Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Whipping Scars On The Back of The Fugitive Slave Named Gordon

Runaway Slave Gordon.

From the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, "Photography changes the way we record and respond to social issues," by Frank H. Goodyear, III, assistant curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, suggests how mass produced and widely distributed images helped the abolitionist movement.

During the Civil War, photography heroicized the leading politicians and military officers, memorialized sites where the war was waged, and—remarkable for the time—revealed how violent and deadly the battles between Union and Confederate forces actually were. It also played an influential role in broadening the national debate about slavery. As this famous photograph suggests, photography was capable of communicating powerful ideas about the so-called “peculiar institution”—ideas that ultimately undermined the prevailing notion that slavery was a benign tradition.

Gordon As He Entered Our Lines

The photograph pictures the runaway slave Gordon exposing his scourged back to the camera of two itinerant photographers, William D. McPherson and his partner, Mr. Oliver. Gordon had received a severe whipping for undisclosed reasons in the fall of 1862. This beating left him with horrible welts on much of the surface of his back. While the plantation owner discharged the overseer who had carried out this vicious attack, for the next two months as Gordon recuperated in bed, he decided to escape.

In March 1863 he fled his home, heading east towards the Mississippi River. Upon learning of his flight, his master recruited several neighbors and together they chased after him with a pack of bloodhounds. Gordon had anticipated that he would be pursued and carried with him onions from the plantation, which he rubbed on his body to throw the dogs off-scent. Such resourcefulness worked, and Gordon—his clothes torn and his body covered with mud and dirt—reached the safety of Union soldiers stationed at Baton Rouge ten days later. He had traveled approximately eighty miles.

Runaway Slave Gordon under medical inspection.

While at this encampment Gordon decided to enlist in the Union Army. As President Lincoln had granted African Americans the opportunity to serve in segregated units only months earlier, Gordon was at the front of a movement that would ultimately involve nearly 200,000 African Americans. It was during his medical examination prior to being mustered into the army that military doctors discovered the extensive scars on his back. McPherson and Oliver were then in the camp, and Gordon was asked to pose for a picture that would reveal the harsh treatment he had recently received.


The photographic team mass-produced and sold copies of Gordon’s portrait in the small and popular format of the time, known as the carte-de-visite. The image provoked an immediate response as copies circulated quickly and widely. Samuel K. Towle, a surgeon with the 30th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteers working in Baton Rouge, sent a copy of the photograph to the Surgeon-General of the State of Massachusetts. In his accompanying letter he wrote: “Few sensation writers ever depicted worse punishments than this man must have received, though nothing in his appearance indicates any unusual viciousness—but on the contrary, he seems INTELLIGENT AND WELL-BEHAVED.” Within months commercial photographers in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and London were issuing this image on their own studio mounts. This particular copy was made by the famous New York portrait photographer Mathew Brady.

Gordon the Runaway Slave
Harper's Weekly, July 4, 1863

Recognized as a searing indictment of slavery, Gordon’s portrait was presented as the latest evidence in the abolitionist campaign. An unidentified writer for the New York Independent wrote: “This Card Photograph should be multiplied by 100,000, and scattered over the States. It tells the story in a way that even Mrs. [Harriet Beecher] Stowe [author of the 1852 book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin] can not approach, because it tells the story to the eye.” Abolitionist leaders such as William Lloyd Garrison referred to it repeatedly in their work.

On July 4, 1863 Harper’s Weekly reproduced the image as a wood engraving with the article, “A Typical Negro.” Two other portraits of Gordon—one “as he entered our lines,” and the other “in his uniform as a U.S. soldier”—were also included. Together these three images and the accompanying article about his harrowing journey and the brutality of Southern slaveholders transformed Gordon into a symbol of the courage and patriotism of African Americans. His example also inspired many free blacks in the North to enlist.

Gordon in his uniform as a U.S. Soldier.

Records of Gordon’s military service during the Civil War are incomplete. Harper’s Weekly reported that he served as a Union guide in Louisiana, and that during one expedition he was taken captive by Confederate forces, beaten, and left for dead. Yet, he supposedly survived and returned to Union lines. The Liberator reported that he served as a sergeant in an African American regiment that fought bravely at the siege of Port Hudson, an important Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River twenty miles north of Baton Rouge. This battle on May 27, 1863 marked the first time that African American soldiers played a leading role in an assault on a major Confederate position. Their heroism was widely noted and helped convince many skeptics to accept the enlistment of African Americans into the U.S. Army. There are no further records indicating what became of Gordon. Yet, this famous image of him lives on as a searing testament of slavery’s brutality and the fortitude displayed by so many African Americans during this period. (source: Smithsonian Photography Initiative)

89 comments:

  1. racism across u.s stop it right now

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. what u said stop this bs

      Delete
    2. you aint lying girl

      Delete
  2. ou rachet front lace is all wrong you the papi AHAH

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. not a single thing about your post makes any discernible sense.

      Delete
    2. You should try visiting the south. Speak to a life long resident...white or black....then come back on here and say this doesn't make any sense. Watch Django Unchained and reply the above article doesn't make any sense. The black slave(s) were a very strong group of people. They went through and endured more than you or I could today or ever. As a matter of fact, there is and always will be a very dark cloud hanging just above all of the southern states because of how greedy white people are and how far they wouldst go to get what they wanted. Take a look around and see that there are more mixed, beautiful, and intelligent children from black and white couples than EVER before! People should refrain from writing about what they do not know, nor understand.

      Delete
    3. To the commenter on Feb. 3 -- Thank you for your great insight

      Delete
    4. Thank you well said

      Delete
    5. this shit is crazy nd y white people aint get beat ya aint no different

      Delete
    6. true that.... this shit is sad

      Delete
    7. Y r u guys so ignorant about the truth. The comments of 2/3/13 speak the truth. Seeing is believing and when u know better u do better, some of us.

      U reveal ur ignorance, limited knowledge & very limited vocabulary when u resort to foul language to express yourselves. Learn 2rise above ur circumstances & become a better person by learning something. Wisdom is the beginning of knowledge. Don't be stupid forever

      Delete
    8. It was bad i live in the south it was what it was

      Delete
  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The kind of brutality that "Gordon" (sometimes known in history also as "James) experienced was in fact very, very rare. This article even states that the slaverowner fired the slavemaster who did that. There is a reason why this is the only picture of such brutality that you have ever seen: because it WAS so rare. Slaves in general were treated humanely by their masters, they were not even normally called "slaves" but "servants".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comments.

      I'm not agreeing with the whole notion of "very,very rare." Abuse by whipping seems to be more akin to the order of the day.

      You can't be serious about the rarity of whipping. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of newspaper accounts of runaway or fugitive slaves with distinguishing scars from whipping, or branding, or removal of teeth, or dismembering toes, or fetters, iron shackles, iron collars. This certainly seems to be the order of the day. I can certainly point to you some of these accounts from Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Keys To Uncle Tom's Cabin" which is available for free online at several sites here's a link http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/StoKeyu.html; or Charles Dickens "American Notes" http://dickens.classicauthors.net/americannotes/americannotes18.html

      As you know photography was new technology in the late 19th century, so the photographic evidence of whipping scars are rare, but that form of punishment was common. There were people who made a living whipping slaves. Whipping poles were found on every plantation. Slave narratives as well as diaries from slave owners account for whipping as punishment. Brad Pitt is making a movie about the slave narrative "Solomon Northup 12 Years A Slave" -- I have an excerpt from Northup's account here http://usslave.blogspot.com/2011/05/weighing-cotton.html.

      The records of whipping just goes on and on and on. Slavery in the USA was a 246 year institution. Slavery in the Americas (North, South, Central and the Caribbean) lasted from 1503 until 1889 that would be nearly 400 years.

      Whipping was common. Way too common, I might add.

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

      Delete
    2. Here's a couple of more links to slave whipping:

      Slave whipping as a business -- http://usslave.blogspot.com/2012/02/slave-whipping-as-business.html

      Slave Punishments:

      http://usslave.blogspot.com/2011/09/slave-tortures-mask-scolds-bridle-or.html

      http://usslave.blogspot.com/2011/02/tortures-by-iron-collars-chains-fetters.html

      http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=6971823835434059276#editor/target=post;postID=7947517168856434176

      Delete
    3. Again, slavery apologist. How is this acceptable? Americans worked so hard to cultivate an intolerance for holocaust denial--why not an intolerance for casual denial of the reality of slavery? Do these people know nothing of human nature--or are they just the descendants of the men who perpetrated these crimes against humanity? Little has changed, I see. -LG

      Delete
    4. {{Again, slavery apologist. How is this acceptable?}}

      I agree. That's one of the reasons why I started this blog, to EDUCATE about the history of enslavement, slavery, and unfree labor.

      There are literally thousands of posts on this blog addressing slavery from almost every conceivable angle. It baffles me how one can read the EVIDENCE of violence and abuse and whitewash its historic impact. I don't get how many mental gymnastic moves one has to preform in order to construct an alternative reality.

      Some people don't like facts, they prefer fairy tales, and myths to history and reality. It must make them feel good. After all God gave them the Indian land and black slaves to work for their enrichment. It's hard to reconcile the American mythic narrative of the land of the free, in the home of the slave.

      --Ron Edwards
      US Slave Blog

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    5. Are you really serious? And what resources, may I ask, have you examined to support your position?

      Delete
    6. Likewise, I have come across this slave photograph under various names and nationalities; he's been presented as an American slave or an English slave. One of the first casualties of war is the truth. It has been said that a slave cost as much as a car today. It doesn't make sense to beat up an automobile after paying good money for it.

      Delete
    7. Have you ever thought that the rarity of photos has alot to do with the fact that not everyone had access to a camera?

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    8. Slavery was one of the most brutal institutions this nation has ever know. Slaves were beaten, torchured and hanged. This was the greatest testiment to man's brutality against man ever known

      Delete
    9. You must be on the wrong kind of crack or rather overdose of same! Have you ever studied undiluted evil that those innocent souls that were brutally taken from their lands, families and countries went through? Maybe you expect them to expose their continue sponsor of terrorism around the world on camera huh?
      One thing remains that white race like their Arab ones are nothig but blood thirsty demons masked as humans.. They think nothing else other than to destroy other if they cannot dominate or rule over them like slaves!
      Maybe you have heard about the slave ship Zong among many more, on how sadistic white folks could be. Forget that Africans in their warm welcoming nature welcomed them in their lands, thinking they're human beings, not knowing that they are demon wearing human skin!

      Delete
  5. Thank you for your post! It was both comprehensive and informative. I was also impressed to see that you've posted what seems to be one of the very few photographic images of "As He Entered Our Lines". Do you know whether this image was reproduced and distributed during the Civil War?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The drawings are from a widely distributed magazine called Harper's Weekly, with a dateline of July 4, 1863. Therefore, if the Civil War started in 1861 and ended in 1865, then yes these drawings are obviously reproductions of the photographs.

      The whole Contraband Camp, Union Lines and Fugitive Slave thing gets a little fuzzy historically. It seems like there were some people who were anti-slavery, but also anti-black, there were some who were anit-black and pro-slavery, some were anti-slavery and pro-black ... the records of abuse within the Union lines of escaping slaves or slave refugees (remember much of the south was an active war zone) is legendary.

      That being said, there were also very active abolitionist Quakers and others who had enough money to use photography to document the escaping slaves. I bet somewhere in the records of the US Army archives there are photographs of the conditions of enslavement as well as the conditions of the Civil War Contraband Camps. But, there is such a suppression of the archival documents of slavery ... Just remember who would have had the most documents of institutional enslavement, the plutocrat planters who started the Civil War and the Lost Cause in the first place, so destroying the records or suppressing the archives seems quite feasible.

      Just remember it wasn't until very recently that the Thomas Jefferson Estate even acknowledged the whole Sally Hemmings thing. There are very powerful families and very powerful interests who don't want this history brought to light. Slavery was a rich man's game whose players included Kings, Queens, Dukes, Lords, Princes and Princesses.

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

      Delete
  6. I think what you say about the complex attitudes of Northerners towards Black slaves is very right. The ambiguity about not only slavery, but the possibility of Black equal rights was a fraught one, a fact that seems best exemplified by the types of representation of Black people and former slaves in 19th century popular news media. White Northern print culture represents Blacks as simultaneously cowardly and courageous, victims and actors (a phenomenon curiously evident in Harper's Weekly's article about Gordon, "A Typical Negro").

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  12. Thanks for a wonderful blog, should be required viewing for every high school student. it saddens me that so many of my children's peers are fed the "slaves were treated well because they were property" myth. there's a correlation between such ignorance and the plethora of racist posts by children on social media following this election.
    Slavery still exists and without honest assessment of its history, it always will.

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  16. I just finished an essay final on the Freedmen's Bureau and in my research I stumbled upon this site. Wow, an amazing collection of images and much thought-provoking and stimulating conversation - Thank you!

    And to the poor ignorant soul that was trying to sugarcoat the centuries of torturous and murderous practices of chattel slavery, there are pages and pages of primary source documents available to read on the Freedmen's Bureau site located here - http://freedmensbureau.com/outrages.htm. These are reports taken at the time of the actual accounts, and they are filed under "Murders and Outrages". Although I must warn anybody who decides to read them, the content is hard to stomach.

    Thank you again for the great work put into this website.

    Tammy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tammy,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I certainly appreciate your Freedmen's Bureau hat tip. There are so many fruitful primary resources to be found on the Freedmen's site. History is fascinating!

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

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  37. this was a great post..i just watched django last night and it was a great movie...it is a shame how slaves were treated..just imagine being in that period of time walkin miles upon miles no water whenever you wanted no food all the time..working in the heat 24/7 im native american indian and black my finace is white and black we have three beautiful children..we lived in georgia for a year it was nice but when we drove morw south and in the farming areas you could tell the difference..we passed cotton fields and i immediatly felt a cloud of hatred in that area..its ashame..people need to wake up

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  38. We sure have evolved as a nation. We went from using n1ggers as whipping targets, to using n1ggers as shooting targets! Whipping was such good exercise, though...no wonder why Americans are so fat these days lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your parents must be siblings to have produced such an ignorant person like you. Stop with the racial slurs. You're so tough posting crap behind the anonymity of the Internet. Most racists are nothing more than cowards who are insecure. Grow up.

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  40. We can not change yesterday, but we can change tomorrow ! First we must seek God ! Man is not nor ever been all knowing ~! We must live by Gods laws. Quit dividing the people by race, and hate ! Those who captured in Africa hold the blame as well ! You must live by the TRUTH ! Stop believing what you have been taught by MAN ! Seek the truth ! Ask !! What was in Lincoln's heart when he signed the Proclamation of Emancipation ? Ask if he is the HERO ? Why only free the slaves in the SOUTH, and HOLD those in the NORTH BOUND !! Tell me some lies !Why did it take so long after the war begin ? More LIES ! Tell me how it has changed AMERICA ? What about the slaves of TODAY ? Those PIMPS with TV shows to show the glamor of slavery, and a Black President who has not said ONE WORD ! Yet the 12 year old & teens are forced into drug induced sex slavery, and no one gives a DAMN ! If we have another CIVIL WAR over the rights of state to own guns or Obama Care ! We can blame it on slavery again ! This time the South can free the slaves in the NORTH !

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  43. Thank you for making this information accessible. My own family was on the blameable side of the Confederate War, my grandfather having been the grandson of a preacher/farmer who enslaved some people in Georgia. We have a journal from our former slaver penned after the Civil War; sadly but unsurprisingly he was still not a nice person, controlling the former-slave laborers on his farm by threatening to not pay their wages at the end of the work season (yet also his human side shows as he mourns the loss of his own son). I stumbled upon your blog while trying to look up the value of a family heirloom, a bell, that likely was used during those days. Oh so terribly sobering. Thank you for the wake-up.

    Please consider removing the numerous spam comments, as they obscure the value of your work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I really do need to eradicate the spam on this blog. Although it's not a viable excuse, but being a one-man show, I need to take one day out of the week or month to clear out the crap. I take great pains to get rid of the porn spam. Good catch, I'll work on that more.

      As far as the Confederacy is concerned, my great-great grandfather (to the third power or so) was also a Confederate in Raymond, Mississippi during the Grant Campaign in Vicksburg. We descend from the Colonel Dillon's "other family" ... the one that occupied the slave quarters. The white family got all of the land, and they even have recognition from the National Park Service .... while, Colonel Dillon's other bloodline with his slave girl just gets the middle finger of life.

      I bet those old Mississippi Daughters of the Confederacy don't have a clue as to how many black relatives they have. My grandmother and her sisters stayed in the Raymond/Edwards area of Mississippi, while a couple of her brothers left the South and lived their lives as "white men." All of Colonel Dillon's black children were all extremely fair skinned people and they could have "passed" for white anywhere except Mississippi (that one drop rule was an immutable force). We learned at an early age that black is black, no matter how dark or how light, we were all in the same Apartheid boat going nowhere in Mississippi.

      I'm off too deep on a personal tangent. Thanks again, for your comments.

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

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  45. "But a slave owner with a few slaves seldom if ever ordered physical punishment and for a number of reasons; the slave would harder to work, control; the slave would be more likely to flee and most importantly the slave might seek revenge and if you could not afford a overseer then you would be the one to face the music.

    A slave owner of means hired an overseer to handle slave matters, which would have been beneath the owner and he would never be presented during discipline. It was considered vulgar and beneath one of status. Now please don’t misunderstand this analogy as I am not saying a black was on the level of a pet, I am trying to point out what society at the time thought of physical discipline. That was something along the lines of one of your neighbors mistreating his familys' livestock or pets, demeaning, cruel, a crude violent person. As, I said I have no doubt if slaves had fled and were caught lee or anyone would have ordered them whipped but at the same time I am just as confident that Lee would never have been present".

    ReplyDelete
  46. i think its great for the children

    ReplyDelete
  47. Replies
    1. Your comment was SO dumb. What are you, twelve? Give your mom back her phone and go to bed. Smh

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    2. well ur not

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    3. That was an ignorant comment! There was nothing cool about being a slave or being enslaved. If you have nothing of value to post, don't post anything at all.

      Delete
  48. more links to "Gordon"
    http://www.abhmuseum.org/2013/06/how-slavery-became-legal-for-blacks-only/scouraged-back-private-gordon-1863-m-brady/

    ReplyDelete
  49. He was also called "Peter"
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/193232640233042695/

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  50. Hi!

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  51. We need more of this "Negro Whippens Today more than ever.
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    Replies
    1. Jim Ratery, you must be a card carrying member of the KKK to post something that ignorant. Maybe we should get together and whip on your a$$. How about that?!

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  53. We all agree that slavery was a tragic part of our history, I'm sure being an indentured servant for some whites was not pleasant as well. Between the two, I would pick being indentured. But let us keep in mind, and it is important for our children to be taught, that our Nation was founded on the principal of eliminating slavery, I believe our Constitution mentions 20 years. Unfortunately that did not take place and therefore created the divide that ultimately cost our Nation to pay a very heavy price. Our Nation did not create the institution of slavery, but thankfully it ended it. But now we are all on a better path thanks to all of our ancestors. But, and here is the REAL issue. We should stop concentrating so much on our past and realize that SLAVERY still exists in this world. People are still being placed in slavery, caught, bought, and sold TODAY in some countries just as they were 149 years ago in ours. Where is the outrage, the discuss, the rising tide of hatred against these countries? Or is it too easy to sit back and complain about what happened in our past. Its time to turn our heads forward and carry the banner of freedom to these off shore places that still practice this horrible institution. But I doubt you will ever hear the oh so concerned black leadership or spineless politicians taking up the banner of freedom. Sorry, I carried on too long, I'm tired and your tired of reading. So lets all get another drink, sit back, and complain some more about OUR history. It's so much easier. My glass is empty. Have a great day.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Lord, have mercy.

    ReplyDelete
  55. the world was a very very harsh place back in the 1800's

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  56. It really pisses me off that people can take a look at that picture and think it logical to go from there to "white people are sadistic". Bigotry doesn't just go one direction I guess! The fact is that slavery still exists...in "warm-hearted" Africa: in Arab lands; in some parts of Eastern Europe where women are trafficked in the sex trade. Aint got nuthin to do with what colour your skin is. Sadists and greedy mercenaries come in all shades. Today's bigoted African-Americans like to conveniently forget that the majority of African slaves were not captured by Europeans - it was Africans who were selling other Africans, from rival tribal groups, that supplied the market. Slavery is wrong and bad, obviously. But it sure as hell wasn't "white people" who thought of it all by themselves and did it to everybody else. There are cruel exploiters of every gender, every race, every religion, every nationality. And there are kind and good people to be found just as universally. Exploring the history of slavery should not be some kind of justification to support bigotry against others. Part of my heritage is white, but I can guarantee that none of my ancestors on that side were slave-holders because they were poor workers who were also being exploited by the rich. All the bluster about racism prevents focusing on the real issue which is about class and economic deprivation. Instead of trying to make this a black/white issue, you should realize that the poor and exploited of this world are ALL victims of the same powerful elites and together we should combat them instead of taking cheap shots.

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