Slave Sales & Auctions: African Coast & the Americas

  • Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia, 1861

    Shows enslaved man, several women and children; clothing styles depicted. The English artist Eyre Crowe observed this scene while on a trip through the South (see other images of slave sales in Richmond on this website).
  • Slave Market, Muscat (Oman), 1840s

    Captioned Slave market in Mascate (Masqat or Muscat, today the capital of Oman), shows Arab traders and onlookers with captured black Africans. This illustration accompanies a lengthy eyewitness account by Loarer (no first name given) on slavery on the east coast of Africa (pp. 135-138).
  • Slave Dealer, Alexandria, Virginia, 1863 or 1865

    Shows the front of Price, Birch & Co, Dealers in Slaves with unidentified African Americans, in Union army uniforms, in the foreground. Price, Birch, & Co. was a well-known firm that kept slaves in pens or cells before they were sold to the Lower South. Dugan does not specify the location of the photograph, but the original is in the National Archives, Washington, D.C. For a companion photo, see image NW0246 on this website.
  • Slave Trading Station, Mozambique, 1850

    Caption, Burning of a slave establishment by British seamen and marines, at Keonga, river Mozama, in the Mozambique Channel. The accompanying article describes the destruction in the previous June of this African-owned station which was defended by a cannon and by about 300 free natives, with muskets, besides several bowmen and spearmen.
  • Slave Market, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, early 1820s

    In the list of plates of Graham's book, this scene is captioned, Val Longo, or slave market at Rio; street scene showing enslaved children and adults and European buyers and sellers. The engraving is derived from a painting made by the English artist Augustus Earle (1793-1838); he lived in Rio de Janeiro in 1820-1824 and executed a number of works focusing on slavery (see Earle, on this website).
  • Kidnapping a Free Person to Sell as a Slave, U.S. South, 1830s

    The illustrations in this anti-slavery book strongly reflect its abolitionist perspective. Captioned, Kidnapping, this illustration shows the kidnapping of a free person of color to sell him as a slave. Nothing is more common, the author writes, than for two of these white partners in kidnapping . . . to start upon the prowl; and if they find a freeman on the road, to demand his certificate, tear it in pieces, or secrete it, tie him to one of their horses, hurry off to some jail, while one whips the citizen along as fast as their horses can travel. There by an understanding with the jailor who shares in the spoil, all possibility of intercourse with his friends is denied the stolen citizen. At the earliest possible period, the captive is sold out to pay the felonious claims of the law . . . and then transferred to some of their accomplices of iniquity . . . who fill every part of the southern states with rapine, crime, and blood (p. 120).
  • Slave Auction, Richmond, Virginia, 1830s

    The illustrations in this anti-slavery book strongly reflect its abolitionist perspective. Captioned Auction at Richmond, the author describes this illustration by quoting from a graphic description of auctions for slaves by an unnamed native of Virginia: Here, half covered with rags, and loaded with chains, human beings are driven together in crowds, and . . .are sold and bought. Within a few days past, I have beheld in Richmond hundreds of men, women, and children, thus exposed in the open streets, and bartered off like brute animals (p. 111).
  • Europeans Buying Enslaved Africans, 19th cent.

    Caption, African Slave Traffic; shows European and African slave traders. European on left examining an African; on right, African traders looking at European trade goods, and European in background with whip herding purchased Africans toward slave ship. Illustrates the process of slaving after Africans were captured; after examining the captives, they were chained and stowed (see pp. 113, 127). This illustration is probably derived from an earlier, unidentified, source; or it is a composite of other images (see, for example, image canot-2 on this website). In any case, the image is apparently not based on an eye-witness, but was fabricated by the artist.
  • Branding Slaves, 19th cent.

    Enslaved female being branded by a white man; other African women, presumably waiting to be branded. Blake uses this illustration to depict the lengths to which slave traders would go in order to keep track of their merchandise. The illustration appears to be an embellishment of an earlier one in another source (see image H006 on this website; also, for details on branding). The same image is also found in later editions of Blake. In any case, this image is apparently not based on an eye-witness, but was fabricated by the artist.
  • A Slave Sale, Rio de Janeiro, 1858-1860

    The slave owner, leading his horse while smoking a cigar and carrying an umbrella, heads a group of four adults and one child. One of the men carries household goods, including a clock and a musical instrument while the two women, one holding onto a child, are behind; bringing up the rear is an enslaved (?) man who appears to be guarding the newly-bought slaves. The material goods shown suggest that the auction was not only for the purchase of slaves but household items as well (see also Biard04). Biard, a French painter, lived in Brazil for about two years, 1858-1860. His published account contains a number of images of slave life, several of which are included on this website. For a detailed study of Biard and his Brazilian sojourn, see Ana Lucia Araujo, Brazil through French Eyes: A Nineteenth-Century Artist in the Tropics (University of New Mexico Press, 2015).
  • Slave Auction, Rio de Janeiro, 1858-1860

    Standing on a chair, the auctioneer, with his hammer, dominates the scene while an enslaved woman with a child clinging to her arm is examined by a prospective buyer; three other slaves are also shown, all of whom were ultimately sold. Various material goods, including household furniture and musical instruments, are being sold at the same auction (see also Biard05). Biard, a French painter, lived in Brazil for about two years, 1858-1860, and witnessed the scene depicted (pp. 97-98); the auction took place in a private home and these were the possessions, including the enslaved person, of the owner. Biard's published account contains a number of images of slave life, several of which are included on this website. For a detailed study of Biard and his Brazilian sojourn, see Ana Lucia Araujo, Brazil through French Eyes: A Nineteenth-Century Artist in the Tropics (University of New Mexico Press, 2015).
  • Slave Auction, Richmond, Virginia, 1861

    Shows a man and woman (with child in arms) on auction block, surrounded by white men. Article in the ILN accompanying this sketch by our special correspondent (G.H. Andrews) provides a lengthy eyewitness description of slave sales in Richmond, part of which is excerpted here: The auction rooms for the sale of Negroes are situated in the main streets, and are generally the ground floors of the building; the entrance-door opens straight into the street, and the sale room is similar to any other auction room . . . . placards, advertisements, and notices as to the business carried on are dispensed with, the only indications of the trade being a small red flag hanging from the front door post, and a piece of paper upon which is written . . . this simple announcement--'Negroes for sale at auction' . . . . From here there follows a detailed description of the scene shown in the illustration and the auction process (pp. 138 -140). A composite engraving, combining the auction block and people on the right shown in this image with the image of a slave being inspected for sale (see image NW0027) was published in the French publication L'illustration, Journal Universel (vol. 37 [1861], p. 148), misleadingly giving the impression that the scene is an original depiction of a slave sale in South Carolina; this illustration, in turn, appears on the Mary Evans Picture Library website with an unattributed source (picture no. 10044451).
  • Advertisement for Slave Sale, New Orleans, May 13, 1835

    Broadside advertising sale of 10 slaves, giving their names and personal attributes. Sale is taking place because of owner's departure from New Orleans. (Permission to display on website, courtesy of the New York Historical Society.)
  • Sale of Enslaved Africans and Transport to Slave Ship, mid-18th cent.

    Caption, marche d'esclaves (slave market); engraving made from author's description. Scenes depicted (our translations), top,1) Negroes for sale in a public market; 2) Negro slave examined before being purchased; 3) an Englishman licking a Negro's chin to ascertain his age, and to determine from the taste of his sweat if he is sick; 4) Negro slave with the brand of slavery on his arm. Bottom: 5) slave ship lying in the harbor waiting for the trading to be completed; 6) chaloupe loaded with newly purchased slaves transporting them to the ship; 7) Negroes on shore wailing and crying at the sight of their loved ones and friends being sent away.
  • African Merchant Selling Slaves to a European, no date

  • Slave Market on the African Coast, early 18th cent.

    Fort de Maures, sur l'isle Moyella; engraving shows Europeans purchasing slaves, transport to waiting ship, and fort.
  • Slave Barracoon, Congo, 1880s

    Caption, Slave -Shed; shows several captive Africans, including women and children; African guard holds spear. Glave lived in the Congo for six years, 1883-1889, and provides a vivid account of slaving activities in the Congo river basin. The illustration shown here is described as follows: Captives . . . are hobbled with roughly hewn logs which chafe their limbs to open sores; sometimes a whole tree presses its weight on their bodies while their necks are penned into the natural prong formed by its branching limbs. Others sit from day to day with their legs and arms maintained in a fixed position by rudely constructed stocks, and each slave is secured to the roof-posts by a cord knotted to a cane ring which either encircles his neck or is intertwined with his woolly hair. Many die of pure starvation, as the owners give them barely enough food to exist upon . . . . After suffering this captivity for a short time they become mere skeletons. All ages, of both sexes, are to be seen: mothers with their babes; young men and women; boys and girls; and even babies who cannot yet walk . . . . One seldom sees either old men or old women; they are all killed in the raids (Glave, pp. 830-31). This image was reproduced in Thomas W. Knox, The Boy Travellers on the Congo (New York, 1887). A variant of this illustration, captioned for sale appears in Glave's book In Savage Africa (New York, 1892), p. 201). (Katherine Prior brought Glave's account to our attention.)
  • Landing Slaves at a Brazilian Port, 1830s

    Caption, Debarquement; shows newly arrived Africans being landed from small boats in a harbor; larger ships in background. The same illustration was later published in the Illustrated London News (Aug. 6, 1842; vol. 1, p. 193), inexplicably with the caption Hill Coolies Landing at Mauritius. The commercial house Corbis sells this image from the Illustrated London News, with the same caption, and authors/publishers who purchase from Corbis repeat the erroneous identification as a scene from the British colony of Mauritius, e.g., J. P. Rodriguez, Chronology of World Slavery (ABC-CLIO, 1999, p.142). For an analysis of Rugendas' drawings, as these were informed by his anti-slavery views, see Robert W. Slenes, African Abrahams, Lucretias and Men of Sorrows: Allegory and Allusion in the Brazilian Anti-slavery Lithographs (1827-1835) of Johann Moritz Rugendas (Slavery & Abolition, vol. 23 [2002], pp. 147-168).
  • Slave Market, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1816-1831

    Caption, Boutique de la Rue du Val-Longo; shows slaves in a building on the street of the slave market in Rio de Janeiro; adults ranged along benches, children playing on floor; two Europeans present. The engravings in this book were taken from drawings made by Debret during his residence in Brazil from 1816 to 1831. For watercolors by Debret of scenes in Brazil, some of which were incorporated into his Voyage Pittoresque, see Jean Baptiste Debret, Viagem Pitoresca e Historica ao Brasil (Editora Itatiaia Limitada, Editora da Universidade de Sao Paulo, 1989; a reprint of the 1954 Paris edition, edited by R. De Castro Maya).
  • Enslaved Africans Landed at American Port

    Small boat filled with Africans being landed from slave ship at anchor; European onlookers. Appears to be 19th century rendition (perhaps by Howard Pyle [1853-1911] ) of 17th century event; debarkation port not given.
  • Branding an Enslaved Woman, no date

    Caption, Branding a Negro Woman; scene on a beach, a woman on her knees being branded on her back by a white man; several African and European onlookers with a ship in background. Neither the location of the scene nor the original source are identified; perhaps the drawing was done specifically for the WPA project. For details on branding, see image reference H006 on this website.
  • Metal Branding Irons with Owners' Initials

    The location of these items is not given in the source, but the originals are in the Wilberforce Museum, Hull, England (thanks to Gillian Cheal for her help in identification). For details on branding, see image reference H006.
  • Enslaved Africans Landed at Jamestown, Virginia, 1619

    Captioned, Landing Negroes at Jamestown from Dutch Man-of-War, 1619, shows group of emaciated captives on shore, surrounded by Europeans; slave ship in background. This historical event as imagined by the well-known American artist Howard Pyle (1853-1911). See also, Engel Sluiter, New Light on the '20. and Odd Negroes' Arriving in Virginia, August 1619, William and Mary Quarterly (April 1997), pp. 395-398.
  • Slave Market, Brazil, 1830s

    Caption, marché aux Negres (slave market); shows men, women, and children awaiting sale; some cooking food over open fire. Daniel Mannix, Black Cargoes (New York, 1962; after p. 146), erroneously captions this illustration as A slave market in Martinique, early nineteenth century. For an analysis of Rugendas' drawings, as these were informed by his anti-slavery views, see Robert W. Slenes, African Abrahams, Lucretias and Men of Sorrows: Allegory and Allusion in the Brazilian Anti-slavery Lithographs (1827-1835) of Johann Moritz Rugendas (Slavery & Abolition, vol. 23 [2002], pp. 147-168).
  • Slave Auction, New Orleans, 1839

    Caption, Sale of Estates, Pictures and Slaves in the Rotunda, New Orleans. James Buckingham visited New Orleans for about a month in early 1839. During this period he went to one of the city's grander hotels, the St. Louis hotel, sometimes called the French Exchange. Within this hotel was the Rotunda, a very large and ornate room in which auctions are held for every description of goods. During his visit several auctioneers were competing with each other and selling various goods, among them slaves. These consisted, he wrote, of an unhappy negro family, who were all exposed to the hammer at the same time. Their good qualities were enumerated in English and in French, and their persons were carefully examined by intending purchasers, among whom they were ultimately disposed of, chiefly to Creole buyers . . . The middle of the Rotunda was filled with casks, boxes, bales, and crates; the negroes exposed for sale were put to stand on these, to be the better seen by persons attending the sale (pp. 334-335).
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