Armfield, John


Armfield, John
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A founding trustee of the University of the South for the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee and a partner in the Franklin and Armfield slave trading firm (ca. 1828-1836).
John Armfield (1797-1871), a founding University trustee for the Diocese of Tennessee, was a partner in the Franklin and Armfield slave trading firm (ca. 1828-1836), which historian Joshua Rothman has called “the most successful slave traders the United States had ever seen.” The firm annually bought some 1,200 enslaved persons in the Upper South, transported them in overland “coffles” or by sea in its own ships, and sold them in New Orleans or Natchez, where demand for enslaved labor was intense. Armfield ran the purchasing and transportation operations out of headquarters and holding “pens” in Alexandria, Va. The partnership effectively ceased operations in 1836, leaving Franklin and Armfield among the wealthiest men in the South. In 1854, Armfield acquired a mountaintop resort in Beersheba Springs, Tenn., where he sought to lure the cream of the slaveholding social order. These included leaders in politics (like former mayor of Nashville John Meredith Bass), the planter elite of Louisiana (like cotton magnate Oliver J. Morgan, the namesake of Morgan’s Steep), and the leadership cadre of the southern Episcopal Church (he arranged for Bishops Otey and Polk to have cottages at the resort). As planning for the University of the South advanced, Armfield played a formative role. He formally pledged $25,000 at $1,000 per year, but he was more important in fronting the operation with cash and cultivating wealthy donors. Armfield continued buying and selling enslaved persons through the 1850s. According to the 1860 census, Armfield enslaved 22 persons in Beersheba Springs.
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