Black History Moment: Free Colored Slaveowners
Well-documented is the existence of large numbers of black slaveowners in the antebellum United States. In South Carolina, free Negro masters utilized the labor of their slaves for profit, hiring them out as simple labor or trained artisans. Though much is made of the benevolence of black slaveowners toward their kin, author (below) Larry Koger dismisses this as improbable as most black slaveowners were mulattoes (83.1%) while nearly all their slaves were dark-skinned (90%). He asked, “where was the kinship?”
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute  


Black History Moment: Free Colored Slaveowners:
“There were black masters in every State where slavery existed (including the North), many black Americans of the antebellum period believed that slavery was a viable economic system. In Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina and Virginia, free blacks owned more than 10,000 slaves, according to the Federal census of 1850. Many of the black masters in the Lower South were large planters who owned scores of slaves and planted large quantities of cotton, rice, and sugar cane. In 1860, for example, Auguste Donatto, a free colored planter of St. Landry Parish in Loiusiana, owned 70 slaves who worked 500 acres of land and produced 100 bales of cotton. About 600 miles to the east…in the county of Sumter, South Carolina, William Ellison, a free colored planter,  used the labor of 70 slaves to cultivate 100 bales of cotton in 1861. {in the same State], Robert Michael Collins and Margaret Mitchell Harris used their slaves to till the soil of Santee Plantation and grew 240,000 pounds of rice in 1849.
In 1860, Madame Ciprien Ricard and her son Pierre Ricard , free mulattoes of Ibeville Parish, owned 168 slaves. The joint operation of mother and son used the labor of slaves to produce 515 hogsheads of sugar in 1859. Not all of the black masters were planters, nor were they all from the South. In 1830 the city of New York had eight black slaveowners who owned 17 slaves. The institution of black slaveowning was widespread, stretching as far north as New York and as far south as Florida, extending westward into Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Missouri.
Where did these free black masters come from? Many…were former slaves…emancipated for meritorious military duty, faithful service, saving a life, and other such reasons. Many of the colored slaveowners inherited slaves from black relatives as well as white kinsfolk.  A few black masters owned slaves in West Africa and transported their slaves to the New World.” 

(Black Slaveowners, Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860, Larry Koger, USC Press, 1985, pp. 1-2)