Slave Sales & Auctions: African Coast & the Americas

  • Inspection and Sale of a Negro

    This image shows European and African slave traders with one of the former inspecting a slave, while another onlooking and a third bargaining over trade goods with African traders. Brantz Mayer (1809-1879) was an American author and prominent journalist. His book was written from the journals, memoranda and conversations he had with Captain Theodore Canot (1804-1860), who was a French-Italian adventurer and slave trader. Canot mostly traded between the Upper Guinea Coast and Cuba. A very similar image, with some people added, is published in William O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade (Columbus, Ohio, 1857, facing p. 112); see image Blake2 on this website.
  • Miss Fillis and child, and Bill, sold at publick sale in May 12th, Christiansburg, Montgomery County

    This watercolor shows a mother holding her infant, an adult male by her side and white men bidding at the slave auction. Written on the auction block: [Bill] sold for 800 and Fillis for 600. Lewis Miller (1796-1882) was a native of Pennsylvania, a carpenter and often visited his brother in Virginia. His watercolors are rare because he depicted enslaved people. According to the Encyclopedia Virginia, "His pictures are also valued for their relative emotional detachment and credibility, for Miller fancied himself a recorder, not an agitator, activist, or commentator."
  • Europeans Purchasing an Enslaved Woman, 1793

    This ink and watercolor painting is signed by the artist, Samuel Hutchinson, which he dated 1793 and titled Slave Traffic. This is an imagined scene, not based on the artistís own experience. It shows a coastal scene with a group of European men and a captive woman in chains and European vessels anchored offshore. In a catalog description of this painting, it is claimed that the painting refers to the story of Inkle and Yarico, first published in 1711 (D. Hamilton and R. Blyth, Representing Slavery: Art, Artifacts and Archives in the Collections of the National Maritime Museum [London, 2007], p. 274). However there is no evidence suggesting that the painting relates to this story about a young English sailor (Inkle) who allegedly duped his Amerindian lover (Yarico) and sold her into slavery in Barbados in the seventeenth century. The story, in fact, was first published in 1657 (in Richard Ligon's True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados) and a greatly embellished and fanciful version of it, which became the basis for a number of literary versions, was published in The Spectator (London) in 1711. It is more likely that the painting relates to the controversy surrounding the trans-Atlantic slave trade, then a major issue in Britain. Compare the scene in the lower right-hand corner of this image with the illustration un Anglais de la Barbade vend sa maitresse (image H005 on this website); perhaps the artist incorporated the latter into his painting.
  • African Slave Trader, Angola, 1855

    Caption, Vabia, alias John Sawyer, Meluca [Mafuka] of Malembo [Malemba] and One of his Wives. The wife is holding an infant; the bearded Vabia is making a mat. Malemba/Malembo, north of the Congo river on the Loango coast of present-day Angola, became a major slave trading station of the KaKongo people by the 18th century. The Mafuka (Mafouk, Mafuk) was the offical charged with the overall management of the trade (see P. Martin, The External Trade of the Loango Coast, 1576-1870 [Oxford, 1972]). The NMM description of this image notes that John Sawyer is employed making a mat & lamenting the decline of the slave trade. 25 June 1855. Also noted is that the British Foreign Office estimated that Malemba exported some 27,000 slaves between 1817 and 1843. However, by the date of this illustration the trade had declined considerably, impoverishing many of the officials who had profited from it. The NMM has a volume of watercolors, including the one show here, showing the commission of the sloop Linnet to suppress slavery. The drawings were done by Henry Need in 1852-1856; see and D. Hamilton and R. Blyth, Representing Slavery: Art, Artifacts and Archives in the Collections of the National Maritime Museum (London, 2007), p. 242.
  • Slave Sale, Richmond, Virginia, 1861

    Caption, Dealers inspecting a Negro at a slave auction in Virginia. This illustration accompanies a detailed eyewitness description of slave sales in Richmond. The person shown here was to be auctioned, and some of the buyers . . . asked him a variety of questions, as to his last employment, state of his health, and so forth. Then they turned his head to the light, and lifted the corners of his eyes to ascertain if they were free from indications of disease; in the same way they examined his teeth. they did not do this in a harsh or brutal manner, but just the same as a doctor might examine a patient (pp. 139-140). A composite engraving, combining the image shown here with an auction block scene shown on this website ( auction_richd_1861) was published in the French publication L'illustration, Journal Universel (vol. 37 [1861], p. 148), misleadingly giving the impression that the scene is an original depiction of a slave sale in South Carolina; this illustration, in turn, appears on the Mary Evans Picture Library website with an unattributed source (picture no. 10044451).
  • Negroes Driven South by the Rebel Officers

    This scene depicts the common practice of moving slaves farther South to avoid adhering to the Emancipation Proclamation. These slaves lived in Leesburg, Virginia, and were driven by Confederate soldiers. To minimize the loss of profit, masters chained their slaves together during the long journey. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization was an American political magazine based in New York City and published by Harper & Brothers from 1857 until 1916. It featured foreign and domestic news, fiction, essays on many subjects and humor, alongside illustrations. It covered the American Civil War extensively, including many illustrations of events from the war.
  • Slave Auction, Richmond, Virginia, 1853

    Shows a woman being auctioned in front of a crowd of white onlookers and bidders; other slaves to be auctioned in the background. This engraving was made from an eyewitness sketch by the English artist Eyre Crowe who observed the auction on March 3, 1853. This and another sketch (see image NW0278), Crowe reports, was took on the spot, and writes how the auctions take place in rooms on the ground floor. . . . Outside the doors are hung small garish flags of blood red, upon which are pinned small manuscript descriptions of the negroes to be disposed of . . . . . As you enter you see what we have endeavored to sketch . . . . an eye-bepatched and ruffianly-looking fellow in check trousers and grimy in every part of his person, with no hammer in his hand . . . [who] takes the swelling bids, . . . . with uplifted finger: he calls out the money bids up to 1200 dollars, which is generally the most a negro fetches (p. 314).
  • Newly Arrived Enslaved Africans, Surinam, 1770s

    Group of men, women, and children being herded ashore by a European. This and other engravings are found in the autobiographical narrative of Stedman, a young Dutchman who joined a military force against rebellions of the enslaved in the Dutch colony. The engravings are based on Stedmanís own drawings and were done by professional engravers. For the definitive modern edition of the original 1790 Stedman manuscript, which includes this and other illustrations see Richard and Sally Price, eds. Narrative of a five years expedition against the revolted Negroes of Surinam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988).
  • Slaves Waiting to be Sold, Richmond, Virginia, 1853

    Caption, Slaves waiting for sale, Virginia. An engraving taken from an eyewitness sketch by the English artist, Eyre Crowe who observed this scene on March 3, 1853. Crowe reports that the sketch was took on the spot, for which we narrowly escaped . . . being . . . ignominiously expelled. A brood of young ones are seen sitting on a rude bench, nestling close to their mother, who clasps the youngest in her embrace . . . . The auctioneer hauls them up one after the other to his stand, and so are they daily consigned to an unknown fate (p. 314). See also image NW0276. The engraving published in the ILN was cropped from a larger sketch done by Crowe. This sketch appears in his travel account of the United States which he visited from October 1852 to April 1853, With Thackeray in America (New York, 1893), p. 132. The book also includes additional details on the sale, after which, Crowe writes, aOoewe saw the usual exodus of negro slaves, marched under escort of their new owners across the town to the railway station, where they took places, and went South (p. 136). (Thanks to Maurie McInnis for her assistance with this and other images by Crowe.)
  • Slave Auction, Charleston, South Carolina, 1853

    Men, women, and children being sold are displayed on a raised platform. Illustration accompanies an article (Sale of Slaves at Charleston, South Carolina) by an unidentified English traveler who observed the scene that is shown. The traveler was, in fact, the English artist Eyre Crowe who visited Charleston in March 1853. He compares slave auctions in South Carolina and Virginia. In the latter (see image NW0278), the auction is hidden as much as possible in out-of-the-way places while in Charleston, it takes place in a central part of the city; a detailed description of the Charleston auction is given (p. 556). A similar description is given in Eyre's account of his visit to the United States in 1852-53, With Thackeray in America? (New York, 1893), pp. 150-152.
  • Slave Auction, Martinique, 1826

    Caption, Une Vente de Negres (Slave Sale). The author witnessed the sale by a planter whose business had failed. He describes how the bodies of slaves to be sold were inspected and scrutinized by prospective buyers (p. 24). The engraving shows a black woman (center) being examined by whites; other Africans awaiting sale, white auctioneers on the right.
  • Slaves Awaiting Sale, New Orleans, 1861

    Caption, Slaves for Sale: A Scene in New Orleans. Shows formally dressed men, with top hats, and women, presumably house servants, waiting to be sold; sign over doorway reads T. Hart Slaves. According to the article in the ILN, The accompanying engraving represents a gang of Negroes exhibited in the city of New Orleans, previous to an auction, from a sketch made on the spot by our artist. The men and women are well clothed, in their Sunday best-- the men in blue cloth . . . with beaver hats; and the women in calico dresses, of more or less brilliancy, with silk bandana handkerchiefs bound round their heads . . . . they stand through a good part of the day, subject to the inspection of the purchasing or non-purchasing passing crowd . . . . An orderly silence is preserved as a general rule at these sales, although conversation does not seem to be altogether prohibited (The Illustrated London News [p. 307]). The same image appears a few years later in Harper's Weekly (Jan. 24, 1863,p. 61), with the caption A Slave Pen at New Orleans Before the Auction; there is no accompanying explanation for this image which appears to have been taken from the Illustrated London News.
  • A Captive

    This engraving shows an enslaved African from the Loango Coast and Kwanza North regions shows several captive Africans, including women and children, while an African guard holds a spear. Glave lived in the Congo for six years, 1883-1889. He provided a vivid account of slaving activities in the Congo river basin. The illustration was described as captives being "hobbled with roughly hewn logs which chafe their limbs to open sores; sometimes a whole tree presses its weight on their bodies while their necks are penned into the natural prong formed by its branching limbs. Others sit from day to day with their legs and arms maintained in a fixed position by rudely constructed stocks, and each slave is secured to the roof-posts by a cord knotted to a cane ring which either encircles his neck or is intertwined with his woolly hair. Many die of pure starvation, as the owners give them barely enough food to exist upon. . . After suffering this captivity for a short time, they become mere skeletons. All ages, of both sexes, are to be seen: mothers with their babes; young men and women; boys and girls; and even babies who cannot yet walk. . . One seldom sees either old men or old women; they are all killed in the raids" (Glave, pp. 830-31). This image was reproduced in Thomas W. Knox, The Boy Travellers on the Congo (New York, 1887). A variant of this illustration, captioned for sale appears in Glave's book In Savage Africa (New York, 1892), p. 201.
  • Recently Arrived Enslaved Africans, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1819-1820

    Title, Sick Slaves. This image shows, Chamberlain writes, a group of newly-imported invalid Negroes . . . taking the air . . . under the care of a Capataz, or keeper, who generally bears the badge of his office--a whip--more for show than use. These miserable creatures . . . have the appearance of scarecrows, and it is sometimes extraordinary how such emaciated beings can muster sufficient strength to walk about. In the right-hand corner, two other African-born slaves are carrying baskets and playing musical instruments: on the left, the man, a native of Mozambique, is playing an instrument of his country, called the Madimba, a sort of violin with a single wire while on the right, a Congo Negro, is performing . . . upon the Sambee, an instrument of his country. The foreground figures in Chamberlain's book were copied from three 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.)
  • Buying Slaves, Havana, Cuba, 1837

    Caption: Selecting Others. Included in a lengthy chapter on the slave trade, this scene illustrates a description of slave trading in Cuba by a British naval officer, Richard Grant, who visited Havana in 1837. Grant describes the slave market, the barracones, and reports on a Spanish gentleman who had purchased eight slaves, and was selecting others . . . (pp. 439-440). This illustration is sometimes reproduced in secondary sources which erroneously give the impression it is based on an eye-witness drawing; however, the illustration is the late nineteenth century artist's imaginative rendering and is a fabrication.
  • Slave Market in Zanzibar, East Africa, 1873

    Caption, Slave-dealers and slavesóa Street Scene in Zanzibar. The accompanying article, which is critical of the slave trade (p. 410), notes that the illustration shows a group of living skeletons, chained neck and neck, being newly-captured slaves from the interior. The engraving was taken from a sketch, sent by Mr. H. Jacob, formerly of Zanzibar, now of Prince Edward's County, Virginia, U.S.A. Although showing a scene in East Africa, some of the features depicted, such as the captured Africans linked by chains, are similar to what might have been witnessed in West and Central Africa during the nineteenth century. Henry Jacob, a Quaker of Irish origin, had lived in Zanzibar for about a year in 1865 when he worked for a large British trading company. After returning to England, he and his family migrated to the U.S., eventually moving to Prince Edward county in the late 1860s or early 1870s. In 1875-78, Jacob, identified as a surveyor, produced a detailed map of the county, up-dating earlier ones (see Library of Congress). He and his family remained in PE county until at least the early 1880s, and moved to Richmond where Henry worked as a draughtsman for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. He lived in Richmond until at least the mid to late 1880s; by 1890 he was in the area of Cincinnati, Ohio, where he died in 1905. There are some indications that Jacob did other sketches of Zanzibar, but their location is unknown. (See, Herbert Bradshaw, History of Prince Edward County, Virginia [Richmond, VA, 1955]; Yvonne Bird, ed., A Quaker Family in India and Zanzibar 1863-1865 [privately printed, England, 2000]).
  • A Slave Auction

    This image shows an artist's representation of an enslaved mother and her daughter on the auction block, while another enslaved mother was with an infant waiting to be sold. There were numerous white onlookers and a white auctioneer. The text accompanying this artist's fabrication discussed events preceding the Civil War. The illustration itself is not discussed. Sometimes reproduced in modern works, without citation to an original source and giving the erroneous impression that this is an eye-witness illustration.
  • Slave Market, Zanzibar, 1864

    This engraving was made from a drawing based on a photograph; it is one of several scenes showing aspects of East African slavery and accompanies an article (pp. 239,242), based on eyewitness reports, describing the slave trade in East Africa. The original photograph, dated 1864, is in the Bibliotheque Nationale (Paris) and can be viewed on-line at (thanks to Claude Picard for this information).
  • Slave Yard at Goree, Senegal, 1805

    Captioned, View of a slave yard at Gorèe, this illustration shows several men, women, and children; a man on the left appears to be having lice picked out of his hair, two women are shown with infants on their backs (one is pounding meal, using a wooden mortar and pestle). The riches of the inhabitants consists of slaves, the Spilsbury writes, each house having a slave yard, with huts for them; among the female slaves are many elegant figures . . . The slaves of both sexes are naked, except the piece of cloth which passes round their loins. The females do all the drudgery , such as beating corn, etc. and their children at their backs: this operation is performed in a wooden mortar, with a large pestle; and to show their agility, the women clap their hands while it flies upwards (p. 12). The author, a surgeon aboard the Favourite, made the various sketches from which the accompanying engravings have been produced . . . the drawings and portraits were made on the spot (pp. iii-iv).
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