Gad Heuman and James Walvin, the authors of Family, Gender and Community (2003), have pointed out: "The patterns of African enforced migrations and settlement were basic to the development of the slave family and society. In a world where African men outnumbered African women, not surprisingly, slave reproduction was low. Understandably, too, those women took to the Americas the cultural habits of their homelands; in this case, most importantly, prolonged breast-feeding habits which inhibited conception. That, coupled with high infant mortality among African slave women, ensured a very low rate of slave reproduction. Where imported Africans dominated a local slave society, slave women simply did not give birth to the numbers of children necessary to maintain, still less to increase, the local slave population."
The death-rate amongst slaves was high. To replace their losses, plantation owners encouraged the slaves to have children. Child-bearing started around the age of thirteen, and by twenty the women slaves would be expected to have four or five children. To encourage child-bearing some population owners promised women slaves their freedom after they had produced fifteen children.
Charles Ball, a slave from Maryland, commented on a slave market that sold pregnant slaves. "The stranger, who was a thin, weather-beaten, sunburned figure, then said, he wanted a couple of breeding wenches, and would give as much for them as they would bring in Georgia. He then walked along our line, as we stood chained together, and looked at the whole of us - then turning to the women; asked the prices of the two pregnant ones. Our master replied, that these were two of the best breeding-wenches in all Maryland - that one was twenty-two, and the other only nineteen - that the first was already the mother of seven children, and the other of four - that he had himself seen the children at the time he bought their mothers - and that such wenches would be cheap at a thousand dollars each; but as they were not able to keep up with the gang, he would take twelve hundred dollars for the two."
Slavery in the United States (£1.29)
Young women were often advertised for sale as "good breeding stock". To encourage child-bearing some population owners promised women slaves their freedom after they had produced fifteen children. One slave trader from Virginia boasted that his successful breeding policies enabled him to sell 6,000 slave children a year.
It has been claimed that plantation owners were often the fathers of slave children. Harriet Jacobs, a house slave in Edenton, North Carolina, claimed that when she reached the age of fifteen, her master, Dr. James Norcom attempted to have sex with her: "My master, Dr. Norcom, began to whisper foul words in my ear. Young as I was, I could not remain ignorant of their import. I tried to treat them with indifference or contempt. The master's age, my extreme youth, and the fear that his conduct would be reported to my grandmother, made him bear this treatment for many months. He was a crafty man, and resorted to many means to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes he had stormy, terrific ways, that made his victims tremble; sometimes he assumed a gentleness that he thought must surely subdue. Of the two, I preferred his stormy moods, although they left me trembling." Several of the young slaves gave into his demands. Harriet points out in her autobiography: "My master was, to my knowledge, the father of eleven slaves."
Olaudah Equiano was a slave who witnessed the rapes of slave women: "While I was thus employed by my master, I was often a witness to cruelties of every kind, which were exercised on my unhappy fellow slaves. I used frequently to have different cargoes of new Negroes in my care for sale; and it was almost a constant practice with our clerks, and other whites, to commit violent depredations on the chastity of the female slaves; and these I was, though with reluctance, obliged to submit to at all times, being unable to help them. When we have had some of these slaves on board my master's vessels, to carry them to other islands, or to America, I have known our mates to commit these acts most shamefully, to the disgrace, not of Christians only, but of men. I have even known them to gratify their brutal passion with females not ten years old." Henry Bibb, a slave from Shelby County, Kentucky, has argued: "A poor slave's wife can never be true to her husband contrary to the will of her master. She can neither be pure nor virtuous, contrary to the will of her master. She dare not refuse to be reduced to a state of adultery at the will of her master."