An Advertisement for the Sale of Eleven Slaves, February 17, 1812
This advertisement announced the sale of four men, two women, and five children that would take place on February 24, 1812, at the Eagle Tavern in Richmond. This broadside foreshadows Richmond's rise as a major market in the domestic, or interstate, slave trade by the middle of the nineteenth century. The woodcut depicting laborers suggests that the printer produced advertisements of slaves often enough to justify the expense of commissioning the artwork. Much of the slave-trading activity in Richmond took place in hotels located in the area of Shockoe Bottom. Venues like the Eagle Tavern, built in 1787 and located on the south side of Main Street between Twelfth and Thirteenth streets, the Exchange Hotel, and many others had special holding pens and showrooms where sales took place. In order to make the best impression with potential buyers, there were even businesses that specialized in dressing slaves for sale.
Notable in this broadside is the mention of the skills practiced by these enslaved African Americans. A carpenter, a “Brick Moulder,” a tanner, and “a good Crop Hand” or agricultural worker, are listed, providing evidence that many slaves were trained as artisans and craftsmen. This widespread practice was intended to save slave owners money, but it also had the effect of reducing the need for free white laborers. To avoid competition with enslaved laborers who were the mainstay of the southern workforce, many European immigrants to the United States during the antebellum period settled in the North. Between 1810 and 1820, a “prime field hand” sold for about $400. By the 1830s, that increased to $600 in Virginia, and $1,100 in Louisiana. Between 1810 and 1820, scholars estimate that 45,000 enslaved people were sold away from Virginia. As many as 300,000 enslaved African Americans were sold through Richmond to points in the lower South by the 1860s.
Being sold at an auction was an embarrassing and frightening experience for enslaved African Americans. Men and women were forced before a roomful of spectators to strip so their bodies could be inspected for defects. This included showing teeth and an inspection of mouths, eyes, and other extremities. Sales were especially frightening because slaves did not know who their new owners would be, or if they would be sold away from their loved ones. These conditions sometimes spurred some enslaved African Americans to run away from the South, and there were rumors that slave rebellions were inspired because of such forced separations. Outside of the South, the horrors of the auction block featured prominently in antislavery speeches and literature.
1. What would have taken place at a slave auction? What would that experience have been like for an enslaved person?
2. The adjective “young” is used twice in this document. Why would that have been important to potential buyers?
3. Might the people being advertised for sale in this broadside be members of the same family? What effect did the institution of slavery have on African American families?
1. What is the difference between the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the domestic slave trade?
2. What legal and social complications were caused because enslaved African Americans were considered property?
3. Explore the economy that surrounded the slavery and the slave trade, both in the South and in the North. What was required for this type of economy to be successful? What did enslaved African Americans contribute to the national economy?
An unexplained penned notation beneath the identity of the printer reads, "Found near the Pamunkey River in the house of Dr. Brockenbro'— Wrote to Lyaura was it received? H."
Deyle, Steven. Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Eggert, Gerald G. “Notes and Documents: A Pennsylvanian Visits the Richmond Slave Market,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 109, no. 4 (October 1985): 571–576.
Gudmestad, Robert H. “A Troublesome Commerce”: The Transformation of the Interstate Slave Trade. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003.
Johnson,Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999.