The Slave Market (Snippets 23)


Slaves Waiting for Sale: Richmond, Virginia by Eyre Crowe, sketched in 1853 and painted over the sketch in 1861.

In 1829 Captain Basil Hall published a journal in 3 volumes of his tour of America, Travels in North America in the Years 1827 and 1828.  There he witnessed a little of the horrors of the slave trade, at a market in Charleston, South Carolina.  The slaves for sale were displayed on tables:

These parties of slaves varied in number. The first consisted of an old, infirm woman, a stout broad-shouldered man, apparently her son, his wife, and two children. The auctioneer, having told the names of each, and described their qualifications, requested the surrounding gentlemen to bid. One hundred dollars for each member of the family, or 500 for the whole party, was the first offer. This gradually rose to 150, at which sum they were finally knocked down; that is to say, 750 dollars for the whole, or about £170. Several other families were then put up in succession, who brought from 250 to 260 dollars each member, including children at the breast, as well as old people quite incapable of work.

The next party was exceedingly interesting. The principal person was a stout well-built man, or, as the auctioneer called him, “a fellow, who was a capital driver.” His wife stood by his side – a tall, finely proportioned, and really handsome woman, though as black as jet. Her left arm encircled a child about six months old, who rested, in the Oriental fashion, on the hip bone. To preserve the balance, her body was inclined to the right, where two little urchins clung to her knee, one of whom, evidently much frightened, clasped its mother’s hand, and never relinquished it during the sale which followed. The husband looked grave and somewhat sad; but there was a manliness in the expression of his countenance, which appeared strange in a person placed in so degraded a situation. What struck me most, however, was an occasional touch of anxiety about his eye as it glanced from bidder to bidder, when new offers were made. It seemed to imply a perfect acquaintance with the character of the different parties competing for him – and his happiness or misery for life, he might think, turned upon a word!

William Rowe Lyall, in his 1831 book Remarks on the Moral and Religious Character of the United States of America, quotes from Captain Hall, but also offers in evidence some newspaper cuttings, including the following from the New York Evening Journal:

A fellow advertises a run away slave, in a Charleston paper, to be delivered to him at “Liberty Hall!” – He says:

Will may be known by the incisions of the whip on his back; and I suppose he has taken the road to Coosahatchie, where he has a wife and five children, whom I sold last week to Mr. Gellispir.”

Slavery in the USA was abolished by Abraham Lincoln in the Thirteenth Amendment of 1865, shortly before his death.


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