Slave Auction, U.S. South, ca. 1840s

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Image Reference

Henry Bibb, Narrative of the life and adventures of Henry Bibb, an American slave, written by himself (New York, 1849), p. 201. (Copy in Library Company of Philadelphia)

Bibb describes this scene. He writes about a Mr. Young, a Methodist, "who was the owner of a large number of slaves, many of whom belonged to the same church with their master. They worshipped together." Bibb describes Young as a kind master who ultimately became "deeply involved in debt" forcing him to sell his property, including his slaves, "many of whom were his brothers and sisters in the church. . . . The slaves were offered on the auction block one after another, until they were all sold before their old master's face. . . . After the men were all sold they then sold the women and children. They ordered the first woman to lay down her child and mount the auction block; she refused to give up her little one and clung to it as long as she could, while the cruel lash was applied to her back for disobedience . . . . There was each speculator with his hand-cuffs to bind his victims after the sale; . . . the Christian portion of the slaves asked permission to kneel in prayer on the ground before they were separated" (pp. 199-200). One of the most celebrated of the North American slave narratives. Bibb was born of a slave mother in Kentucky in 1815, escaped from slavery in 1838, and ultimately became a leading figure in the fugitive slave community of Canada.