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: The Slave Sale Again,” by “Uncle James” [James Redpath] (from The Youth’s Companion, December 21, 1865; p. 202)

The boy whose sale I described in my last note, was one of those unfortunate children who, like Topsy, of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “neber was born;” that is to say, never knew their parents. He had been “raised by speculators” for sale, precisely as our Northern farmers raise cattle, and sheep, and horses for the market. His color was not black, but brown; which showed that his father was a white man.

He was dressed in small-check gingham trowsers, and a jacket of a gray color. The whole suit could not have cost more than three dollars, but it was new, clean, and looked very tidy.

A Man Sold.

The next slave put up for auction was a young man, half white, half black, twenty years old, muscular, with an energetic and intelligent expression. One thousand dollars was the first bid made. He was sold to Jones & Slater, who are regular traders. They buy for the New Orleans market. I hunted up their office after I left the auction rooms. It is situated in the congenial neighborhood of a cluster of houses of infamous repute.

The next Article offered was a very black, low-browed, brutal-looking negro. Nine hundred dollars were offered for him. He was not sold. So, also, with several others.

A Mother and Babe for Sale[.]

A woman with a child at her breast, and a daughter seven years old or thereabouts at her side, next mounted the steps of the platform. The other sales did not excite my horror more than a vivid description of them would have done; perhaps, had I never visited a slave auction room before, a great deal less than some narratives would have done.

The men and the boys had been too much brutalized by being accustomed to such scenes to around my sympathies strongly. Besides, they were men, and might subsequently escape.

But the poor black mother, with her half-white babe; with the anxiety of an uncertain future among brutal masters before her; and the young girl at her side, too, so innocent now, but predestined by the nature of slavery to a life of hard labor and involuntary immoralities—I would have been either less than a man or more, to have looked on stoically or without indignation as she and her little ones were sold. I think a thousand dollars were bid for her. No second offer was made.

She was then taken into the inner room, and a dozen or fifteen men followed her. I had not the heart to go, or rather I had the heart and therefore I did not go with them; but when the wretches came out, one of them told me very coolly that “they’d examined her,” and the brutal remarks of some of the others confirmed his shameless report. She was put on the block again. The bidding was resumed.

The mother’s breast heaved, and her eye anxiously wandered from one bidder to another as the sale was going on. She seemed to be relieved when it came to a sand-still; but it was only the heart-aching relief of suspense.

She was not sold. The auctioneer refused to let her go at so low a price. She was worth, one Virginian told me, “fifteen hundred dollars of any man’s money.” I did not doubt it. For I remembered that the Christian theology tells us that she was once deemed worthy of an infinitely great price.

A Young Woman Sold.

A young woman twenty years old, or thereabouts, was then put up for auction. Her right hand was entirely useless,—“dead,” as she aptly termed it.

The auctioneer announced that one finger had been cut off by a doctor, and that she chopped off the forefinger herself because it hurt her, she said; and she thought that to cut it off would cure it! The explanation raised a laugh among the crowd.

I had not looked at her until this statement was made, and I expected, as I heard it, to find a stupid creature, low-browed and brutal, on the block. But I was startled to see, instead, a black woman with one of the finest pair of eyes that I had ever looked at in my life. They were large and lustrous; and showed that she was a person of determined and energetic nature. She reminded me of Margaret Gardiner, but she seemed far more intelligent and more impulsive. Ah, me! those eyes will haunt me long; they will never die in a slave’s sockets, or never die a natural death in them!

She was sold for a few hundred dollars.

“Didn’t you cut your finger off,” asked one man, “ ’kase you was mad with your mistress?”

She looked at him quietly, but with an air of contempt, and answered:

“No. You see it was sort o’ sore, and I thought it would be better to cut it off than be plagued with it.”

Several persons around me expressed the opinion that she had cut off her finger wilfully, “to spite her mistress,” they said, “or to keep her from being sold down South.”

These scenes occurred, not in Russia or Austria, or in avowedly despotic countries, but in our own United States of America:—

"The land of the free, and the home of the brave.[”]

We cannot be too grateful to God that slavery is now abolished; and that such great crimes as slave sales can no more be in our land forever.

Copyright 1999-2024, Pat Pflieger
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