Collection of the New York Historical Society, # 46628; published in E.D.C. Campbell and K.S. Rice, eds., Before Freedom Came: African-American Life in the Antebellum South (Univ. Press of Virginia, 1991), fig. 100, p. 116.
Broadside advertising sale of 10 slaves, giving their names and personal attributes. Slaves are being sold because of owner’s departure from New Orleans. (Permission to display on website, courtesy of the New York Historical Society.)
Published in E.D.C. Campbell, Jr. and K.S. Rice, eds., Before Freedom Came: African-american Life in the Antebellum South (Charlottesville, Univ. Press of Virginia, 1991), plate 1, p. x.
Campell and Rice note that Richmond, the capital of Virginia, “was the second largest slave-trading market in the South, and many visitors witnessed auctions there.” This oil painting was made by an English artist, Levevre J. Cranstone (1845-1867), who “probably” based his painting “on a work by the artist Eyre Crowe.” A better reproduction, in color, is published in Estill Pennington, Look Away: reality and sentiment in Southern art (Atlanta, 1989).
In early March 1859 an enormous slave action took place at the Race Course three miles outside Savannah, Georgia. Four hundred thirty-six slaves were to be put on the auction block including men, women, children and infants. Word of the sale had spread through the South for weeks, drawing potential buyers from North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana. All of Savannah’s available hotel rooms and any other lodging spaces were quickly appropriated by
the influx of visitors. In the days running up to the auction, daily excursions were made from the city to the Race Course to inspect, evaluate and determine an appropriate bid for the human merchandise on display.
The sale’s magnitude was the result of the break-up of an old family estate that included two plantations. The majority of the slaves had never been sold before. Most had spent their entire lives on one of the two plantations included in the sale. The rules of the auction stipulated that the slaves would be sold as “families” – defined as a husband and wife and any offspring. However, there was no guarantee that this rule would be adhered to in all cases.
The sale gained such renown that it attracted the attention of Horace Greeley, Editor of the New York Tribune, one of America’s most influential newspapers at the time. Greeley was an abolitionist and staunchly opposed to slavery. He sent a reporter to cover the auction in order to reveal to his readers the barbarity inherent in one human being’s ability to own and sell another.