During [America’s] period of slavery, many freed blacks worked for years to purchase the freedom of family members. But a great many freemen became slave masters themselves, and for the same reason as whites–to make use of slave labor for the sake of profits. Larry Koger writes, “By and large, Negro slaveowners were darker copies of their white counterparts.” Following are excerpts from Chapter 6 of his book, Black Slaveowners: Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860 [University of South Carolina Press].
Many historians have argued that the majority of black masters purchased their relatives and friends who were held in bondage. Being unable to manumit [to release from slavery] their loved ones, the black masters were forced to hold their kinsfolk and friends as nominal slaves. So they treated their relatives and friends as free persons, and whenever possible, they attempted to manumit their loved ones. Thus the dominant pattern of slaveholding that developed among free blacks was benevolent and based primarily on kinship. The chief architect of the benevolent interpretation was Carter G. Woodson, and his thesis has been accepted by most historians.
Yet the Woodson thesis has many weaknesses that have been overlooked or not fully explored by its supporters. Furthermore, the Woodson thesis has been overemphasized, while the other side of free black slaveowning has been characterized as a minor facet by many scholars. However, there is ample evidence which demonstrates that free blacks purchased slaves as capital investments. To many black masters, slaves represented valued property being used to produce more wealth. These slaveowners, therefore, bought slaves as commercial assets and used them to make a profit. In fact, the commercial side of free black slaveholding was more prevalent than previously maintained by historians. In short, the Woodson thesis that most free black slaveowners were benevolent masters may be a myth. . . .
For example, Richard Holloway Sr., a free black of Charleston City, bought a slave named Charles Benford in order that the slave might enjoy his freedom. Yet at the same time, he owned other slaves who were not treated so kindly. In 1834, for instance, he purchased a Negro woman named Sarah and her two children, Annett and Edward, from Susan B. Robertson for $575. Within three years after the purchase, he apparently became dissatisfied with the slave family and sold them for $945. Even though Richard Holloway, Sr., allowed a trusted servant to enjoy a greater degree of freedom, he was still a slaveowner for profit. So he sold and purchased slaves as an investment even while he held other slaves for benevolent reasons. To consider him a benevolent master would be erroneous because he also exploited other slaves for his own benefit.
Another example of the dual interaction between black masters and their slaves is the case of Rose Summers. In her will, she stated: “I desire as soon as it may be practicable that my Executor herein named will sell for money my four slaves to the best possible advantage together with all my household Furniture . . . .” While Summers requested that the children of her trusted servant Bellah should be emancipated, her other slaves were doomed to the auction block. In December 1840, her executor sold the slave woman Elsey; then the slaves Sam and Henry were auctioned to the highest bidder for $970.13 in January 1841. Shortly after that date, the slave woman named Harriet was sold by the executor of Rose Summers for $300. After the sale of the Negro slaves and the furniture, the estate of Rose Summers netted $1,334.79, which was divided among five colored women designated as heirs by the deceased woman. . . .
When Carter G. Woodson declared that “the majority of Negro owners of slaves were such from the point of view of philanthropy,” he failed to consider that there were so-called benevolent masters who freed one slave and sold another slave for profit. Woodson’s perceptions of free black slaveholding were partially correct; however, when the totality of the institution is examined, his assumptions are revealed to be erroneous. . . .
Many black masters were firmly committed to chattel slavery and saw no reasons for manumitting their slaves. To those colored masters, slaves were merely property to be purchased, sold or exchanged. Their economic self-interest overrode whatever moral concerns or guilt they may have harbored about slavery. Since the black masters benefited from slavery, they rationalized that because the institution was profitable, they could not relinquish their valuable property without being reimbursed. So black masters continued to own slaves even when the Union army was preparing to invade South Carolina in 1864. . . .
The commercial impulse of black masters to exploit the commodity of slave property was recorded not only by the Secretary of State but the Master of Equity in Charleston District. In scores of reports, the black masters appeared to have used their slaves as commodities. . . .
George Shrewsberry and James Hanscome, both colored slave masters, argued over the ownership of three slaves in the court of equity. Rather than sue each other, they filed a complaint against the master of the workhouse because he refused to release the slaves to either of the men until the ownership of the slaves was established. In 1845, the two colored slaveowners filed a suit against the master of the workhouse and claimed that he refused to release their property. . . . The commercial impulses of both colored men are vividly illustrated by the court proceedings. Such cases are not isolated incidents; in fact, they are prevalent in the court records. . . .
For example, there were mortgages registered by free blacks who used their slaves as collateral to secure loans. In 1811, Philis Wells, a free colored woman of Charleston City, used her servant Mark as collateral to obtain a loan from Peter Desportes for $900. In 1823, a slave named Sarah was used as security by William Aiken, a free black and a carpenter of Charleston City, when he applied for a loan from Joseph S. Brown for $600. . . .>Full article HERE>>