A painting depicts George Washington and workers on his plantation. (Wikimedia Commons)
Buying and Selling Slaves
Before the Civil War, nearly 4 million black slaves toiled in the American South. Modem scholars have assembled a great deal of evidence showing that few slaves accepted their lack of freedom or enjoyed life on the plantation. As one ex-slave put it, “No day dawns for the slave, nor is it looked for. It is all night — night forever.” For many, the long night of slavery only ended in death.
In 1841, a bounty hunter kidnapped Solomon Northup, a free black man from Saratoga, New York, on the pretext that he was a runaway slave from Georgia. When the bounty hunter sold him into slavery, Northup lost his family, his home, his freedom, and even his name.
Solomon Northup was taken to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he was put into a “slave pen” with other men, women, and children waiting to be sold. In “Twelve Years a Slave,” a narrative that Northup wrote after he regained his freedom, the citizen of New York described what it was like to be treated as human property:
Freeman [the while slave broker] would make us hold up our heads, walk briskly back and forth, while customers would feel of our heads and arms and bodies, turn us about, ask us what we could do, make us open our mouths and show our teeth.... Sometimes a man or woman was taken back lo the small house in the yard, stripped, and inspected more minutely. Scars upon a slave’s back were considered evidence of a rebellious or unruly spirit, and hurt his sale.
By law, slaves were the personal property of their owners in all Southern states except Louisiana. The