Pennsylvania congressman describing a slave auction
Aug. 19, 1843
James Bowen Everhart was 22 years old when this was written.
James Bowen Everhart died 45 years, 4 days after writing it.
It was written 175 years, 11 months, ago.
It was a Saturday.
Baltimore, August 19, 1843
Dear Folks —
I have just landed in this, the City of Monuments, where the interests of the North & South commingle, & the heat of the one and cold of the other make the temperature of sectional feeling lukewarm and moderate. Here slaves are sold, and free Negroes strut like turkeys. By the way, I saw an auction in Richmond. The first was a boy, about 14 years of age, who sold for $250.
The next was a Negro girl, black as ink & fat as grease could make her. The auctioneer says, “What’s bid for this stout, firm set girl — can work anywhere, free from all scars — what’s bid - give us a bid.” She brought $372.
Next was a tall, sheepish, long-legged n--r, rather young. He was mounted on the box, & his hands hung down like a militia man ordering arms, & his legs stood in the dancing attitude. The auctioneer holds his arms up, as I have seen a showman hold up the paw of a tiger, & begins, “Look, what an arm — arm like a sledge — a clean six-foot boy.” (All n--rs are called boys there tho’ they be high as a tree.)
“No scar on him — no fault — no defect — no nothing — a perfect boy — what’s bid for this likely boy?” He sold for $465.
Next was a short boy of 17 yrs. old. The auctioneer pointed at him, turned his back round. ”Look what a back - did you ever see such a back - almost a man - do anything you put him at – handy fellow - what I bid for this strong boy.”
Next was quite a small fellow with a big hat, not over 14 yrs old. He began to cry & the auctioneer said he was a beautiful boy just ready for the plough.” But he did not sell. His brother was with him about the same age.
Next was a young, good looking mulatto girl, dressed off in prime fashion. All there were well dressed for the occasion. Now says the auctioneer, “I’ll give you something nice – thar’s something rarely in the market, a most likely girl – seamstress - nurse – ironer – no fault – positively to be sold – what’s bid for this beautiful girl. She brought $401.
Next was a family of an oldish man, his wife, a baby, & boy almost 6 years old, all put up together. “Thar,” says the crier, “What do you say to that? That man’s a shoemaker – make your shoes – work on the farm – stout woman, wash or iron, or rake hay and bind – nothing the matter – all sound – warranted – no sale if not perfect – clear title – boy runs of errands – sharp child – what’s bid for this likely family?” They brought $430.
Next was a big n-–r. “You,” says the crier, “is a fine, big fellow–strong as an ox–look at his teeth.” He opened his mouth & turned up his lip with his forefinger.
“What a countenance–look at that countenance.” (Some of the crowd asked him what was that scar on his hand. The n--r said he got it at a corn chuck fighting.)
“Nothing the matter, only a little fight,” says the crier, “nothing but a corn shuck – never had a lick in his life, sound as a dollar.”
“Yes,” said the slave, “Master ne'er gave me a lick.”
“Look at that,” says the crier again.
Someone bid three hundred for him & the bid stood a long time. At last said the slave, “I am worth more than dat genmen. Any genmen as wants a servant, I’se his man.”
“Hear that,” says the crier, “he’s ashamed of the price.” The bid went slowly up to $350 and stuck again.
The slave says again, “Genmen, I brot more money dan dat when I was 15 year old and bring more whar I come from. Master might get $500 for me at home.”
“Hear that,” says the crier.–“He’d bring more money at home. Why gentlemen examine this boy – he’s sold to raise money.”
Someone asked him what made his eyes so bloodshot. The slave said, “Working at the trogue.”
“Why,” says the crier, "he is a shoemaker – shoe all of your family – Why boy, what else can you do?”
“Why,” says the n--r, “I can work at the bench if you put me at it.”
“Tha’r,” says the crier, “he is a carpenter and a shoemaker – handiest fellow in the world – do anything, fix your machines, make your harness – cheapest bargain I ever had. Give us a fair bid gentlemen.” He sold for $365. The slave appeared to be much mortified to be sold so low. He was the last. There is an auction everyday, and they are sold like chickens.
At Washington, went to the Post Office. It is built of beautiful white marble, steps of the same, very long & finished elegantly. Next to the Patent Office, a building (of) rough sandstone – great size, Doric order. I went up to the hall of the National Institute and saw J. C. Spencer’s bust. He has a most noble face, manly health combined with high intellect. His brow is not so high, but his features beam with thought and energy. Amos Kendall has a pointed nose, and lips compressed like a miser’s. I don’t like his looks at all. There is something so selfish and hardened in his features. Ingratitude is the demon which dwells in his countenance. He looks like one who is not easily overreached & who spares not friend or foe if in his way. I was reminded, while observing his bust, of the resemblance between his look and that of a cat watching for a mouse. The same consistency & the same patience show out in both. Afterwards, I saw the suit of Washington which he wore when he resigned his commission – his chair and table – the signature of Napoleon & kings of France & England, etc. – the paintings of the old Egyptians – idols and curiosities brought by the Exploring Expedition & models, etc. – monotony of variety.