Slave breeding in the United States was practiced by slaveholders to keep the slave population growing by producing new slaves without incurring the cost of purchasing and importing slaves from Africa.
Slave breeding included coerced sexual relationship between male and female slaves, promoting pregnancies of slaves, and favoring female slaves who produce a relatively large amount of children.
Enslaved women were subjected to arranged marriages, force mating, sexual violation by masters, the master’s sons, overseers, and other forms of abuse.
Ex-slave Maggie Stenhouse remarked:
“During’ slavery there were stockmen. They was weighed and tested. A man would rent the stockmen and put him in a room with young women he wanted to raise children from.”
Slaveholders looked at the fertility of slave women as part of their worth, and intermittently encouraged large families.
Importation of slaves from Africa was banned in 1808, at this time United States was undergoing a rapid expansion of cotton, sugar cane, and rice production in the deep south and west.
The prohibition of the African slaves-trade after 1808 limited the supply of slaves in the United States. The invention of the cotton gin (cotton gin is a machine that quickly and easily separates cotton fibers from their seeds, allowing for much greater productivity than manual cotton separation.) enabled expanded cultivation in the upland of short-staple cotton, leading to clearing lands cultivating cotton through large areas of the deep south, especially the Black Belt.
Demand for labor in the area increased sharply and an internal slave market expanded. At the same time, the Upper South had an excess supply of slaves due to the shift to mixed crops agriculture.
Planters in the Upper South states began selling slaves to the deep South, generally through slave traders. During this time period , the term “breeding slaves“, “child bearing women“, “breeding period“, “too old to breed“, just to name a few, became familiar.
Louisville, Kentucky, on the Ohio River was a major slave market and the port for shipping slaves downriver by the Mississippi to the South. New Orleans had the largest slave market in the county and became the fourth largest city in the United States by 1840 and the wealthiest, mainly because of its slave trade.
Slaves were treated as a commodity by slave masters, and were regarded as crucial labor for the production of lucrative cash crops. Slaves were managed as assets in the same way as chattel; slaveholders passed laws regulating slavery and the slave trade design to protect their financial interest; there were little protection for the slaves.