HUMANS: PROPERTY and AUCTIONS (Illustration) Biographies Civil Rights Famous Historical Events Film Law and Politics Social Studies Visual Arts World History Ethics African American History Slaves and Slave Owners

George Bourne, an American abolitionist, included this illustration in his 1838 book, Picture of Slavery in the United State of America. Entitled "Auction at Richmond," it faces page 111. Describing the image, Bourne quotes an unnamed Virginian: “Here, half covered with rags, and loaded with chains, human beings are driven together in crowds, and . . .are sold and bought. Within a few days past, I have beheld in Richmond hundreds of men, women, and children, thus exposed in the open streets, and bartered off like brute animals.” The image (bourne01) is online via Slavery Images.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite; sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. Click on it for a better view.


Arriving in an unfamiliar country, where people did not speak their language, captured Africans were bought and sold at auction as though they were farm horses or cattle. Such was expected in the world of chattel slavery which had developed on "New World" plantations.

The U.S. Library of Congress contains graphic drawings, and photographs, of the buying and selling of Africans in America:

  • Buyers gather for a slave sale in Easton, Maryland.
  • White buyers inspect a kidnapped African and negotiate a purchase price with slave traders.
  • Arriving in South Carolina in the 1780s, a group of Africans are slated to be sold at Ashley Ferry (outside Charleston).
  • Men, women and children are auctioned as though they were farm implements.
  • Families are split apart as the cries of a pleading mother - "Buy us too" - fall on deaf ears. 

We are left to wonder what we might do, were we involved in a slave auction as a participant, a bystander or an object of bidding.

Once purchased, the newly arrived slaves endured hard work - and punishment:

  • It wasn't just overseers, or male "masters," who punished workers as evidenced by this drawing of a white mistress, whipping a black slave girl.
  • Wilson Chinn, an African slave in Louisiana, bears the marks of branding and torture.

John Wesley, the famous British pastor and founder of the Methodist Church, had an apt description for American slavery. He called it "the vilest that ever saw the sun."

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jan 01, 2007

Updated Last Revision: Mar 16, 2017

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"HUMANS: PROPERTY and AUCTIONS" AwesomeStories.com. Jan 01, 2007. Feb 26, 2020.
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