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"What Became of the Slaves on a Georgia Plantation"


Excerpts from the 1863 publication by Mortimer Thomson, What Became of the Slaves on a Georgia Plantation. . .

The largest sale of human chattels that has been made in Star-Spangled America for several years, took place on Wednesday nad Thursday of last week, at the Race-course near the City of Savannah, Georgia. The lot consisted of four hundred and thirty-six men, women, children and infants, being that half of the negro stock remaining on the old Major Butler plantations which fell to one of the two heirs to that estate.
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The sale had been advertised largely for many weeks, though the name of Mr. Butler was not mentioned; and as the negroes were known to be a choice lot and very desirable property, the attendance of buyers was large. The breaking up of an old family estate is so uncommon an occurrence that the affair was regarded with unusual interest throughout the South. For several days before the sale every hotel in Savannah was crowded with negro speculators from North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana, who had been attracted hither by the prospects of making good bargains.
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The buyers were generally of a rough breed, slangy, profane and bearish, being for the most part from the back river and swamp plantations, where the elegancies of polite life are not, perhaps, developed to their fullest extent. In fact, the humanities are sadly neglected by the petty tyrants of the rice-fields that border the great Dismal Swamp, their knowledge of the luxuries of our best society comprehending only revolvers and kindred delicacies.

Your correspondent was present at an early date.... Although he kept his business in the back-ground, he made himself a prominent figure in the picture, and, wherever there was anything going on, there was he in the midst. At the sale might have been seen a busy individual, armed with pencil and catalogue, doing his little utmost to keep up all the appearance of a knowing buyer... and otherwise conducting himself like a rich planter, with forty thousand dollars where he could put his finger on it.
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None of the Butler slaves have ever been sold before, but have been on these two plantations since they were born. Here have they lived their humble lives, and loved their simple loves; here were they born, and here have many of them had children born unto them; here had their parents lived before them, and are now resting in quiet graves on the old plantations that these unhappy ones are to see no more forever; here they left not only the well-known scenes dear to them from very baby-hood by a thousand fond memories, and homes as much loved by them, perhaps, as brighter homes by men of brighter faces; but all the clinging ties that bound them to living hearts were torn asunder, for but one-half of each of these two happy little communities was sent to the shambles, to be scattered to the four winds, and the other half was left behind. And who can tell how closely intertwined are a band of four hundred persons, living isolated from all the world beside, from birth to middle age? Do they not naturally become one great family, each man a brother unto each?

It is true they were sold "in families"; but let us see: a man and his wife were called a "family," their parents and kindred were not taken into account; the man and wife might be sold to the pine woods of North Carolina, their brothers and sisters be scattered through the cotton fields of Alabama and the rice swamps of Louisiana, while the parents might be left on the old plantation to wear out their weary lives in heavy grief, and lay their heads in far-off graves, over which their children might never weep.
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The Negroes were examined with as little consideration as if they had been brutes indeed; the buyers pulling their mouths open to see their teeth, pinching their limbs to find how muscular they were, walking them up and down to detect any signs of lameness, making them stoop and bend in differect ways that they might be certain there was no concealed rupture of wound; and in addition to all this treatment, asking them scores of questions relative to their qualifications and accomplishments. All these humiliations were submitted to without a murmur, and in some instatces with good-natured cheerfulness -- where the slave liked the appearance of the proposed buyer, and fancied that he might prove a kind "Mas'r."
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The women never spoke to the white men unless spoken to, and then made the conferece as short as possible. And not one of them all, during the whole time they were thus exposed to the rude questions of vulgar men, spoke the first unwomanly or indelicate word, or cunducted herself in any regard otherwise than as a modest woman should do; their conversation and demeanor were quite as unexceptionable as they would have been had they been the highest ladies in the land, and through all the insults to which they were subjected they conducted themselves with the most perfect decorum nad self-respect.
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The expression on the faces of all who stepped on the block was always the same, and told of more anguish than it is in the power of words to express. Blighted homes, curshed hopes and broken hearts, was the sad story to be read in all the anxious faces. Some of them regarded the sale with perfect indifference, never making a motion, save to turn from one side to the other at the word of the dapper Mr. Byran, that all the crowd might have a fair view of their proportions, and then, when the sale was accomplished, stepped down from the block without caring to cast even a look at the buyer, who now held all their happiness in his hands.
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As the last family stepped down from the block, the rain ceased, for the first time in four days the clouds broke away, and the soft sunlight fell on the scene. The unhappy slaves had many of them been already removed, and others were now departing with their new masters.

That night, not a steamer left that Southern port, not a train of cars sped away from that cruel city, that did not bear each its own sad burden of those unhappy ones, whose only crime is that they are not strong and wise. Some of them maimed and wounded, some scarred and gashed, by accident, or by the hand of ruthless drivers -- all sad and sorrowful as human hearts can be.

But the stars shone out as brightly as if such things had never been, the blushing fruit-trees poured their fragrance on the evening air, and the scene was as calmly sweet and quiet as if Man had never marred the glorious beauties of Earth by deeds of cruelty and wrong.

What Became of the Slaves on a Georgia Plantation?
Great Auction Sale of Slaves at Savannah, Georgia, March 2d & 3d, 1859
A sequel to Mrs. Kemble's Journal, 1863





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