceding the war. He resorted to raising his own slaves. . . .
. . . A slave girl was expected to have children as soon as she became a woman. Some of them had children at the age of twelve and thirteen years old.