Isaac Franklin spent part of Christmas Day 1833 assessing his company’s operations and making plans for the future. Writing from New Orleans to one of his business partners in Virginia, Franklin took a few moments out of his holiday to report that he had rented a new showroom in the city from which he would soon start making sales, and that sales up the Mississippi River at the company’s branch in Natchez, Mississippi, were going swimmingly.
Franklin had just come from Natchez, and he was happy to relay the news that he had seen “first rate prices and profits,” realized nearly $100,000, and likely outdone all of his competitors put together. He was also collecting outstanding debts from customers to whom he had extended credit, and he promised that he would soon send along some money, though he told his partner that he ought to consider rustling up additional funds from his banking connections if he could. Franklin wanted “four hundred more slaves this season,” and keeping the supply chain steady did not come cheap.
Franklin and his business partners, John Armfield and Rice Ballard, were the most important domestic slave traders in American history. Through their company, commonly known as Franklin and Armfield, they moved roughly 10,000 enslaved people out of Maryland and Virginia for sale in Mississippi and Louisiana. They transformed the domestic slave trade by demonstrating how white men could make it their profession, not just something they might do as a temporary means of earning extra cash. And they did it not only through remorseless violence but also by taking maximum advantage of the fact that enslaved people were considered both laborers and financial assets that could be integrated into the money markets and credit networks of early American capitalism.