In 1850, the United States collected census data about the number of slaves owned by US citizens. While these lists do not provide the names of the slaves, or make any effort to group them into families, they do provide the age and gender of each slave. This type of information allows us to draw some conclusions about the size and scope of the enslaved community at St. Mary’s Manor, as well as give a glimpse into the way Dr. Brome managed his slaveholdings and plantation from 1850 to 1860. Combined with additional information, such as the 1867 list he made after the Civil War, other conclusions can be drawn about the growth of the community, and the amount of disruption that growth may have caused enslaved families and the community as a whole.
The 1850 slave census includes the ages and genders of 41 slaves. The ages range from as high as 90 years old to as young as 2. By this time, Dr. Brome had developed a large group of laborers, with the potential for even more growth: of the 41 laborers, 12 were 10 years old or younger. Additionally, 14 of the 22 slaves under the age of twenty were female, suggesting that Dr .Brome was planning on building a larger slave force through “natural increase”. This was a common practice for many slaveowners, who recognized the cost-benefit of “breeding” their own slaves instead of engaging directly with the slave trade. This hypothesis bears out in the 1860 census, which shows a two-thirds increase in enslaved children, increasing from 15 to 25. This includes 15 children under five years old: clearly, the female slaves who had been children in 1850 were being used as a means for having children and increasing Dr. Brome’s slaveholdings.
This is not to say that Dr. Brome was not an active member in the domestic slave trade, however. While many of the infants and young children in the 1860 census are likely the product of natural increase, it does not explain all of the additional laborers. By adding ten years to each individual listed on the 1850 census and comparing them to the 1860 list, it becomes clear that 21 of the 1850 slaves no longer appear on the 1860 list. Even ruling out the oldest as having died, that still leaves 15 unaccounted for. While manumission or slave hiring is possible, it is most likely that these slaves are unaccounted for either because of Dr. Brome’s participation in the slave trade or their escape.
Dr. Brome was clearly trying to maintain a young and active slave population, which makes since considering the need for a strong labor force for working in the tobacco and wheat fields. These numbers also suggest that he is actively growing his slaveholdings, which corresponds to his increase in the size of his landholdings, the expansion of his estate, and his engagement in local building affairs during this time: Dr. Brome was doing everything possible to ensure that his family was one of the most successful and powerful in the county.
Of course, this came at a cost for the African Americans who lived on the plantation. Dr. Brome’s increase in his labor force placed pressure on the slave family, either to be continually growing or to be potentially divided at any time through sale. Such instability was a regular occurrence for all slave families, and typically resulted in the establishment of deep community networks on the plantation. In these communities, families and individuals relied on each other for tasks such as cooking, gardening, hunting, child-rearing, and general support through the terrors of enslavement. It is likely that, considering the close alignment of the slave quarters, the potential for slave sale, and the high percentage of children, that community activity was a critical means of survival at St. Mary’s Manor.