At the end of February 1863, Harper’s Weekly, no doubt drawing on 1860 Census data, dramatically illustrated the geographic distribution of slaves on the eve of the Civil War, with a map in which the higher the concentration of slaves the darker the shade used. This map can be seen immediately below:
Harper’s Weekly, 28 February 1863
The description of the map in Harper’s Weekly read as follows:
ON page 141 will be found a chart which represents to the eye the relative slave population in the different parts of the Southern States at the beginning of the rebellion. The depth of shade represents density of the colored in proportion to the white population; and it will be perceived that the shade varies from white to solid black. In several counties in West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, Northern and Southeastern Missouri, the slaves were less than three per cent of the whole population. In Western North Carolina, Northern Georgia, Northern Arkansas, and toward the northern part of Alabama, are counties in the population of which the slaves numbered less than six per cent.
The greatest proportion of slave population is embraced within the country extending along the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and bordering the Southwestern rivers. The slaves were more than fifty per cent. of the inhabitants included between the sea and Gulf coasts and a line, nearly parallel, beginning north of Richmond, Virginia, and extending southwardly to near Raleigh, North Carolina; thence southwestwardly to a little north of Montgomery, Alabama; thence northwestwardly to the vicinity of Memphis, Tennessee; thence to Shreveport, Louisiana, and a little to the north of Austin, Texas. Within this region there are counties in Southwestern Georgia, Southeastern Alabama, Central Mississippi, and some parts of Texas where the slaves were less than twenty-five per cent. of the whole people. In many of the counties they were from fifty to sixty per cent.; and in nearly all the region along the Mississippi River, Central Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, and in Virginia, south of Richmond, the slaves were more than sixty per cent. of the inhabitants; and in some South Carolina districts along the coast, in parishes of Louisiana, and counties of Mississippi along the Mississippi River, the slaves were over ninety per cent. of the whole population. In Central Kentucky, Tennessee, along the Tennessee River in Northern Alabama, and along the Missouri River was a slave population varying from thirty to sixty per cent., while in Western Kentucky and Tennessee it was scarcely thirty per cent., except in the region northeast and east of Memphis, where cotton is produced in abundance.
In all the Slave States, except those along the northern border, the north and west parts of North Carolina, and north and east parts of Tennessee, the density of slave population presents a proportionate abundance in the product of cotton. Along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia rice is an additional product of slave labor; and along the Gulf coast of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, particularly the last-named State, many slaves were engaged in the production of sugar.
In the western part of Central Georgia, in Central Alabama, Northern and Western Mississippi, Southwestern Tennessee, Eastern Arkansas, and Louisiana, and in Middle Texas, the produce of cotton was more than two bales to each slave.
This map is probably an early version of another map that appeared later in the printed report of the 1860 Census, which was published in 1864. Susan Schulten discusses the version printed in the official report in an article published in Disunion in the New York Times.
This report on the distribution of the slave population was prepared under the direction of Joseph C. G. Kennedy, Superintendent of the Census. It and similar demographic maps initially were meant for Union military commanders and other federal officials in assisting them in the war effort in the South, although the slave distribution map has since become invaluable to scholars as it is a snapshot of the geographic distribution of slaves on the eve of the liquidation of the peculiar institution.