January 15, 1852

Transcription of Chapter 29

Chapter XXIX.

A slave warehouse! Perhaps some of my readers conjure up horrible visions of such a place. They fancy some foul, obscure den, some horrible Tartarusinformis, ingens, cui lumen ademptum.” But no, innocent friend; in these days men have learned the art of sinning expertly and genteelly, so as not to shock the eyes and senses of respectable society. Human property is high in the market, and is therefore well fed, well cleaned, tended, and looked after, that it may come to sale sleek and strong and shining. A slave warehouse in New Orleans is a house externally not much unlike many others, kept with neatness; and where every day you may see arranged, under a sort of shed along the outside, rows of men and women, who stand there as a sign of the property sold within.

Then you shall be courteously entreated to call and examine, and shall find an abundance of husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and young children, to be “sold separately, or in lots to suit the convenience of the purchaser;” and that soul immortal, once bought with blood and anguish by the Son of God, when the earth shook, and the rocks rent, and the graves were opened, can be sold, leased, mortgaged, exchanged for groceries or dry goods, to suit the phases of trade or the fancy of the purchaser.

It was a day or two after the conversation between Marie and Miss Ophelia that Tom, Adolph, and about half a dozen others of the St. Clare estate, were turned over to the loving kindness of Mr. Skeggs, the keeper of a depot on —— street, to await the auction next day.

Tom had with him quite a sizable trunk full of clothing, as had most others of them. They were ushered for the night into a long room where many other men, of all ages, sizes, and shades of complexion, were assembled, and from which roars of laughter and unthinking merriment were proceeding.

“Ah, ha! that’s right. Go it, boys—go it!” said Mr. Skeggs, the keeper. “My people are always so merry. Sambo, I see!” he said, speaking approvingly to a burly negro who was performing tricks of low buffoonry which occasioned the shouts which Tom had heard.

As might be imagined, Tom was in no humor to join these proceedings, and therefore setting his trunk as far as possible from the noisy group, he sat down on it and leaned his face against the wall.

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 29, here.]

Commentary by Jo-Ann Morgan

 Associate Professor of African Studies and Art at Western Illinois University

Were the January 15, 1952 installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin for The National Era less steeped in irony, Harriet Beecher Stowe addressing the reader as “innocent friend” might have assuaged northern subscribers of complicity with the goings on down South. “A slave warehouse!” she announces, where “husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and children” in bondage wait to be sold. The scenario transpires in New Orleans, but one “gentleman” who will profit by selling his inherited lot of human property resides in New York.

“[T]hese days men have learned the art of sinning expertly and genteelly, so as not to shock the eyes and senses of respectable society,” Stowe chastises. But it is not just blind Yankee mercantilism she indicts. The artful sin to which she alludes is indeed unspeakable; something proper women were not supposed to notice, much less mention. Destined for the auction block is a mother named Susan, a “mulatto woman…with soft eyes and a gentle and pleasing physiognomy.” Also for sale is her daughter Emmeline, “a young girl of fifteen…. a quadroon, as may be seen from her fairer complexion.” The reader well knew the subtext implicit in pale skin. In an earlier chapter Stowe remarks on another fair young woman. “Safe under the protecting care of her mistress, Eliza had reached maturity without those temptations which make beauty so fatal an inheritance to a slave.” Here in chapter twenty-nine the consequences of that aforementioned fatal inheritance are made squeamishly clear.

As the girl huddles with her mother, leering men pass by, touching her hair, admiring her soft hands. Her mother admonishes she must brush her pretty curls all back straight so that “respectable families” might wish to purchase her. But pious ladies, such as she whose attendant they had once been, were not habitués of slave markets. Here were vulgar men in checked clothing and palmetto straw hats– “great, burly, gruff men; little, chirping, dried men; long-favored, lank, hard men; and every variety of stubbed-looking, commonplace men.” They chew cigars and drool tobacco juice. In contrast, Stowe assures the reader, “the gentleman” who sells this mother and daughter “is a member of a Christian church in New York, who will receive the money, and go thereafter to the sacrament of his Lord and theirs, and think no more of it.” Is he then any less morally bankrupt that his crude southern brethren?

Fig. 1 Hammatt Billings, engraving Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Boston: John P. Jewett, 1852

A different slave market would be one of six illustrations by Hammatt Billings for John P. Jewett’s publication of the serial as a book later that year. Captioned “The Auction Sale,” that image accompanies the tragic story of an old slave named Aunt Hagar. (Fig. 1) The image resembles a vignette Billings recently used on his masthead design for the antislavery newspaper The Liberator.[1] (Fig. 2) More apropos to Stowe’s sentiment about the evil of slavery and the vulnerability of young slave girls is his rendition of the sale of Emmeline for Jewett’s gift book version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Fig. 2 Hammatt Billings, masthead engraving, The Liberator, c. 1850

[1] James F. O’Gorman, Accomplished in All Departments of Art– Hammatt Billings of Boston, 1818-1874 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1998), 48. William Lloyd Garrison began publishing The Liberator, stalwart among anti-slavery papers, January 1, 1830 and never missed an issue for 1,800 weeks. Over a thirty-five year run, The Liberator had three mastheads. The second, designed by David Claypoole Johnston, debuted March 23, 1838 and included an auction scene. For the third and last masthead design of the 1850s, Hammatt Billings elaborated on Johnston’s auction design and added a central roundel wherein a slave kneels before Christ. See: Donald M. Jacobs, editor, Courage and Conscience: Black and White Abolitionists in Boston (Bloomington: Indiana University Press: 1993) 10.

[Continue reading the full text of  Jo-Ann Morgan ‘s commentary and view more images here.]

How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1852, here!

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