Slavery in Lynchburg

There had been an enslaved population in the Lynchburg area since 1763, according to a mentioning of the institution in the records of a Quaker meeting. The 1850 Census shows Lynchburg having a population of 8,071, with the total slave population of the city being 3,402, or roughly 42% of Lynchburg’s inhabitants. 2,061 of those slaves were male, while 1,341 were female. The 1860 census shows Lynchburg to have a population of 6,853, with the total slave population being 2,694.

This image is from Harper's Weekly in 1869, and shows a slave bringing a tobacco barrel to the market in Lynchburg forty years before the Civil War. Donated by Peter W. Houck.
This image is from Harper’s Weekly in 1869, and shows a slave bringing a tobacco barrel to the market in Lynchburg forty years before the Civil War. Donated by Peter W. Houck.

Slavery was vital for Lynchburg’s economy before and during the Civil War. Many of the slaves in the city worked in the different tobacco factories, with about half of them being owned by the factory owners, and the other half being hired out to the factory from other slave owners in the area. Those who became skilled laborers could receive a paid bonus based on their productivity. Many of these slaves would end up working in the factories with some of the free blacks who also lived in the city. Other slaves would be hired out by their owners to work in the houses for different Lynchburg families, often as cooks, servants, etc.  While slaves in the city, such as those in the warehouses, may have had more “liberty” in daily life, they were still considered property, and subject to the horrors of the institution.

Tobacco Mart-Harper's Weekly
This image from another Harper’s Weekly, while depicting scenes 14 years after the end of the Civil War, shows African American workers performing jobs similar to those by slaves in the tobacco industry before and during the war. Donated by Peter W. Houck.

During the war, the Confederate government enacted a program of slave impressment. This meant that the Confederate government issued a call to slave owners to hand over a portion of their slave populations to assist in labors necessary for the war effort. Lynchburg would see 350 slaves from its population sent off to be used by the state for war-related labor. A further 500 slaves were in the service of the Confederate Medical Department, and then another 300 operated under the ownership of private employers for the Confederate army, such as on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. These slaves were forced to perform such labor, and were not supporting the Confederate war effort by choice.

Ads for slave trading were regularly seen in Lynchburg’s newspapers. Slave trading was a lucrative business for professionals, who not only sold slaves in the Lynchburg area but also conducted business with planters further south. Individuals who also engaged in slave trading with each other could still receive large amounts of money, as slave prices were high both before and during the Civil War. The city’s slave market was located at a site on Main and Ninth streets.

Free blacks had been a notable portion of Lynchburg’s population since the adoption of the Manumission Law of 1792, as well as the allowing of slaves to purchase their own freedom if they saved enough money (from jobs like those in a tobacco warehouse). In spite of this, free blacks were still treated and viewed as second-class citizens, and were often confused with slaves. By 1860 there were 357 free blacks living in Lynchburg.

Secondary Sources:

Delaney, Ted and Phillip Wayne Rhodes. Free Blacks of Lynchburg, Virginia: 1805-1865.  Lynchburg: Warwick House Publishing, 2001.

Elson, James M. Lynchburg, Virginia: The First Two Hundred Years 1786-1976.  Lynchburg: Warwick House Publishing, 2004.

Martinez, Jaime Amanda. Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

Waibel, Paul R. “Slavery in Lynchburg,” 1965, JML, PAM # 2367.