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Top, a slave auction in Richmond, Virginia; centre, a coach on a street in Baltimore; bottom left, slaves waiting to be sold, Virginia; bottom right, a slave playing the flute. Wood engraving after E.C., 1856.

27 September 1856
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view Top, a slave auction in Richmond, Virginia; centre, a coach on a street in Baltimore; bottom left, slaves waiting to be sold, Virginia; bottom right, a slave playing the flute. Wood engraving after E.C., 1856.


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Credit: Top, a slave auction in Richmond, Virginia; centre, a coach on a street in Baltimore; bottom left, slaves waiting to be sold, Virginia; bottom right, a slave playing the flute. Wood engraving after E.C., 1856. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark

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The view of Baltimore is described as follows: "Turning now from the free state of New York to that of Maryland, we hardly expect to find material amelioration according to this criterion. Look at this sketch of a street in Baltimore, the chief city of Maryland; and in the matter of sewers it is notably worse off even than New York. Every successive shower floods the streets, and renders them it may be more picturesque, yet hardly more healthy or more pleasant to the inhabitants. Stepping-stones of some size are placed at each crossing, over which the pedestrian strides as he or she best may; for horses and carriages the feat is perhaps more trying. The house on the right is, if we recollect aright, a house for the sale of lottery-tickets, such as are met with at every turn in Rome. This reminds us that Baltimore is the stronghold of the Catholic party in the States. That is the Catholic Cathedral in the distance of the sketch, with the two quaint pinnacles placed with a symmetry which is somewhat a relief to the eye in the midst of much discordant architecture. Indeed, Baltimore is not a place where any one but a dealer in breadstuffs likes to linger. The atmosphere seems as little congenial to the visitor as does the mud in which are rolled the barrels of corn awaiting immediate exportation."—E.C."--Illustrated London news, loc. cit.

The depictions of slaves in Richmond (Virginia) and Charleston (South Carolina) are described as follows"We are compelled by limited space to confine ourselves to two sketches of slave auctions at Richmond. They take place in rooms on the ground floor, which are taken in rotation, in order to suit the convenience of dealers. As no pen, we think, can adequately delineate the choking sense of horror which overcomes one on first witnessing these degrading spectacles, we prefer limiting ourselves to mere description of what we saw. Outside the doors are hung small garish flags of blood red, upon which are pinned small manuscript descriptions of the negroes to be successively disposed of. A philosopher might stop at the threshold to inquire by what sense of the fitness of things the standard selected by the slave auctioneer should be of such a sanguinary colour. As you enter you see what we have endeavoured to sketch in one of the accompanying designs. An eye-bepatched and ruffianly-looking follow in check trousers, and grimy in every part of his person, with no hammer in his hand, as he is commonly depicted by those who have not seen this human or rather inhuman salesman, takes the swelling bids, thus with uplifted finger, calling out:-"Eight hundred, eight hundred"- "nine hundred, nine hundred"-"ten," "eleven," and even "twelve hundred," "twelve hundred"- - which is generally the most a negro fetches. What may be called the "supernumeraries" in the scene are "got up" in a way worthy of the occasion, wearing as they do hats in every state of decomposition and of every colour. Their features are callous; and one gentleman we particularly noticed, who had a cowhide-looking weapon, which dangled between his legs in such way as to make one wonder whether his feet were cloven or not. There was an unmistakable look of devilry in this gentleman, which he had evidently caught by communion with dark spirits. "Spirits,'' however, is hardly a word which can with justice be applied to negroes in the plight now under notice. They may, in auctioneer's parlance, be "likely hands," but lively they certainly are not. We need, to prove this, only point to a sketch of "Slaves waiting to be sold," which we took on the spot, and for which we narrowly escaped being what is termed "footed," or ignominiously expelled. A brood of young ones are seen sitting on a rude bench, nestling close to their mother, who clasps the youngest in her embrace. If those grown-up girls seated on the same row are her daughters, as we believe, this motherly negress must be looked upon as a fortune to her owner. Surely his conscience must be of the same material as yon rusty stove--round which the group mechanically clusters, though utterly fireless--to allow of this severance of family ties. The inexorable auctioneer hauls them up one after the other to his stand, and so are they daily consigned to an unknown fate. You cannot help secretly wishing that they may fall into the hands of a good taskmaster-as we believe there are many in their search after one "down South." Very likely, in outward appearance he may bear an exact resemblance to the gentleman whom we have depicted as taking his "siesta," or after-dinner whiff- this figure being a prominent one in the porticoes of Charleston hotels at post-prandial hours. That the slaves of the aforesaid gentlemen will be kept with strictness we can vouch, for all negroes at Charleston must be under their masters' roofs at nine at night, and cannot emerge therefrom before six o'clock in the morning. At that early hour the fife and drum are heard sounding a merry réveillée, which we have made the subject of our last sketch.—E.C."--Illustrated London news, loc. cit.


[London] : [Illustrated London news], 27 September 1856.

Physical description

1 print : wood engraving ; image 35.6 x 23.7 cm


Slave auction in Richmond, Virginia. Baltimore, Maryland. Slaves waiting for sale, Virginia. The negro reveillee, Charlestown.


Wellcome Library no. 578854i


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