When I began researching the 1830’s and 1840’s time frame in Mississippi to provide the necessary background for writing Burning Prospects, I was shocked to see the way slaves were categorized. Their value was written down on ledgers as a legal record of their owner’s property. If it were not for these ledgers listing them as chattel, we may never have known any of their names. Some typical descriptions I came across were, “Adelle…old, no teeth…worthless” or “Tom, strong back and good worker…$1400”. I looked at long lists of names and felt such sadness for the real men, women and children who were so much more than just what market value at auction would have brought for them. They were someone’s mother, wife, sister, brother, son, husband, daughter…etc. Just as we all are.
Here is an example from the press of the day. Taken from the NATCHEZ [MS] DAILY FREE TRADER, March 3, 1860, p. 2, c. 3
At the Forks of the Road.
The Undersigned have on hand about Forty Negroes, consisting of Men and women, which we will sell as low or lower than any one else in this market. Men from $1400 to $1500 and Women from $1200 to $1400. We have no Virginia nor unacclimated negroes. We are bound to sell, and will sell. All who wish to purchase will call at the old Elam House and examine for themselves.
Griffin & Pullum.
I don’t know about anyone else, but it doesn’t take much for me to imagine the feelings of sheer hopelessness, terror, and complete lack of control experienced by these forty individuals as they awaited their fate. A fate that they had no decision in whatsoever. I doubt we will ever know what became of these poor souls sold as a result of this newspaper ad. But I pray that we all do everything that we can to honor their memories, learn from the past, and pledge to never be a party to devaluing another human being. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.