Slave Families

The plantation owners in America had complete freedom to buy and sell slaves. State laws gave slave marriages no legal protection and in these transactions husbands could be separated from their wives and children from their mothers. In his autobiography, Frederick Douglass claimed that in the part of Maryland where he was born: "to part children from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off."

Lewis Clarke, who was a slave in Madison County, Kentucky, claims that there were often economic reasons for breaking up families. "The death of a large owner is the occasion usually of many families being broken up. Bankruptcy is another cause of separation, and the hard-heartedness of a majority of slaveholders another and a more fruitful cause than either or all the rest. Generally there is but little more scruple about separating families than there is with a man who keeps sheep in selling off the lambs in the fall."

Elizabeth Keckley recalls that "when I was about seven years old I witnessed, for the first time, the sale of a human being." Keckley points out in Thirty Years a Slave (1868): "We were living at Prince Edward, in Virginia, and master had just purchased his hogs for the winter, for which he was unable to pay in full. To escape from his embarrassment it was necessary to sell one of the slaves. Little Joe, the son of the cook, was selected as the victim. His mother was ordered to dress him up in his Sunday clothes, and send him to the house. He came in with a bright face, was placed in the scales, and was sold, like the hogs, at so much per pound. His mother was kept in ignorance of the transaction, but her suspicions were aroused. When her son started for Petersburgh in the wagon, the truth began to dawn upon her mind, and she pleaded piteously that her boy should not be taken from her; but master quieted her by telling her that he was simply going to town with the wagon, and would be back in the morning."

The owner of Harriet Jacobs used the threat of selling her children as a means of controlling her behaviour. In her book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Jacobs described how one mother, who had just witnessed seven of her children being sold at a slave-market: "She begged the trader to tell her where he intended to take them; this he refused to do. How could he, when he knew he would sell them, one by one, wherever he could command the highest price? I met that mother in the street, and her wild, haggard face lives to-day in my mind. She wrung her hands in anguish, and exclaimed, 'Gone! All gone! Why don't God kill me?' I had no words wherewith to comfort her."

Slave familes were sometimes taken to the slave-market to be sold off to different people. Mary Prince explained what happened to her when she was a child: "At length the vendue master, who was to offer us for sale like sheep or cattle, arrived, and asked my mother which was the eldest. She said nothing, but pointed to me. He took me by the hand, and led me out into the middle of the street, and, turning me slowly round, exposed me to the view of those who attended the vendue. I was soon surrounded by strange men, who examined and handled me in the same manner that a butcher would a calf or a lamb he was about to purchase, and who talked about my shape and size in like words - as if I could no more understand their meaning than the dumb beasts. I was then put up to sale. The bidding commenced at a few pounds, and gradually rose to fifty-seven, when I was knocked down to the highest bidder; and the people who stood by said that I had fetched a great sum for so young a slave. I then saw my sisters led forth, and sold to different owners: so that we had not the sad satisfaction of being partners in bondage. When the sale was over, my mother hugged and kissed us, and mourned over us, begging of us to keep up a good heart, and do our duty to our new masters. It was a sad parting; one went one way, one another, and our poor mammy went home with nothing."

As a child, Henry Bibb saw his brothers and sisters sold to different slave owners. Bibb was hired out to various slave holders and had little contact with his mother. He later recalled: "A slave may be bought and sold in the market like an ox. He is liable to be sold off to a distant land from his family. He is bound in chains hand and foot; and his sufferings are aggravated a hundred fold, by the terrible thought, that he is not allowed to struggle against misfortune, corporal punishment, insults and outrages committed upon himself and family; and he is not allowed to help himself, to resist or escape the blow, which he sees impending over him. I was a slave, a prisoner for life; I could possess nothing, nor acquire anything but what must belong to my keeper. No one can imagine my feelings in my reflecting moments, but he who has himself been a slave."

Moses Grandywas born a slave in Camden County. His wife was sold by his master while he was working in the fields. He rushed home to find that his master had placed her in a waggon: "He drew out a pistol, and said that if I went near the waggon on which she was, he would shoot me. I asked for leave to shake hands with her, which he refused, but said I might stand at a distance and talk with her. My heart was so full, that I could say very little. I asked leave to give her a dram: he told Mr. Burgess, the man who was with him, to get down and carry it to her. I gave her the little money I had in my pocket, and bid her farewell. I have never seen or heard of her from that day to this. I loved her as I loved my life."

In 1848 Henry Box Brown, a slave in Richmond, discovered that his wife and three children were sold to a slave trader who sent them to North Carolina. Brown later recalled: "I had not been many hours at my work, when I was informed that my wife and children were taken from their home, sent to the auction mart and sold, and then lay in prison ready to start away the next day for North Carolina with the man who had purchased them. I cannot express, in language, what were my feelings on this occasion. I received a message, that if I wished to see my wife and children, and bid them the last farewell, I could do so, by taking my stand on the street where they were all to pass on their way for North Carolina. I quickly availed myself of this information, and placed myself by the side of a street, and soon had the melancholy satisfaction of witnessing the approach of a gang of slaves, amounting to three hundred and fifty in number, marching under the direction of a Methodist minister, by whom they were purchased, and amongst which slaves were my wife and children."

A study of slave records by the Freedmen's Bureau of 2,888 slave marriages in Mississippi (1,225), Tennessee (1,123) and Louisiana (540), revealled that over 32 per cent of marriages were dissolved by masters as a result of slaves being sold away from the family home.

Primary Sources

(1) Lewis Clarke, Narrative of the Sufferings of Lewis Clark (1845)

The death of a large owner is the occasion usually of many families being broken up. Bankruptcy is another cause of separation, and the hard-heartedness of a majority of slaveholders another and a more fruitful cause than either or all the rest. Generally there is but little more scruple about separating families than there is with a man who keeps sheep in selling off the lambs in the fall. On one plantation where I lived, there was an old slave named Paris. He was from fifty to sixty years old, and a very honest and apparently a pious slave. A slave-trader came along one day, gathering hands for the South. The old master ordered the waiter or coachman to take Paris into the back room, pluck out all his grey hairs, rub his face with a greasy towel, and then had him brought forward and sold for a young man. His wife consented to go with him, upon a promise from the trader that they should be sold together, with their youngest child which she carried in her arms. They left two behind them, who were only from four to six or eight years of age. The speculator collected his drove, started for the market, and before he left the State he sold that infant child to pay one of his tavern bills, and took the balance in cash. This was the news which came back to us, and was never disputed.

I saw one slave mother, named Lucy, with seven children, put up by an administrator for sale. At first the mother and three small children were put up together. The purchasers objected: one says, I want the woman and the babe, but not the other children; another says, I want that little girl; and another, I want the boy. Well, says the Administrator, I must let you have them to the best advantage. So the children were taken away ; the mother and infant were first sold, then child after child - the mother looking on in perfect agony; and as one child after another came down from the auction block, they would run, and cling weeping to her clothes. The poor mother stood, till nature gave way; she fainted and fell, with her child in her arms. When she came to, she moaned woefully, and prayed that she might die, to be relieved from her sufferings.

(2) Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, (1861)

I saw a mother lead seven children to the auction-block. She knew that some of them would be taken from her; but they took all. The children were sold to a slave-trader, and their mother was bought by a man in her own town. Before night her children were all far away. She begged the trader to tell her where he intended to take them; this he refused to do. How could he, when he knew he would sell them, one by one, wherever he could command the highest price? I met that mother in the street, and her wild, haggard face lives to-day in my mind. She wrung her hands in anguish, and exclaimed, "Gone! All gone! Why don't God kill me?" I had no words wherewith to comfort her. Instances of this kind are of daily, yea, of hourly occurrence.

(3) Henry Box Brown, Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown (1851)

I had not been many hours at my work, when I was informed that my wife and children were taken from their home, sent to the auction mart and sold, and then lay in prison ready to start away the next day for North Carolina with the man who had purchased them. I cannot express, in language, what were my feelings on this occasion.

I received a message, that if I wished to see my wife and children, and bid them the last farewell, I could do so, by taking my stand on the street where they were all to pass on their way for North Carolina. I quickly availed myself of this information, and placed myself by the side of a street, and soon had the melancholy satisfaction of witnessing the approach of a gang of slaves, amounting to three hundred and fifty in number, marching under the direction of a Methodist minister, by whom they were purchased, and amongst which slaves were my wife and children.

I stood in the midst of many who, like myself, were mourning the loss of friends and relations and had come there to obtain one parting look at those whose company they but a short time before had imagined they should always enjoy, but who were, without any regard to their own wills, now driven by the tyrant's voice and the smart of the whip on their way to another scene of toil, and, to them, another land of sorrow in a far off southern country.

These beings were marched with ropes about their necks, and staples on their arms, and, although in that respect the scene was no very novel one to me, yet the peculiarity of my own circumstances made it assume the appearance of unusual horror. This train of beings was accompanied by a number of waggons loaded with little children of many different families, which as they appeared rent the air with their shrieks and cries and vain endeavors to resist the separation which was thus forced upon them, and the cords with which they were thus bound; but what should I now see in the very foremost waggon but a little child looking towards me and pitifully calling, father! father! This was my eldest child, and I was obliged to look upon it for the last time that I should, perhaps, ever see it again in life; if it had been going to the grave and this gloomy procession had been about to return its body to the dust from whence it sprang, whence its soul had taken its departure for the land of spirits, my grief would have been nothing in comparison to what I then felt; for then I could have reflected that its sufferings were over and that it would never again require nor look for a father's care.

(4) Moses Grandy, Life of a Slave (1843)

The master, Billy Grandy, whose slave I was born, was a hard-drinking man: he sold away many slaves. I remember four sisters and four brothers; my mother had more children, but they were dead or sold away before I can remember. I was the youngest. I remember well my mother often hid us all in the woods, to prevent master selling us. When we wanted water, she sought for it in any hole or puddle formed by falling trees or otherwise: it was often full of tadpoles and insects: she strained it, and gave it round to each of us in the hollow of her hand. For food, she gathered berries in the woods, got potatoes, raw corn, etc.

I married a slave belonging to Enoch Sawyer, who had been so hard a master to me. I left her at home, (that is, at his house) one Thursday morning, when we had been married about eight months. She was well, and seemed likely to be so: we were nicely getting together our little necessaries. On the Friday, as I was at work as usual with the boats, I heard a noise behind me, on the road which ran by the side of the canal: I turned to look, and saw a gang of slaves coming. When they came up to me, one of them cried out, "Moses, my dear!" I wondered who among them should know me, and found it was my wife. She cried out to me, "I am gone." I was struck with consternation. Mr. Rogerson was with them, on his horse, armed with pistols. I said to him, "for God's sake, have you bought my wife?" He said he had; when I asked him what she had done; he said she had done nothing, but that her master wanted money.

He drew out a pistol, and said that if I went near the waggon on which she was, he would shoot me. I asked for leave to shake hands with her, which he refused, but said I might stand at a distance and talk with her. My heart was so full, that I could say very little. I asked leave to give her a dram: he told Mr. Burgess, the man who was with him, to get down and carry it to her. I gave her the little money I had in my pocket, and bid her farewell. I have never seen or heard of her from that day to this. I loved her as I loved my life.

(5) Charles Ball, was sold when he was four years old. He wrote about his experiences in The Life and Adventures of Charles Ball (1859)

My mother had several children, and they were sold upon master's death to separate purchasers. She was sold, my father told me, to a Georgia trader. I, of all her children, was the only one left in Maryland. When sold I was naked, never having had on clothes in my life, but my new master gave me a child's frock, belonging to one of his own children. After he had purchased me, he dressed me in this garment, took me before him on his horse, and started home; but my poor mother, when she saw me leaving her for the last time, ran after me, took me down from the horse, clasped me in her arms, and wept loudly and bitterly over me.

My master seemed to pity her; and endeavored to soothe her distress by telling her that he would be a good master to me, and that I should not want anything. She then, still holding me in her arms, walked along the road beside the horse as he moved slowly, and earnestly and imploringly besought my master to buy her and the rest of her children, and not permit them to be carried away by the negro buyers; but whilst thus entreating him to save her and her family, the slave-driver, who had first bought her, came running in pursuit of her with a raw-hide in his hand. When he overtook us, he told her he was her master now, and ordered her to give that little negro to its owner, and come back with him.

My mother then turned to him and cried, "Oh, master, do not take me from my child!" Without making any reply, he gave her two or three heavy blows on the shoulders with his raw-hide, snatched me from her arms, handed me to my master, and seizing her by one arm, dragged her back towards the place of sale. My master then quickened the pace of his horse; and as we advanced, the cries of my poor parent became more and more indistinct - at length they died away in the distance, and I never again heard the voice of my poor mother.

(6) Charles Ball was married and living in Maryland when he was sold to a master in South Carolina.

I was now a slave in South Carolina, and had no hope of ever again seeing my wife and children. I had at times serious thoughts of suicide so great was my anguish. If I could have got a rope I should have hanged myself at Lancaster. The thought of my wife and children I had been torn from in Maryland, and the dreadful undefined future which was before me, came near driving me mad. It was long after midnight before I fell asleep, but the most pleasant dream, succeeded to these sorrowful forebodings. I thought I had escaped my master, and through great difficulties made my way back to Maryland, and was again in my wife's cabin with my little children on my lap. Every object was so vividly impressed on my mind in this dream, that when I awoke, a firm conviction settled upon my mind, that by some means, at present incomprehensible to me, I should yet again embrace my wife, and caress my children in their humble dwelling.

Early in the morning, our master called us up and distributed to each of the party a cake made of corn-meal and a small piece of bacon. On our journey, we had only eaten twice a day, and had not received breakfast until about nine o'clock; but he said this morning meal was given to welcome us to South Carolina. He then addressed us all, and told us we might now give up all hope of ever returning to the places of our nativity; as it would be impossible for us to pass through the States of North Carolina and Virginia, without being taken up and sent back. He further advised us to make ourselves contented, as he would take us to Georgia, a far better country than any we had seen; and where we would be able to live in the greatest abundance.

About sunrise we took up our march on the road to Columbia, as we were told. Hitherto our master had not offered to sell any of us, and had even refused to stop to talk to any one on the subject of our sale, although he had several times been addressed on this point, before we reached Lancaster; but soon after we departed from this village, we were overtaken on the road by a man on horseback, who accosted our driver by asking him if his niggars were for sale. The latter replied, that he believed he would not sell any yet, as he was on his way to Georgia, and cotton being now much in demand, he expected to obtain high prices for us from persons who were going to settle in the new purchase. He, however, contrary to his custom, ordered us to stop, and told the stranger he might look at us, and that he would find us as fine a lot of hands as were ever imported into the country - that we were all prime property, and he had no doubt would command his own prices in Georgia.

The stranger, who was a thin, weather-beaten, sunburned figure, then said, he wanted a couple of breeding wenches, and would give as much for them as they would bring in Georgia. He then walked along our line, as we stood chained together, and looked at the whole of us - then turning to the women; asked the prices of the two pregnant ones. Our master replied, that these were two of the best breeding-wenches in all Maryland - that one was twenty-two, and the other only nineteen - that the first was already the mother of seven children, and the other of four - that he had himself seen the children at the time he bought their mothers - and that such wenches would be cheap at a thousand dollars each; but as they were not able to keep up with the gang, he would take twelve hundred dollars for the two.

(7) Lewis Clarke, Narrative of the Sufferings of Lewis Clark (1845)

After I had lived with Mrs. Banton three or four years I was put to spinning hemp, flax and tow, on an old fashioned foot wheel. There were four or five slaves at this business a good part of the time. We were kept at our work from daylight to dark in summer, from long before day to nine or ten o'clock in the evening in winter.

But all my severe labor, bitter and cruel punishments for these ten years of captivity with this worse than Arab family, all these were as nothing to the sufferings experienced by being separated from my mother, brothers and sisters; the same things, with them near to sympathize with me, to hear my story of sorrow, would have been comparatively tolerable. They were distant only about thirty miles, and yet in ten long, lonely years of childhood, I was only permitted to see them three times.

My mother occasionally found an opportunity to send me some token of remembrance and affection, a sugar plum or an apple, but I scarcely ever ate them-- they were laid up and handled and wept over till they wasted away in my hand. My thoughts continually by day and my dreams by night were of mother and home, and the horror experienced in the morning, when I awoke and behold it was a dream, is beyond the power of language to describe.

(8) Francis Fredric, Fifty Years of Slavery (1863)

I was about twenty-eight or thirty years of age when my old master was seized with a fever. He was upwards of seventy years of age, and, prior to this, had been a healthy man. When he was taken ill, the family wished to send for a doctor. "No," he said, "I know it is of no use; I shall die."

My young master now was about twenty-four or twenty-five years of age; he did not seem to mourn much for his lost father, but said, "You slaves have been living upon white bread, but I will soon teach you something different from that. You shall now have the treatment proper for niggers. I have been wishing for some time to tan your hides for you." Of course his discourse was interlarded with oaths and curses, with which I cannot pollute my page. I soon began to wish that I was a field-hand, for day by day he was drunk and hanging about the kitchen.

I began to have a terrible life of it. A few years before his father's death, he had led a riotous, dissipated life, losing money by gambling, and then borrowing. All his neighbours were astonished at the amount of his debts, for the sheriff's officers were constantly on the premises. No doubt the state of his circumstances made him drink more.

Aunt Aggy was the first slave sold; she had a little boy eight or nine years of age, and when she was driven to the chained gang on the road he ran after her, crying, "Mother, mother; oh my mother." My master ordered one of the slaves to fetch him the waggon whip. He took it and lashed the poor little fellow, round the neck and legs until he fell down, then he flogged him until he got up again, and still my master cut at him until the boy shrieked out dreadfully, writhing in agony, the blood streaming down his little legs. His mother was driven off with the gang, and her little boy never saw her more.

In three or four weeks after this, a "trader" was seen talking to my master. The slaves were in a state of consternation, saying, "Is it me? Is it me? Who'll go next?" One of the slaves said, "See, they are selling the pigs to go to Virginia. They don't seem to care, but we can't be like pigs, we can't help thinking about our wives and children."

The slaves were all taking their dinners in their cabins about two o'clock. My master, the "trader," and three other white men walked up to the cabins, and entered one of them. My master pointed first to one, and then to another, and three were immediately handcuffed, and made to stand out in the yard. One of the slaves sold had a wife and five children on another plantation; another slave had a wife and three children; and the other had a wife and one child. My master, the dealer, and the others then went into another large cabin, where there were eight or nine women feeding the children with Indian-meal-broth. My master said, "Take your pick of the women."

The "trader" said, "I'll give you 800 dollars for that one." My master said, "I'll take it." The "trader," touching her with a long cane he had in his hand, said, "Walk yourself out here, and stand with those men." She jumped up and laid her child out of her arms in an old board-cradle, and walked to the chained men. My master said, "Take your pick of the rest."

(9) Walter Hawkins, From Slavery to Bishopric (1891)

While smarting under this sense of the injustice of the institution of slavery, the son of Mr. Robinson, who had followed his father's footsteps in drinking and gambling, came home one day hard up for cash, and, not knowing any better way to raise money to satisfy his passions, resolved on selling Walter, whom he called, saying: "Do you want a master?" Of course, he had no other choice but to answer: "Yes, sir". So he took the young man to a slave-dealer who bought and sold slaves to owners in the South. The dealer and southern plantations brought to his mind all the terrible things he had heard about those parts, and well he might, for the law by which slaves were governed in the Carolinas was a provincial law as old as 1740, but was made perpetual in 1783. By this law every Negro was presumed a slave unless the contrary appeared. Any person who murdered a slave was to pay £100, or £14 if he cut out the tongue of a slave. Any white man meeting seven slaves together on a high road could give them twenty lashes each, and no man could teach a slave to write under a penalty of £100 currency.

Walter stood by while the bargain was being made, and heard the dealer offer nine hundred dollars for his body. Speaking to Walter, he said: "Can you plough and grub? Can you do general work on the farm?" The poor fellow could do no more than please his master by answering "yes" to all his questions, which pleased both the dealer and young Robinson, for whose benefit all the lies were told. The bargain being struck, an arrangement was made for Walter to re-appear the next morning at seven o'clock; at the same time, he was to bid good-bye to his friends; but be sure, said he, that you are on the spot at seven.

Resolved to flee, he went straight to his old father and told him that he was sold. "Sold!" exclaimed the old man; "to whom?" "Why, to old Cidley, the Negro-dealer." After a pause the old man said: "They will sell my last child," and burst into tears, weeping like a child. He talked and wept with his son until he bathed the floor at his feet. At last he said: "Boy, run away". "I will," responded Walter. But now his troubles began, for he did not know, and the old man could not tell him, where to go any distance beyond ten miles in either direction from where they stood, as it was a part of the policy of slavery to keep them in ignorance as to distance.

(10) Elizabeth Keckley, Thirty Years a Slave (1868)

When I was about seven years old I witnessed, for the first time, the sale of a human being. We were living at Prince Edward, in Virginia, and master had just purchased his hogs for the winter, for which he was unable to pay in full. To escape from his embarrassment it was necessary to sell one of the slaves. Little Joe, the son of the cook, was selected as the victim. His mother was ordered to dress him up in his Sunday clothes, and send him to the house. He came in with a bright face, was placed in the scales, and was sold, like the hogs, at so much per pound. His mother was kept in ignorance of the transaction, but her suspicions were aroused. When her son started for Petersburgh in the wagon, the truth began to dawn upon her mind, and she pleaded piteously that her boy should not be taken from her; but master quieted her by telling her that he was simply going to town with the wagon, and would be back in the morning.

Morning came, but little Joe did not return to his mother. Morning after morning passed, and the mother went down to the grave without ever seeing her child again. One day she was whipped for grieving for her lost boy. Colonel Burwell never liked to see one of his slaves wear a sorrowful face, and those who offended in this particular way were always punished. Alas! the sunny face of the slave is not always an indication of sunshine in the heart. Colonel Burwell at one time owned about seventy slaves, all of which were sold, and in a majority of instances wives were separated from husbands and children from their parents.

(11) Bethany Veney, A Slave Woman (1889)

Master Fletcher died. I must have been about nine years old at that time. Master's children consisted of five daughters and two sons. As usual in such cases, an inventory was taken of his property (all of which nearly was in slaves), and, being apportioned in shares, lots were drawn, and, as might chance, we fell to our several masters and mistresses. My sister Matilda and myself were drawn by the eldest daughter, Miss Lucy. My grandmother had begged hard to be reckoned with me, but she and Uncle Peter fell to Miss Nasenath. I was put out with an old woman, who gave me my food and clothes for whatever work I could do for her. She was kind to me, as I then counted kindness, never whipping me or starving me; but it was not what a free-born white child would have found comforting or needful.

(12) Moses Roper, Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper (1838)

I cannot recollect any thing that is worth notice till I was six or seven years old. My mother being half white, and my father a white man, I was at that time very white. Soon after I was six or seven years of age, my mother's old master died, that is, my father's wife's father. All his slaves had to be divided among the children. I have mentioned before of my father disposing of me; I am not sure whether he exchanged me and my mother for another slave or not, but think it very likely he did exchange me with one of his wife's brothers or sisters, because I remember when my mother's old master died, I was living with my father's wife's brother-in-law, whose name was Mr. Durham. My mother was drawn with the other slaves.

The way they divide their slaves is this: they write the names of different slaves on a small piece of paper, and put it into a box, and let them all draw. I think that Mr. Durham drew my mother, and Mr. Fowler drew me, so we were separated a considerable distance, I cannot say how far. My resembling my father so very much, and being whiter than the other slaves, caused me to be soon sold to what they call a negro trader who took me to the southern states of America, several hundred miles from my mother. As well as I can recollect, I was then about six years old.

The trader, Mr. Michael, after travelling several hundred miles and selling a good many of his slaves, found he could not sell me very well (as I was so much whiter than the other slaves were) for he had been trying several months - left me with a Mr. Sneed, who kept a large boarding-house, who took me to wait at table and sell me if he could.

(13) Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave (1831)

I staid at Mrs. Pruden's about three months after this; I was then sent back to Mr. Williams to be sold. Oh, that was a sad sad time! I recollect the day well. Mrs. Pruden came to me and said, "Mary, you will have to go home directly; your master is going to be married, and he means to sell you and two of your sisters to raise money for the wedding." Hearing this I burst out a crying, though I was then far from being sensible of the full weight of my misfortune, or of the misery that waited for me. Besides, I did not like to leave Mrs. Pruden, and the dear baby, who had grown very fond of me. For some time I could scarcely believe that Mrs. Pruden was in earnest, till I received orders for my immediate return.

Dear Miss Fanny! how she cried at parting with me, whilst I kissed and hugged the baby, thinking I should never see him again. I left Mrs. Pruden's, and walked home with a heart full of sorrow. The idea of being sold away from my mother and Miss Betsey was so frightful, that I dared not trust myself to think about it. We had been bought of Mr. Myners, as I have mentioned, by Miss Betsey's grandfather, and given to her, so that we were by right her property, and I never thought we should be separated or sold away from her.

When I reached the house, I went in directly to Miss Betsey. I found her in great distress; and she cried out as soon as she saw me, "Oh, Mary! my father is going to sell you all to raise money to marry that wicked woman. You are my slaves, and he has no right to sell you; but it is all to please her." She then told me that my mother was living with her father's sister at a house close by, and I went there to see her. It was a sorrowful meeting; and we lamented with a great and sore crying our unfortunate situation. "Here comes one of my poor picaninnies!" she said, the moment I came in, "one of the poor slave-brood who are to be sold tomorrow."

Oh dear! I cannot bear to think of that day, - it is too much - It recalls the great grief that filled my heart, and the woeful thoughts that passed to and fro through my mind, whilst listening to the pitiful words of my poor mother, weeping for the loss of her children. I wish I could find words to tell you all I then felt and suffered. The great God above alone knows the thoughts of the poor slave's heart, and the bitter pains which follow such separations as these. All that we love taken away from us - Oh, it is sad, sad! and sore to be borne! - I got no sleep that night for thinking of the morrow; and dear Miss Betsey was scarcely less distressed. She could not bear to part with her old playmates, and she cried sore and would not be pacified.

The black morning at length came; it came too soon for my poor mother and us. Whilst she was putting on us the new osnaburgs in which we were to be sold, she said, in a sorrowful voice, (I shall never forget it!) "See, I am shrouding my poor children; what a task for a mother!" - She then called Miss Betsey to take leave of us. "I am going to carry my little chickens to market," (these were her very words.) "take your last look of them: may be you will see them no more." "Oh, my poor slaves! my own slaves!" said dear Miss Betsey, "you belong to me: and it grieves my heart to part with you." - Miss Betsey kissed us all, and, when she left us, my mother called the rest of the slaves to bid us good bye. One of them, a woman named Moll, came with her infant in her arms. "Ay!" said my mother, seeing her turn away and look at her child with the tears in her eyes, "your turn will come next." The slaves could say nothing to comfort us; they could only weep and lament with us. When I left my dear little brothers and the house in which I had been brought up, I thought my heart would burst.

Our mother, weeping as she went, called me away with the children Hannah and Dinah, and we took the road that led to Hamble Town, which we reached about four o'clock in the afternoon. We followed my mother to the market-place, where she placed us in a row against a large house, with our backs to the wall and our arms folded across our breasts. I, as the eldest, stood first, Hannah next to me, then Dinah; and our mother stood beside, crying over us. My heart throbbed with grief and terror so violently, that I pressed my hands quite tightly across my breast, but I could not keep it still, and it continued to leap as though it would burst out of my body. But who cared for that? Did one of the many bystanders, who were looking at us so carelessly, think of the pain that wrung the hearts of the Negro woman and her young ones? No, no! They were not all bad, I dare say, but slavery hardens white people's hearts towards the blacks; and many of them were not slow to make their remarks upon us aloud, without regard to our grief - though their light words fell like cayenne on the fresh wounds of our hearts. Oh those white people have small hearts who can only feel for themselves.

At length the vendue master, who was to offer us for sale like sheep or cattle, arrived, and asked my mother which was the eldest. She said nothing, but pointed to me. He took me by the hand, and led me out into the middle of the street, and, turning me slowly round, exposed me to the view of those who attended the vendue. I was soon surrounded by strange men, who examined and handled me in the same manner that a butcher would a calf or a lamb he was about to purchase, and who talked about my shape and size in like words - as if I could no more understand their meaning than the dumb beasts. I was then put up to sale. The bidding commenced at a few pounds, and gradually rose to fifty-seven, when I was knocked down to the highest bidder; and the people who stood by said that I had fetched a great sum for so young a slave.

I then saw my sisters led forth, and sold to different owners: so that we had not the sad satisfaction of being partners in bondage. When the sale was over, my mother hugged and kissed us, and mourned over us, begging of us to keep up a good heart, and do our duty to our new masters. It was a sad parting; one went one way, one another, and our poor mammy went home with nothing.

(14) Henry Bibb, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave (1849)

A slave may be bought and sold in the market like an ox. He is liable to be sold off to a distant land from his family. He is bound in chains hand and foot; and his sufferings are aggravated a hundred fold, by the terrible thought, that he is not allowed to struggle against misfortune, corporal punishment, insults and outrages committed upon himself and family; and he is not allowed to help himself, to resist or escape the blow, which he sees impending over him. I was a slave, a prisoner for life; I could possess nothing, nor acquire anything but what must belong to my keeper. No one can imagine my feelings in my reflecting moments, but he who has himself been a slave.

(15) Julia Brown, aged 85, Atlanta, Georgia, interviewed as part of the Federal Writers Project in 1937.

Slaves was treated in most cases like cattle. A man went about the country buying up slaves like baying up cattle and the like, and he was called a "speculator." Then he would sell them to the highest bidder. Oh! it was pitiful to see children taken from their mothers' breasts, mothers sold, husbands sold from wives. One woman he was to buy had a baby, and of course the baby come before he bought her and he wouldn't buy the baby, said he hadn't bargained to buy the baby, too, and he just wouldn't.