Slave Sales & Auctions: African Coast & the Americas

  • Slave Coffle, Washington, D.C., ca. 1819

    Wood engraving, captioned A Slave-Coffle passing the Capital and depicting slaves wearing handcuffs and shackles passing the U.S. Capital, meant to depict a scene ca. 1819. This image was intended to illustrate part of a debate in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1819, concerning the admission of Missouri to the Union. The representative from New York, James Tallmadge, Jr., proposed that as a condition of admission slavery not be permitted in Missouri except of those already held as slaves. While the debate was going on, Tallmadge pointed out that the South wanted Missouri to be a slave state and that a striking illustration of what the South wanted was to be viewed at that moment in front of the Capital. Apparently, as the debate was in progress a trafficker in human flesh . . . has passed the door of your Capital . . . driving before him about fifteen of these wretched victims of his power. The males . . . were handcuffed and chained to each other, while the females and children were marched in their rear, under the guidance of the driver's whip (p. 265).
  • Slave Auction, Richmond, Virginia, 1862

    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).
  • Internal Slave Trade, Staunton, Virginia, 1853

    Titled, Slave trader, Sold to Tennessee, this water color shows a group of about 20 men, women, and children, being marched from Staunton, in Augusta county, Virginia to Tennessee; guarding the group are two white men on horseback. In the caption underneath (only partially shown here), Miller writes The company going to Tennessee from Staunton, Augusta county, the law of Virginia suffered them to go on. I was astonished at this boldness, the carrier stopped a moment, then ordered the march, I saw the play it is commonly in this state, when the negroís in droves Sold.
  • Holding Pen or Cells for Slaves Awaiting Sale, Alexandria, Virginia, 1863

    Photo of cells/pens where slaves were held prior to being sent to markets in the Lower South. Campbell and Rice write that slave traders in such upper south cities as Alexandria, Richmond, and Norfolk were the main suppliers of slaves for New Orleans, the largest slave market. In Alexandria, the widely known firm of Price, Birch & Company collected slaves in crowded pens before they were 'sold south' (p. 138). For a companion photo, see image Dugan-2 on this website
  • Slave Coffle, Near Paris, Kentucky, 1850s

    Caption, The Coffle Gang; led by white on horseback and black musicians at the front. An eye-witness account of the scene depicted in this illustration is given on pp. 164-65 of this abolitionist book; the scene described is of about forty men, all chained together. . . . Behind them were about thirty women, in double rank, the couples tied hand to hand....
  • Slave Coffle, Virginia, 1839

    Caption, Gang of Slaves journeying to be sold in a Southern Market; illustrates the domestic slave trade in the U.S. James Buckingham viewed this scene in September, 1839, a few miles from Fredericksburg. It was in a valley , he wrote, that we met a gang of slaves, including men, women, and children, the men chained together in pairs, and the women carrying the children and bundles on their march to the south. The gang was under several white drivers, who rode near them on horseback, with large whips, while the slaves marched on foot beside them; and there was one driver behind, to bring up the rear . . . . They were chained together for precaution, rather than punishment; because when accompanied by one or two white men . . . they might be tempted to rise against them in any solitary part of the road, or, at the very least, escape from them if they could. . . (pp. 552-553). Secondary sources which reproduce this image sometimes, without citing the original source, caption this crossing the Rapidan river, but the author does not identify the body of water shown in the illustration; moreover, given the route that he describes having taken, it is unlikely it was the Rapidan.
  • Newly Enslaved Africans, Brazil, 1830s

    Caption, Negros novos (new blacks). For an analysis of Rugendas' drawings, as these were informed by his anti-slavery views, see Robert W. Slenes, African Abrahams, Lucretias and Men of Sorrows: Allegory and Allusion in the Brazilian Anti-slavery Lithographs (1827-1835) of Johann Moritz Rugendas (Slavery & Abolition, vol. 23 [2002], pp. 147-168).
  • Internal Slave Trade, Brazil, 1830s

    Transport d'un convoi de Negres (transportation of a convoy of Blacks) shows group of newly purchased, or about -to- be- purchased, slaves waiting to be taken into the interior. For an analysis of Rugendas' drawings, as these were informed by his anti-slavery views, see Robert W. Slenes, African Abrahams, Lucretias and Men of Sorrows: Allegory and Allusion in the Brazilian Anti-slavery Lithographs (1827-1835) of Johann Moritz Rugendas (Slavery & Abolition, vol. 23 [2002], pp. 147-168).
  • Internal Slave Trade, U.S., ca. 1830

    An engraving, captioned United States Slave Trade. 1830 which shows slaves in shackles, whites holding whips; capital dome in Washington, D.C. is in background. The Library of Congress notes for this illustration indicate it was an abolitionist print, possibly engraved in 1830; more details on its origin are also given in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
  • Slave Market, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1819-1820

    Titled, The Slave Market. The author reports that in the northwest part of Rio, a street called Vallongo, or Long Valley, is where slaves are sold. The lower parts of the houses are allotted for these unhappy beings, who sit huddled together in rows, one behind the other, waiting to be purchased. A keeper constantly walks about to keep order amongst them . . . . In the evenings they are allowed to sit at the door and in front of the house for the benefit of the air. Those that are indisposed are taken out to walk . . . . When a person is desirous of making a purchase, he visits the different depots, going from one house to another, until he sees such as please him, who, upon being called out, undergo the operations of being felt and handled in various parts of the body and limbs, precisely after the manner of cattle in a market. They are made to walk, to run, to stretch their arms and legs . . . and to show their tongue and teeth; which latter are considered as the surest marks whereby to discover their age and judge of their health. The illustration (left) shows a white man examining the teeth of a female slave, while the dealer is proclaiming her perfections. The woman looking on is the purchaser's servant maid, who is most frequently consulted on such occasions (pp. 228-229). For other representations of this same slave market, see images GRA1 and H015 on this website. The foreground figures in Chamberlain's book were copied from two separate water-colors drawn earlier by Joaquim Candido Guillobel. Born in Portugual in 1787, Guillobel came to Brazil in 1808, and from 1812 started drawing and painting small pictures on cards of everyday scenes in Rio de Janeiro. For biographical details on Guillobel, who died in 1859, and reproductions of about 60 of his original drawings in color (including the ones shown here), see Joaquim Candido Guillobel, Usos e Costumes do Rio de Janeiro nas figurinhas de Guillobel [1978]. The text of this volume is given in both Portuguese and English; the author of the biographical notes who is, presumably the compiler of the volume, is not given in the Library of Congress copy that was consulted. (See this website, Chamberlain for related drawings.)
  • Examining a Slave for Sale, Virginia, 1830

    Caption, Live Stock, Virginia, 1830. The author was in the United States from late 1827 to around 1830-31. This illustration is found in her chapter on Virginia and her discussion of slavery in the state, but she does not describe what the illustration is supposed to convey. The scene is the interior of a cabin, a bed in the right-hand corner; a calabash ladle or drinking gourd hangs on the wall. The black man with the cane, and the white man behind him with his hands on the black man's chest. The scene, including the image's caption, is puzzling.
  • Slave Auction, U.S. South, ca. 1840s

    Bibb describes this scene. He writes about a Mr. Young, a Methodist, who was the owner of a large number of slaves, many of whom belonged to the same church with their master. They worshipped together. Bibb describes Young as a kind master who ultimately became deeply involved in debt forcing him to sell his property, including his slaves, many of whom were his brothers and sisters in the church. . . . The slaves were offered on the auction block one after another, until they were all sold before their old master's face. . . . After the men were all sold they then sold the women and children. They ordered the first woman to lay down her child and mount the auction block; she refused to give up her little one and clung to it as long as she could, while the cruel lash was applied to her back for disobedience . . . . There was each speculator with his hand-cuffs to bind his victims after the sale; . . . the Christian portion of the slaves asked permission to kneel in prayer on the ground before they were separated (pp. 199-200). One of the most celebrated of the North American slave narratives. Bibb was born of a slave mother in Kentucky in 1815, escaped from slavery in 1838, and ultimately became a leading figure in the fugitive slave community of Canada.
  • Coffle of Enslaved, Washington, D.C., 1840s

    The title page of an abolitionist tract which stresses that [a] slave coffle marching by the capital is not fancy, but a fact not unfrequently occurring; the tract cites a few eyewitness descriptions.
  • Slave Market Scene on the Kambia River, Coast of Africa

    In a crowd of people, a European examines a slave, while another is being whipped. A slave ship at sea is in background. The Kambia River is in the Forests of West Africa region. This woodcut is a copy of a 64 x 90 inch oil painting (titled, Traite d'Esclaves dans l'Ouest de l'Afrique), done in 1840 by Francois-Auguste Biard (1798-1882), a French painter. The painting, today located in the Wilberforce House Museum, Hull (England), was first exhibited at the Salon (Paris) of 1835. There is no evidence that Biard ever witnessed this scene. Color images of the painting are published in Marcus Wood, Blind Memory (Manchester Univ. Press, 2000), plate 5, and Hugh Honour, The Image of the Black in Western Art (Menil Foundation, Harvard University Press, 1989), vol. 4, pt. 1, fig. 89. The black/white image is also reprinted in James Walvin, Slavery and the Slave Trade (Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1983, fig. 17) but with a misleading caption and a misspelling of the artist's name.
  • Slave Barracoon

    Barracoon with thatched roof with captured slaves inside, guards outside and several people being whipped. The Illustrated London News describes a raid by the British Navy in February 1849 on Spanish slave trading stations where three factories were destroyed along the Gallinas [Kerefe] river in Sierra Leone in the Upper Guinea Coast region. The engraving shows "a barracoon at the back of one of the factories in the creek; here flogging is an hourly occupation, and the sufferers frequently expire under the lash. The slaves are chained by the neck and legs; and except when marched from one barracoon to another, on chance of shipment, they know no change for a year or two." For details on this raid, see also W. E. F. Ward, The Royal Navy and the Slavers (New York, 1970), pp. 182-85. A colored version of this illustration (which crops off part of the figure being whipped and the two seated on the ground [on the right]) was done by an anonymous nineteenth century artist. It is located in Bureau du Patrimoine du Conseil Regional de la Martinique, and was published in the exhibition catalog, Les Anneaux de la Memoire: Nantes-Europe-Afriques-Ameriques, Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne. Nantes, France, Dec. 1992-Feb. 1994.
  • Un Anglais de la Barbade vend sa maitresse

    "An Englishman from Barbados Sells his Mistress" (caption translation). Image is based on one version or another of the story of Yarico, an Amerindian woman, and her lover, Inkle, an English sailor who allegedly duped her and sold her into slavery in Barbados. Guillaume Thomas Raynal (1713–1796) was a French writer during the Age of Enlightenment. He briefly discussed this story in his text, without naming the principals. For details, see Jerome S. Handler, A Guide to Source Materials for the Study of Barbados History, 1627-1834 (Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1971), p.21. Compare this image with the lower right hand corner of image reference NMM-2.
  • La vente des négres

    "The Sale of Negroes" (caption translation). This image accompanies an article on the slave trade. The area of the illustration is not identified, but it was likely one of the French Caribbean colonies.
  • Gate & Slave Market at Pernambuco

    An alternate title in list of plates is "View of Count Maurice's Gate at Pernambuco, with the slave market." This street scene shows enslaved Africans waiting to be sold, surrounded by Europeans. The engraving is derived from a painting made by the English artist Augustus Earle (1793-1838) who lived in Rio de Janeiro in 1820-1824. The 1824 Royal Academy annual exhibition catalogue identifies this painting as: "Gate of Pernambuco, in Brazil, with new negroes. The police ordering the slaves to be housed, on account of an attack made on one of the out-posts by the patriots, in 1821. Painted in Brazil. Augustus Earle, Esq. H[onorary]. During his stay in Brazil, Earle executed a number of works focusing on slavery." Maria Graham (née Dundas; 1785–1842), also known as Maria Lady Callcott, was a British writer of travel and children's books, as well as an illustrator. She went to Brazil on her return to England from Chile in 1823, which is the year Brazil declared their independence from Portugal. She stayed at the royal palace.
  • Vente d'une esclave

    "Sale of a Slave" (caption translation). Benoit described this particular scene because a European friend of his owned this slave. His friend lived with a young and very beautiful creole slave woman by whom he had two children and who he intended to marry. The friend had promised to free/manumit her, but he died on the very day that he was going to town to process the papers. Thus, the woman and her children were still enslaved and were sold by the will's executors. Benoit wrote how this sale was a truly sad and heartbreaking spectacle to witness. He explained how this woman brought tears to the eyes of all who knew her and who had considered her as a legitimate wife and free woman (p. 55). Pierre Jacques Benoit (1782-1854) was a Belgian artist, who visited the Dutch colony of Suriname on his own initiative for several months in 1831. He stayed in Paramaribo, but visited plantations, maroon communities and indigenous villages inland.
  • Branding a Negress

    This image shows two European men holding down and branding a black woman on the back. It is unclear if this illustration is intended to depict an activity on the African coast or in the New World. The image illustrates the account of Captain Canot (1804-1860), who was a French-Italian slave trader. Canot mostly traded between the Upper Guinea Coast and Cuba. With respect to branding, Canot/Conneau wrote in 1827 that “a few days before the embarkation takes place the head of every male and female are shaven. They are then marked. . . with a hot pipe sufficiently heated to blister the skin. Some [purchasers] use their initials made of silver wir. . . this disagreeable operation is done only when several persons ship slaves in one vessel. . . [The branding] is done as lightly as possible, and just enough for the mark to remain only six months; when and if well done, it leaves the skin as smooth as ever. This scorching sign is generally made on the fleshy part of the arm to adults, to children on the posterior.” The British military officer, John Duncan, described branding of enslaved captives in Dahomey in the mid-1840s. He explained how “the people were led onto the beach, before being placed aboard canoes that would take them to the waiting slave ships, and the gang on each [coffle] chain is in succession marched close to a fire previously kindled on the beach. Here marking-irons are heated, and when an iron is sufficiently hot, it is quickly dipped in palm-oil, in order to prevent its sticking to the flesh. It is then applied to the ribs or hip, and sometimes even to the breast. Each slave-dealer uses his own mark, so that when the vessel arrives at her destination, it is easily ascertained to whom those who died belonged” (see Travels in Western Africa in 1845 & 1846 (London, 1847; reprinted London, 1968), vol. I, p. 143). This image is also published in Henry Howe (ed.), Life and Death on the Ocean [Cincinnati, 1856], p.526); William O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade (Columbus, Ohio, 1857), facing p. 97. Another version of this image is shown on the website of the Mary Evans Picture Library (London), with an attribution to The Pictorial Times (London), 9 August 1845.See also image Blake1.
  • Untitled Image (Slave Auction Poster)

    This poster from St. Helena states “To be Sold & Let by Public Auction on Monday the 18th of May, 1829.” The poster names and briefly identifies both men and women. The image shown here is of a copy of a poster held by the Wilberforce House Museum, Hull England. However, this version has been cropped and lacks the coat of arms of the East India Company that appears on the original. An example of the uncropped poster is published in Robin Castell, St. Helena Proclamations, 1818-1943 (St. Helena, 2004). When reproduced in secondary works, the provenience of this poster is not given, or given as the West Indies or the U.S. South; the latter was the case in earlier versions of this website. However, research by Alexander Schulenburg, an historical anthropologist and specialist on St. Helena, demonstrates that the poster was printed on this tiny British colony in the South Atlantic, even though the island is not mentioned on the poster itself. Schulenburg’s reasoning for identifying the poster as St. Helena specifies that the reproduction shown here lacks the coat of arms that appears at the top of the original, and that this coat of arms is of the East India Company, identical to other St. Helena public notices from that period. Moreover, the “under the trees” specified on the poster refers to a well-known and identifiable spot on St. Helena where auctions and sales of all kinds were regularly held. Blucher, mentioned at the bottom of the poster, was a race horse on the island. The Addison Printer Government Office, at the very bottom, refers to John Addison, who was the colonial government printer. Finally, the poster features two common island surnames. See Schulenburg, “’For Sale Under the Trees-Slaves:’ Reclaiming an Icon of St. Helena’s Shameful Past,” Wirebird: The Journal of the Friends of St. Helena, no. 32 (2006) pp. 13-16). The enslavement of Africans and South Asians (e.g., Goans, Malaysians) had been established on St. Helena by the 1670s, if not earlier. In 1818, children born of slave women on or after Christmas day were nominally freed, and in 1831 or 1832, several years before general emancipation in the British empire, all 614 of the island’s slaves were emancipated. See E.L. Jackson, St. Helena: The Historic Island (New York, 1905), p. 68, 72, 260; Philip Gosse, St. Helena, 1502-1938 (London, 1938), p. 79, 191-92, 300. For a comprehensive account of St. Helena and its role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, see Andrew Pearson, et al., Infernal Traffic: Excavation of a Liberated African Graveyard in Rupert's Valley, St. Helena (CBA Research Report 169, Council for British Archaeology (York, England), 2011.
  • To be sold on board the ship Bance-Island . . . a choice cargo of about 250 fine healthy Negroes.

    This advertisement was for the sale of enslaved Africans published in the South Carolina Gazette and paid for by a prominent firm for importing enslaved Africans to Charleston. The advertisement announces the forthcoming sale of Africans from the Upper Guinea Coast region, and stresses they are free of smallpox, a common disease on the Atlantic crossing. The Library of Congress assigns a possible date from the 1780s, but the advertisement was, in fact, published on April 26, 1760. See Philip Hamer, ed., The Papers of Henry Laurens (Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1972), vol. 3, pp. 35-36.
  • A Slave Auction at the South

    This image shows enslaved people being sold to white onlookers. According to the source, this sketch was drawn by Mr. Davis, "who witnessed the scene shown in this drawing." Accompanying Davis was W. H. Russell, a correspondent for the London Times who gave a detailed description of the slave auctions he viewed while traveling through the South. The location is not identified in the article, but it was sent from Montgomery, Alabama (see vol. 5, p. 447).
  • The Choicest Pieces of her Cargo Were Sold at Auction

    This auction scene accompanies an article, "The New York Slave-Traders" (p. 293-303). The date 1643 is shown on the building behind the auctioneer's block and modern publishers sometimes assume to be the date of the illustration. Howard Pyle (1853-1911) was an American illustrator and author, primarily for young people. He is credited with creating what has become the modern stereotype of pirate dress.
  • Traite de Nêgres

    "Negro Trade" (caption translation). This engraving, by John Raphael Smith, derived from an oil painting by George Morland, an English painter. Morland exhibited the original painting, "Execrable human traffick, or the affectionate slaves," in London in 1788. Morland imagined this scene, which was not based on eye-witness observation. The image shows European slavers and captive Africans. The text underneath states "Quel contrat infame. L'un Marchande Ce qui n'appartient a Personne, L'autre Vend la Propriete De la nature. Ce vil metier a ete aboli par la convention nationale le 16 Pluviose l'An deuxieme de la Republique francaise une et indivisble.'' The translation is "What a squalid contract. One bargains over a person who belongs to no one, the other sells what belongs to Nature. This vile trade was abolished by the National Convention on the 16th Pluviose of the 2nd year [February 4, 1794] of a united and indivisible French Republic." France ended slavery in its colonies on February 4, 1794, but reinstituted it in 1809. The slave trade was abolished in 1818, but general emancipation did not take place until 1848. Although shown here in black and white, this engraving is also available in colored mezzotints. For more details and/or reproductions in color, see Marcus Wood, Blind Memory (Manchester Univ. Press, 2000), plate 2.15; T. Barringer, G. Forrester, and B. Martinez-Ruiz and others, Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and his Worlds (New Haven : Yale Center for British Art in association with Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 302-303; and D. Hamilton and R. Blyth, Representing Slavery: Art, Artifacts and Archives in the Collections of the National Maritime Museum (London, 2007), p. 127.
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