The U.S. government ended the international slave trade in 1808, but slavery was still the foundation of the U.S. economy. The Louisiana Purchase and the acquisition of Florida added thousands of miles of land that white planters wished to turn into profitable cotton plantations. And they wanted enslaved people to do the hard labor.
Around the same time, enslavers along the East Coast were running out of land for their enslaved people to work. They began to sell their surplus enslaved people to enslavers in the South and West. This internal slave trading replaced the international slave trade and became a cornerstone of the new nation’s economy.
Historians estimate that about one million enslaved people were sold and moved around the country between 1808 and the abolition of slavery in 1865. This internal movement of enslaved people is called the Second Middle Passage. The sale and relocation of enslaved people were decided according to the wants and needs of enslavers, not the enslaved. About one-third of all marriages between enslaved people were broken up by these forced relocations. About one-fifth of enslaved children were separated from their parents. The trauma of these forced separations was devastating for the people who suffered through them.
This is an illustration of recently sold enslaved people being marched from Virginia to Tennessee. The men, women, and children were often chained or tied together to discourage escape attempts. A group of enslaved people being moved in this way was called a coffle.
Enslaved women had a lot of value in the national slave trade. Their ability to give birth meant they could create more enslaved people for their enslavers. Women faced the constant threat of sexual exploitation on the long journeys to their new enslavers.