American Slavery: Sale of Slaves, Virginia, December 1846
By Dr. Elwood Harvey
We attended a sale of land and other property, near Petersburg, Virginia, and unexpectedly saw slaves sold at public auction. The slaves were told they would not be sold, and were collected in front of the quarters, gazing on the assembled multitude. The land being sold, the auctioneer’s loud voice was heard, ‘Bring up the niggers!’
A shade of astonishment and affright passed over their faces, as they stared first at each other, and then at the crowd of purchasers, whose attention was now directed to them. When the horrible truth was revealed to their minds that they were to be sold, and nearest relations and friends parted for ever, the effect was indescribably agonizing.
Women snatched up their babes, and ran screaming into the huts. Children hid behind the huts and trees, and the men stood in mute despair. The auctioneer stood on the portico of the house, and the ‘men and boys’ were ranging in the yard for inspection. it was announced that no warranty of soundness was given, and purchasers must examine for themselves. A few old men were sold at prices from thirteen to twenty-five dollars, and it was painful to see old men, bowed with years of toil and suffering, stand up to be the jest of brutal tyrants, and to hear them tell their disease and worthlessness, fearing that they would be bought by traders for the Southern market.
A white boy, about fifteen years old, was placed on the stand. His hair was brown and straight, his skin exactly the same hue as other white persons, and no discernible trace of negro features in his countenance. Some vulgar jests were passed on his colour, and two hundred dollars were bid for him; but the audience said ‘that it was not enough to begin on for such a likely young nigger’. Several remarked that they ‘would not have him as a gift’. Some said a white nigger was more trouble than he was worth. One man said it was wrong to sell white people. I asked him if it was more wrong than to sell black people. He made no reply. Before he was sold, his mother rushed from the house upon the portico, crying, in frantic grief, “My son, O! my boy, they will take away my dear – .” Here her voice was lost, as she was rudely pushed back and the door closed. The sale was not for a moment interrupted, and none of the crowd appeared to be in the least affected by the scene.
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