Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
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1859 / Savannah

Clearance Sale

On the subject of babies, it may be mentioned that Amity, chattel No. 316, wife of Prince, chattel No. 315, had testified her earnest desire to contribute all in her power to the worldly wealth of her master by bringing into the world at one time chattels Nos. 317 and 318, being a fine pair of twin boys, just a year old. It is not in evidence that Amity received from her master any testimonial of his appreciating her good behavior on this occasion, but it is certain that she brought a great price, the four, Prince, Amity and the twins selling for $670 apiece, being a total of $2,680.

Anson and Violet, chattels Nos. 111 and 112, were sold for $250 each, both being old, and Anson being down in the catalogue as “ruptured” and as “having one eye.” Violet was sold as being sick. Her disease was probably consumption, which supposition gave rise to the following feeling conversation between two buyers:

“Cheap gal, that, Major.”

“Don’t think so. They may talk about her being sick; it’s no easy sickness she’s got. She’s got consumption, and the man that buys her’ll have to be a-doctorin’ her all the time, and she’ll die in less than three months. I won’t have anything to do with her—don’t want any half-dead niggers about me.”

Guy, the chattel No. 419, “a prime young man,” sold for $1,280, being without blemish; his age was twenty years, and he was altogether a fine article. His next-door neighbor, Andrew, chattel No. 420, was his very counterpart in all marketable points: in size, age, skill, and everything save that he had lost his right eye. Andrew sold for only $1,040, from which we argue that the market value of the right eye in the Southern country is $240.

When the family of Mingo, consisting of his wife, two sons, and a daughter, was called for, it was announced by the auctioneer that chattel No. 322, Dembo, the eldest son, aged twenty, had the evening before procured the services of a minister and been joined in wedlock to chattel No. 404, Frances, and that he should be compelled to put up the bride and groom in one lot. They were called up, and, was to be expected, their appearance was the signal for a volley of coarse jokes from the auctioneer, and of ribald remarks from the surrounding crowd. The newly married pair bore it bravely, although one refined gentleman took hold of Frances’ lips and pulled them apart, to see her age.

Dembo and Frances were at last struck off for $1,320 each and went to spend their honeymoon on a cotton plantation in Alabama.

The auctioneer brought up Joshua’s Molly and family. He announced that Molly insisted that she was lame in her left foot and perversely would walk lame, although, for his part, he did not believe a word of it. He had caused her to be examined by an eminent physician in Savannah, which medical light had declared that Joshua’s Molly was not lame, but was only shamming. However, the gentlemen must judge for themselves and bid accordingly. So Molly was put through her paces and compelled to trot up and down along the stage, to go up and down the steps, and to exercise her feet in various ways, but always with the same result, the left foot would be lame. She was finally sold for $695.

Whether she really was lame or not, no one knows but herself, but it must be remembered that to a slave a lameness, or anything that decreases his market value, is a thing to be rejoiced over. A man in the prime of life, worth $1,600 or thereabouts, can have little hope of ever being able, by any little savings of his own, to purchase his liberty. But let him have a rupture, or lose a limb, or sustain any other injury that renders him of much less service than his owner, and reduces his value to $300 or $400, and he may hope to accumulate that sum, and eventually to purchase his liberty. Freedom without health is infinitely sweeter than health without freedom.

And so the Great Sale went on for two long days, during which time there were sold 429 men, women, and children. There were 436 announced to be sold, but a few were detained on the plantations by sickness.

At the close of the sale, on the last day, several baskets of champagne were produced, and all were invited to partake, the wine being at the expense of the broker, Mr. Bryan.

The total amount of the sale foots up $303,850—the proceeds of the first day being $161,480, and of the second day $142,370.

The highest sum paid for any one family was given for Sally Walker and her five children, who were mostly grown up. The price was $6,180.

The highest price paid for a single man was $1,750, which was given for William, a “fair carpenter and caulker.”

The highest price paid for a woman was $1,250, which was given for Jane, “cotton hand and house servant.”

The lowest price paid was for Anson and Violet; they brought but $250 apiece.

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About the Text

Mortimer Neal Thomson, from "Great Auction Sale of Slaves at Savannah, Georgia," published in the New York Tribune. Buyers arrived from as far away as Richmond and New Orleans to shop for bargains at the last major slave auction in the United States. The goods--men, women, and children--sold for the equivalent of $6.7 million in today's currency.

The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing.
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