On this dayJan 07, 1807

A Ship Named “Fair American” Delivered 88 Trafficked Africans into Charleston, South Carolina

The Illustrated London News

On January 7, 1807, a U.S.-registered trafficking vessel delivered 88 kidnapped and enslaved African passengers into Charleston, South Carolina. The ship, named “Fair American,” originally kidnapped 101 Africans from Iles de Los, an island chain off the coast of contemporary Conakry, Guinea, in West Africa. However, nearly 15% of these forced passengers perished on the grueling journey across the Atlantic.

The port of Charleston, South Carolina imported more enslaved Africans during the Transatlantic slave trade than any other city in North America — more than one-third of all Africans trafficked in the Transatlantic slave trade into the United States were trafficked through Charleston. From its beginnings as a British proprietary colony in 1663, South Carolina entrenched the institution of chattel slavery. South Carolina’s proprietors incentivized enslavers to immigrate, offering 10-20 acres of free land for every enslaved Black person that a white migrant forcibly brought to the colony. By 1720, South Carolina was importing an average of 1,000 enslaved Africans annually. This figure rose to 3,000 by 1770. By the middle of the 18th century, enslaved people made up more than 70% of Charleston’s population.

The kidnapping, trafficking, and sale of Africans escalated dramatically in Charleston between 1803 and 1807. Anticipating a constitutional ban on the Transatlantic trade beginning in 1808, traffickers in Charleston imported more than 40,000 kidnapped Africans during these five years alone. The 88 kidnapped Africans trafficked into Charleston on this day in 1807 would be some of the first of more than 21,000 kidnapped Africans who would be brought through Charleston in 1807 alone, accounting for 95% of the total Africans trafficked into the United States in 1807.

As mortality rates on the "Fair American" illustrate, the Middle Passage subjected kidnapped passengers to brutal, traumatic conditions, with many perishing before reaching North American shores. At least 13% of all kidnapped Africans destined for Charleston during the Transatlantic slave trade died during the Middle Passage. Africans trafficked to Charleston faced equally brutal conditions following disembarkation. Many spent weeks quarantined on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston Harbor, or detained in the city’s warehouses where thousands died awaiting sale at downtown markets. 

Africans trafficked to South Carolina faced a lifetime of involuntary servitude on labor-intensive rice plantations. Rice required 10 times the labor to produce, when compared to other colonial cash crops. Further, in South Carolina, enslavers had complete discretion over the sentencing and punishment of enslaved people accused of wrongdoing, resulting in brutal physical torture and summary executions. South Carolina’s rice plantations had alarming mortality rates among enslaved people higher than anywhere else in the South — about one third of enslaved Africans who landed in South Carolina died within a year.

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