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U.S. Coastwise Trade


Steamships New York and Savannah were two vessels used to transport enslaved people in the coastwise trade between Galveston and New Orleans. Galveston city co-founders and prominent commission merchants Thomas McKinney and Samuel May Williams are listed as the contact for freight and passage.

As demand for sugar and cotton increased in industrial Europe and the northeastern United States at the turn of the 19th century, plantation agriculture rapidly expanded into the south and southwest peripheries of the U.S. With this expansion came a heightened demand for enslaved labor, and since the ratification of the 1808 Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, American enslavers and traders were legally limited to the population of enslaved people already on U.S. soil. Today, the domestic trade and forced migration of approximately one million enslaved people from the upper South to the lower South is known as the Second Middle Passage. 
Once enslaved people were sold or brought along with those who claimed them as property when they moved, bondspeople were often forced to make the trek across state lines on foot or in carriages. The image of people walking in single file in shackles is often conjured when thinking about the Second Middle Passage. However, a less recognized facet of this chapter in the African American diaspora is the U.S. coastwise slave trade, which refers to the exchange of enslaved people within the continental U.S. along its southern and southeastern coastlines. 
Galveston Bay was one of the busiest ports in the U.S. for coastwise trade not only of enslaved people but also everyday merchandise and commodities. Shipping was regularly advertised in Texas newspapers like the one featured below, a Galveston publication titled The Semi-Weekly Journal. Zoom into the upper right corner of the newspaper below to see advertisements for several steamships offering freight and passage between Galveston and various cities. Since enslaved people were considered chattel property, their passage was considered to be freight.
One of the steamships, the Palmetto, had arrived in Galveston on May 10, 1850, four days before the publication of this issue. In the second column of the page near the bottom, a small article titled "Passengers per Steamship Palmetto" reported that the Palmetto had arrived with six enslaved people on board.
This particular newspaper issue also offers many more details about the daily business activities that regularly shaped the lives of enslaved people in Galveston. 

For each voyage of every vessel that transported enslaved people within the U.S., the captains were required to file a manifest of enslaved people in their cargo with a collector of customs. Roll over the image below to see the various details of domestic slaving vessels that were usually recorded. 

Where can I find out more about enslaved people who disembarked at Galveston? 

Student and faculty researchers at Rice University are currently documenting all known ship manifests of enslaved people embarking and disembarking at Texas ports. These ports include not only Galveston, but also Matagorda Bay, Velasco, Port Lavaca and others. In 2022, data from these manifests will be available in the Intra-American Slave Voyages Database, an online research tool that compiles data on slaving vessels from across the Atlantic world into a searchable database.

U.S. Coastwise Trade