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Where Did The Saying Sold Down The River Come From

I have always wondered where the phrase  “sold down the river” come from.  An excellent article written by Lakshmi Gandhi explains the origin. It is an important part of history for African-American who may have found their ancestors on plantations in the state of Kentucky and later find them on plantation in and around New Orleans area.

“River” was a literal reference to the Mississippi or Ohio rivers. For much of the first half of the 19th century, Louisville, Ky., was one of the largest slave-trading marketplaces in the country. Slaves would be taken to Louisville to be “sold down the river” and transported to the cotton plantations in states further south.

In his 2010 history of the Mississippi River, journalist Lee Sandlin said “the threat of being ‘sold down the river’ was seen as tantamount to a death sentence.”

Because white planters valued men over women as laborers, male slaves were far more likely to be “sold down the river.” In addition to the tragedy of being separated from family, to be sent down the river meant a sentence of brutally hard labor. As the global demand for cotton grew, the demand for more and more slave labor grew at an equally large pace.

Sociologist Wilma A. Dunaway has written that the global demand for cotton set off a forced migration of slaves with close to one million being transported to the Deep South between 1790 and 1860. The importation of slaves ended by 1808, which means much of the demand for labor was met by selling slaves who were born in one of the so-called “slave-growing states” such as Kentucky. [...]

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