The Four Major Rail Networks Enslaved African Labor Help Build in North America

1 Posted by - August 1, 2018 - BLACK TECHNOLOGY, LATEST POSTS, SLAVERY

There are four major rail networks in North American—, , and the —and all these lines were built and operated with African slave labor. A labor that many people take for granted, do not talk about, or just oblivious to the fact how the rail network originated.


It shouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that Historians say nearly every rail line built east of the Mississippi River and south of the Mason-Dixon Line before the Civil War was designed or operated at least partly by the enslaved Africans. Documents show that railroads purchased slaves or leased them from their owners. The slaves were used for clearing, grading a laying tracks. In the annual rail reports, enslaved workers appeared as line-item expenses; these expenses were referred to a “hands,” “colored hands,” “Negro property,”  “slaves,” and “Negro hires.”

Canadian National

Canadian National

The reason for using slaves for this type of work was written in a letter from the president of Union Pacific’s Memphis to the stockholders in 1858. The president told the stockholders the slaves were the “cheapest,” “most reliable,” and could be “easily governed.”

Union-Pacific Rail Line

Union-Pacific Rail Line

There are thousands of railroad records that show lease agreements with slave owners. One single volume of records for the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad, which is now owned by CSX covers just two months in 1850 contains over 40 agreements with slave holders.



There are some rail systems that decline to confirm ownership of individual rail lines from the 19th century, such as Norfolk Southern, but says it owns 80 percent or more of the 39 which has been identified, but will not comment on who built the line.

Then there are other rail systems who say they take the claims that slave labor was used to build their rail lines quite seriously such as the Canadian National. The system is supposedly researching the issue. However, Union Pacific made a statement saying it owns nine of the 12 railroads that used slaves and the ownership of the lines today has “no relevance” to how they were built.




  • Angela July 7, 2017 - 10:07 am Reply

    It is relevant….you making money off of black slaves back.

  • Bill Leaphart September 19, 2017 - 3:52 pm Reply

    The Central of Georgia, apart of Norfolk Southern,
    owned slaves who helped lay most of its tracks in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennesee.

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