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Friday, April 2, 2021

Description of an Auction of Enslaved Persons | Good Friday 2021

Djanira da Motta e Silva, "Largo do Pelourinho, Salvador," 1955 | via via Museu de Arte de São Paulo

"Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots."Psalm 22:12-18 NRSV

The following is taken from page 1 of The Anti-Slavery Bugle, vol 7, no. 30, dates April 10, 1825. It's a first-hand account written by 'W.F.C' of an auction of enslaved persons that took place in Richmond, Virginia on March 22, 1852. If the title of this post wasn't already enough, consider this your content warning. The execution of Jesus was a routine display of Rome's power, displaying the terrible cost of maintaining the 'Pax Romana.' The exploitation of people of African descent was, likewise, a display of the cruel exploitation that formed the foundation of the American enterprise. 

Things in Virginia

“At Charlottesville, we took the [train] cars, at 7 o’clock, on the 19th, for Richmond, distant 94 miles. The improvements in the country, with rare exceptions, are slovenly; and wherever anything of a good building does present itself, it is surrounded by a number of unseemly log huts — the residences of the slaves of the owner of the plantation.

The external appearance of Richmond impressed me very favorably. There is a beauty and taste displayed in very many of the buildings, both public and private, which I have rarely seen equaled. There is a great deal of wealth here, and those who possess it willingly expend it for public display.

Observing in one of the daily papers that a slave sale was to take place on Saturday morning at Hills auction rooms, I went down to visit it. When I arrived there, I found the room pretty well filled with men who had assembled to speculate on the bodies and souls of their fellows; and observing a crowd in one corner, I stepped up. I saw a young Negro man stripped to the shirt, and, amid the jeers of traders, examined in a manner too revolting to rehearse, except it were in papers published in a community where such things are desired, sex forms no barrier. The auctioneer announcing that the hour of sale having arrived, a man slave, aged about 20 or 25, was placed upon the block; and the crier commenced with enumerating his good qualities, and asked for a bid. $500 was the first offered, and soon run up to $600; then to $700. He was then ordered to get down and walk across the room and back again; and several came up asking questions, and examining his teeth, as a horse jockey would the horse he was bidding for. He again mounted the block; and bidding continued until $800 was offered. He was again ordered down, and similar course of examination took place. He was finally knocked off at $800.

Next came a lad aged about 15. The same process was gone through with, as with the first, and he was knocked off at $685. Next came a girl of 18 to 20; the same routine of exhibition and examination gone through with, and knocked off at $605. Whether they were bought for transportation or not, I did not learn. These closed the sale for that day — the number being unusually small.

I made especial inquiry into the case of Frank Jackson, which possesses interest for some of my readers, and who will remember that he was sold as a slave some time last spring, in one of the western counties of this state by a horse trader, and making his escape, that he was arrested, and confined in a Fincastle jail. Certificates of his freedom were forwarded there, but the person to whom they were sent, acting treacherously, he was not again heard of until his friend were informed, by letter, that such a person had been brought to this city and lodged in Jones’ slave pen.

Certificates were sent on to here, and measures were taken to have him brought out, when, on examination, he could not be found. A gentleman who had charge of the matter, told me that he was informed by one upon whom he could rely, that a few nights previous to the search for him, a carriage with the blinds down had driven to the wharf, where there was a vessel ready to sail the next day for New Orleans with a cargo of slaves, and he has no doubt but Frank was thus hurried off, for fear of rescue.

My feelings were shocked at the indecencies exhibited, and the perfect heartlessness attending the sale. But these were only the appendages; the crowning sin, to my mind, was the traffic — the placing of an immortal being upon the stand, and selling him as brute beast. And yet these results grow out of the system itself. What I witnessed was slavery as it exists by law; as practiced in accordance with law; and as such, declared by one popular church to “form no bar to Christian communion,” and with which almost all the popular churches are in fraternal embrace.

I left the slave shambles with sad and sickened heart. But a few days previous, I had seen two men leaving their homes in the morning in perfect health; and before the sun had sunk behind the tall mountains, I had witnessed their mangled corpses disentombed from beneath the mountain rock that had fallen upon and buried them. But what I witnessed at Hill’s auction rooms was more horrible still. For my own part, I would infinitely rather bury every friend I have, to seeing them put upon the auction block; and I would have declared the same of every human being, were I not well assured by those in this city who can have no motive for misrepresentation, that it is but too notorious that many here sell their own flesh and blood. Such is the polluting influence of slavery.”

W. F. C.