Many tourists get the “Slave Market” and the “Charleston City Market” confused. Enslaved people were not actually sold at the city market (see history below) The Charleston City Market is a great place to purchase both gifts and food.
Like many states in the South, Charleston’s Plantation economy depended heavily upon the enslavement of Africans. Most enslaved persons came from West Africa. During periods of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade as many as 40% of enslaved persons were sold to the 13 colonies were brought through the ports of Charleston. Charleston had a practice of selling enslaved persons outside, on the north side of the Customs House (now known as the Exchange Building). The Foreign Slave trade was abolished in Charleston. In 1808 the foreign slave trade was abolished. Enslaved persons born in the U.S. or already owned could be sold by their masters. Foreign slave traders were not allowed to bring their enslaved persons to Charleston. This move was thought to be an attempt to help the owners from the Charleston area.
Charleston ordinance prohibited selling enslaved persons in public
In 1856, the city of Charleston enacted an ordinance that prohibited the selling of enslaved persons in public. The demand for enslaved persons continued and “sales lots”, “sales rooms or yards”, “slave houses”, and “marts” were created. The majority of these markets were on Chalmers, State, and Queen Streets. These markets typically had a slaveholding area called a “barracoon.” A barracoon is a Spanish word used for the short-term confinement of a criminal or enslaved person. Barracoons were used in West Africa to hold the captured Africans, and traders brought the word with them. Enslaved persons were often shackled around their necks, arms, and legs and were required to stand on a platform so they could be examined prior to the sale.
To learn more about Slavery in Charleston, the southern slave trade, or to learn more about African American history in Charleston, the Avery Research Center is a must-visit location.