Thursday, October 11, 2012

Montgomery's Slave Markets


From Harper's Weekly, "SLAVE AUCTION IN THE SOUTH," 13 July 1861, page 442 -- On page 442 we publish a picture of a Slave Auction at the South, from a sketch by Mr. Davis, our special artist, who lately traveled through the South in company with W. H. Russell, Esq., LL.D., Correspondent of the London Times. Mr. Russell thus describes slave auctions in a letter from Montgomery, Alabama:

Montgomery's Slave Markets

The crowd was small. Three or four idle men in rough, homespun, makeshift uniforms leaned against the iron rails inclosing a small pond of foul, green-looking water, surrounded by brick-work, which decorates the space in front of the Exchange Hotel. The speaker stood on an empty deal packing-case. A man in a cart was listening with a lack luster eye to the address. Some three or four others, in a sort of vehicle which might either be a hearse or a piano-van, had also drawn up for the benefit of the address. Five or six other men, in long black coats and high hats, some whittling sticks and chewing tobacco, and discharging streams of discolored saliva, completed the group. "N-i-n-e h-hun-nerd and fifty dollars! Only nine h-hun-nerd and fifty dollars offered for him!" exclaimed the man, in the tone of injured dignity, remonstrance, and surprise, which can be insinuated by all true auctioneers into the dryest numerical statements. "Will no one make any advance on nine hundred and fifty dollars?" A man near me opened his mouth, spat, and said, "Twenty-five." "Only nine hundred and seventy-five dollars offered for him! Why, at's radaklous -- only nine hundred and seventy-five dollars! Will no one," etc. Beside the orator auctioneer stood a stout young man of five-and-twenty years of age, with a bundle in his hand. He was a muscular fellow, broad-shouldered, narrow-flanked, but rather small in stature; he had on a broad, greasy, old wide-awake, a blue jacket, a coarse cotton shirt, loose and rather ragged trowsers, and broken shoes. The expression of his face was heavy and sad, but it was by no means disagreeable, in spite of his thick lips, broad nostrills, and high cheek bones. 

On his head was wool instead of hair. I am neither sentimentalist nor Black Republican, nor negro-worshiper, but I confess the sight caused a strange thrill through my heart. I tried in vain to make myself familiar with the fact that I could, for the sum of $975, become as absolutely the owner of that mass of blood, bones, sinew, flesh, and brains as of the horse which stood by my side. There was no sophistry which could persuade me the man was not a man -- he was, indeed, by no means my brother, but assuredly he was a fellow-creature. I have seen slave markets in the East, but somehow or other the Orientalism of the scene cast a coloring over the nature of the sales there which deprived them of the disagreeable harshness and matter-of-fact character of the transaction before me. For Turk, or Smyrniote, or Egyptian to buy and sell slaves seemed rather suited to the eternal fitness of things than to otherwise. The turbaned, shawled, loose-trowsered, pipe-smoking merchants, speaking an unknown tongue, looked as if they were engaged in a legitimate business. One knew that their slaves would not be condemned to any very hard labor, and that they would be in some sort the inmates of the family and members of it. Here it grated on my ear to listen to the familiar tones of the English tongue as the medium by which the transfer was effected, and it was painful to see decent-looking men in European garb engaged in the work before me. Perchance these impressions may wear off, for I meet many English people who are the most strenuous advocates of the slave system, although it is true that their perceptions may be quickened to recognize its beauties by their participation in the profits. The negro was sold to one of the by-standers, and walked off with his bundle God knows where. "Niggers is cheap," was the only remark of the by-standers.

Montgomery's Slave Markets.  The city's slave market was at the Artesian Basin (Court Square). Slaves of all ages were auctioned, along with land and livestock, standing in line to be inspected. Public posters advertised sales and included gender, approximate age, first name (slaves did not have last names), skill, price, complexion and owner's name. In the 1850s, able field hands brought $1,500; skilled artisans $3,000. In 1859, the city had seven auctioneers and four slave depots: one at Market Street (Dexter Avenue) and Lawrence, another at the corner of Perry and Monroe, and two on Market between Lawrence and McDonough.

As I was returning to the hotel there was another small crowd at the fountain. Another auctioneer, a fat, flabby, perspiring, puffy man, was trying to sell a negro girl who stood on the deal box beside him. She was dressed pretty much like a London servant girl of the lower order, out of place, except that her shoes were mere shreds of leather patches, and her bonnet would have scarce passed muster in the New Cut. She, too, had a little bundle in her hand, and looked out at the buyers from a pair of large sad eyes. "Niggers were cheap;" still here was this young woman going for an upset price of $610, but no one would bid, and the auctioneer, after vain attempts to raise the price and excite competition, said, "Not sold to-day, Sally; you may get down." (source: Harper's Weekly)


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  4. I have read also studied in school about slavery. I have a biracial niece. I was not raised to be pruidice. I still for the life of me, what made anyone back then feel as though they can do this!!! I know it was a different time, but really

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