As a slave state in the Upper South, Missouri and her citizens had a dynamic relationship with the “peculiar institution.” The average Missouri slaveholder owned five slaves, while medium sized slave owners in the Deep South owned between 15 and 50 slaves. The largest slave owner owned just under 200 slaves. In 1860, slaves made up 10% of the Missouri population.
To give a better glimpse into the nature of slavery in Missouri, acclaimed Missouri Civil War historian Dianne Mutti Burke provided an insightful quote from Kansas abolitionist and architect John Gideon Haskell:
“Slavey in Missouri was like slavery in northern Kentucky – much more a domestic than commercial institution. Family servants constituted the bulk of ownership, and few white families owned more than one family of blacks. The social habits were those of the farm and not the plantation . . . The negroes were members of the family; the blights of ownership were at a minimum.”
Though many emigrated from Southern states, like Virginia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas, Missourians typically used slaves for small farms or domestic use. Some were also used on steam boats, mines, as blacksmiths, carpenters, and other skilled labor tasks. Unlike the Deep South, where cotton, sugar, and indigo were the primary cash crops, Missouri was unable to harvest the king of crops due to shorter growing seasons. Instead, with luscious soil along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the production of hemp, tobacco, and corn were the most popular crops to harvest. That is why, in the map below, you see the highest populations of slaves along the rivers.
1. Dianne Mutti Burke, On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small Slaveholding Households (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2010), 1.