Slavery - Exchange People for Horses

Slavery - Exchange People for Horses African American History Slaves and Slave Owners Visual Arts


This image appears—among other places—in A Picture of Slavery, for Youth, by Jonathan Walker. It depicts the inhuman treatment of slaves in America.

The objective of the author was to:

Undo the heavy burthen [burden], let the oppressed go free, break every yoke.


There's a story that accompanies this horse-trading illustration in "A Picture of Slavery for Youth." Among other things, it has to do with misleading a slave who should have been freed:

A few years ago, in Virginia, a transaction took place, which this picture in part represents. I will just state the substance of it.

A minister, who was in possession of a stolen horse, wanted to get him off his hands, and so he swapped him away for a slave, whose name was Tom, and paid an equivalent, as the slave was thought to be of more value than the horse.

The understanding between Tom and the minister was, that when Tom should earn enough to pay the minister what he cost him, he should have his freedom.

So Tom toiled on for several years, during which time he got a wife, and was expecting not only to be free himself, but at no distant day to be able to free his wife by purchase or otherwise.

But Tom’s master was in no hurry to liberate [free] him; and after long years had passed by, and some of the neighbors had told Tom that he had much more than paid his master the cost, he began to tease his master for his freedom.

But the minister held Tom as his property, and of too much value to be lost when a good price could be obtained for him, and was therefore about to sell him, when Tom found it out, and, in a fit of despair, seized an axe [see the top illustration], and cut off his forefinger and thumb, which considerably reduced his price in the market. (See pages 18 and 19 of Picture of Slavery.)

Exchanging horses for slaves—or slaves for horses—did not originate in America. John Wright, in The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade, tells us that in the 15th century there was an established rate which applied to such trades at that time:

As the local exchange rate was between 9 and 14 slaves per horse, depending on the ‘quality’ of both humans and animals, he could expect at least 60 and perhaps as many as 100 slaves for his animals … by the end of the fifteenth century so many horses had been shipped into West Africa through Arguin [an island off the west coast of Mauritania] that the exchange rate had fallen to six or seven slaves/horse. (See Wright at page 44.)

Click on the image for a better view.

0 Question or Comment?
click to read or comment
3 Questions 2 Ponder
click to read and respond
0 It's Awesome!
vote for your favorite

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

Original Release: Apr 30, 2015

Updated Last Revision: Sep 22, 2017

Media Credits

Online via Library of Congress.

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"Slavery - Exchange People for Horses" AwesomeStories.com. Apr 30, 2015. Aug 18, 2018.
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Show tooltips