BUYING AND SELLING PEOPLE (Illustration) American History African American History Civil Rights Law and Politics Nineteenth Century Life Social Studies Ethics Slaves and Slave Owners

On the 27th of September, 1856, The Illustrated London News published a wood engraving which depicts a slave auction in Richmond, Virginia. Appearing at page 315, the image shows a black woman being auctioned-off in the presence of a crowd of men. Online, courtesy the Library of Congress.  Click on the image to expand the view.


For $1,500 Jacob Cook bought several slaves in 1850. Those slaves had been owned by Mary Caton before her death.

When she died, and her estate was probated, Caton's Will listed slaves as "inventory." Her heirs inherited people just as they inherited tangible things like furniture. And as they could sell inherited goods, Mary's heirs could sell inherited people. Sometimes those people were sold to satisfy debts of the estate.

Such ownership documentation was required for the "master" to claim a runaway slave was a fugitive. Jacob Cook, like many other slaveholders, made such a claim against his slave.

The United States Federal Court even had a special book for tracking fugitive slaves.

After the Civil War was over, North and South wanted to move past slavery issues. "Enough" had been said - and done - to cause damage. Why perpetuate animosity and negative feelings? As a result, the opportunity to contemporaneously record the oral histories of an emancipated people was lost.

In the 1930s, however, the federal government employed writers who interviewed thousands of elderly, former slaves. What follows, in the succeeding chapters, are examples of those narratives.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jun 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Apr 05, 2014

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