Many tourists get the “Slave Market” and the “CharlestonCity 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 slave labor. Most slaves came from West Africa. During periods of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade as many as 40% of slaves sold to the 13 colonies were brought through the ports of Charleston. Charleston had a practice of selling slaves 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. Slaves born in the U.S. or already owned could be sold by their masters. Foreign slave traders were not allowed to bring their slaves to Charleston. This move was thought to be an attempt to help the slave owners from the Charleston area.
Charleston ordinance prohibited selling slaves in public
In 1856, the city of Charleston enacted an ordinance that prohibited the selling of slaves in public. The demand for slaves continued and “sales lots”, “sales rooms or yards”, “slave houses”, and “marts” were created. The majority of these slave 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 slave. Barracoons were used in West Africa to hold the captured slaves, and slave traders brought the word with them. Slaves 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.