In 1865, Youth’s Companion printed a series of articles by abolitionist James Redpath, who contributed several pieces from 1865 to 1867. In “Eye and Ear Notes,” he offered readers of the Companion descriptions of Southern incidents before and just after the War: everything from a slave auction to a patriotic May-day celebration. The pieces are surprisingly gritty and often have a raw power.
[Scraps for Youth] “Eye and Ear Notes: A Slave Sale,” by “Uncle James” [James Redpath] (from The Youth’s Companion, December 14, 1865; p. 198)

In the spring of 1859 I was at Richmond, Va. I attended the slave auction rooms, and saw several negroes sold to the highest bidder. In order that my young readers may understand how the traffic in human beings was conducted, I will copy from my diary the account that I wrote of this day’s sales immediately after I had witnessed them.

I saw a slave sale to-day! The advertisement subjoined, announcing it, appeared in the Richmond Enquirer and the Richmond Examiner.

By DICKERSON, HILL & CO., Auctioneers.
10 NEGROES.—Will be sold by us, this morning, at 10 o’clock, 10 likely negroes.
      Dickerson, Hill & Co.,
   May 24.       Auctioneers.

Dickerson, Hall & Co. carry on their nefarious business on Wall Street, (I believe its name is,) within gunshot of the capitol of Virginia and its executive mansion.

At ten o’clock there was a crowd of men arund the door of the auction-room; but it was nearly eleven when a mulatto came out, and vociferously shouted,

“This way, gentlemen, this way; sale’s ’bout to begin, sale’s ’bout to begin. Gentlemen wishin’ to buy, please step into the room inside.”

The Auction Room.

I entered the auction room. It is a long, damp, dirty-looking room with a low timber ceiling, supported in the centre by two wooden pillars, square, filthy, roughly hewed and roughly whittled. At the further end of it, a small apartment was partitioned off with unpainted pine boards, and the breadth which it did not cover was used as a counting-room, divided from the larger one by a paling painted blue.

Rough pine boards extended round the room and partly into the body of it. In the centre, four steps high, was a platform on which the slaves were sold to the highest bidders.

I saw a number of men enter the inner room, and quietly followed them. The slaves were already there. They were stripped entirely naked, and carefully examined, as horses are by purchasers. I stopped to see one black man thus examined, and left in disgust at the character of the “chivalry.”

After a time they all came out—slavetraders and slaves.

The auctioneer,—a short, thick-set, gross-eyed, dark and fleshly fellow,—dressed in black, opened the sale by offering a boy of twelve or fourteen years of age.

A Boy Sold.

“Gentlemen,” he said, in accents that seemed to be very greasy, “I offer you this boy. He’s sound and healthy and title warranted good. What d’ye offer, gentlemen?”

“Eight hundred dollars,” said a voice in the crowd.

“$800’s bid—$800,” (he talked very fast,) [“]$800—$800—$800 and 50—thank you!—800 and 50 dollars bid—8—”


“$900’s bid—$900—$900—900—gentlemen, he’s a first rate boy.”

“Come down here!” said the mulatto, (who was Dickerson’s slave, I believe,) “come down!”

The boy came down from the platform.

“Please stand out of the way, gentlemen,” cried the mulatto to a number of men who stood between the platform and the counting-room.

They did so.

“Now you walk along to the wall,” said the slave to the other article of Virginia commerce; “now hold up your head and walk peert.”

The boy obyed these orders promptly.

“Quick!” jerked out the mulatto. “Come! peert!—only there already? peert!

The crowd looked on attentively, especially those who had bid.

The boy mounted the platform again, and the bidding was resumed with greater activity.

“Well, gentlemen,” said the auctioneer, “you see he’s a likely boy; how much do you bid?”

“Ten,” said a man.

“$910’s bid—910—910—900 and ten—910—$910’s bid—910—”


“$920’s bid—$920—9 THIRTY—$930—900 and FORTY—940’s bid—$940—940—9 FIFTY—950—950—950—950 $950—900 and SIXTY—$960.”

“Seventy!” said a voice in the crowd.

“$970—$970—” began the auctioneer.


“$975!” responded the auctioneer. “He’s an uncommon likely boy!” chimed the auctioneer’s mulatto.

A Virginian mounted the steps of the platform.

“Open your mouth,” he said.

The boy did as he was told, and showed a fine, pearly set of teeth.

“You all sound?” asked the white.

“Yess, massa,” said the boy.

“Nine—eighty,” added the white.

“Ninety,” from another.

“900 and 90,” exclaimed the auctioneer; “$990—$990[]”

“Confound it!” muttered a man at my side, “how niggers has riz!”

“Yes, sur!” said his old, white-haired companion; “I tell you if a man buys niggers now, he has to pay for them. That’s about the amount of it.”

“$990—” droned the auctioneer, “all done at $990?—nine hun-dred—and nine-ty dollars?—go-ing at nine—hundred and nine-ty dollars—and—gone—if no one bids—nine hundred and ninety dollars—once—nine hundred—and—ninety, a-n-d—”

He looked round and round in every direction, but no one made another bid, and he plaintively added—


Concluded next week.

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