Taking Back What Was Once Lost

Slavery: A Visual Record

I haven’t been posting because I’ve been enjoying and entertaining family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s at the heart of why we are all genealogists, right? I had a wonderful time and hope all of you did too. But, I missed my blog! And my good genea-buddy has been reminding me for days I need to post so I am back with just a short snippet. But a good one.

I have a website that I’ve had bookmarked forever but only tonight did I start digging around in it and now, an hour later, I am changing my original blog topic to post this. I can always use the other one another night.

The website is called, “The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record.”

As the website describes, the project contains approximately 1,235 images of mostly enslaved laborers in the Americas and the New World. This is a joint project of the Virginia Foundation and the Digital Media Lab at the University of Virginia Library.  There are 18 categories of pictures, some of which are:

  • Capture of Slaves and Coffles in Africa
  • European Forts and Trading Posts in Africa
  • Plantation Scenes, Slave Settlements and Houses
  • Physical Punishment, Rebellion and Running Away
  • Music, Dance and Recreational Activities
  • Emancipation and Post Slavery Life

I had some interesting thoughts while perusing this collection.  Because many of us are focused on uncovering our specific ancestors in Virginia in 1870 or South Carolina in 1849, we forget the scope and scale and reach of slavery—the path through the West Indies, the tearing apart of custom and tradition. How it formed the economic backbone of entire countries and forced redefinitions of family & manhood, womanhood and faith.  I think also because of modern photography, we all are drawn to the more common images from the 20th century, and late 19th.  I think I even was guilty of “poo-pooing” illustrations–but if you want to try to envision a plantation in Jamaica or Cuba in 1759 or 1810, you’re going to have to look at illustrations. I found that as I looked at these  (many of which were from books published in England), it made me recall the length and depth of the tragedy of slavery. The extraordinary expanse of the crime. My my. And remember that most slaves in the Caribbean from this era did not live to significantly reproduce other generations as in mainland North America–most died and planters simply purchased more.

Here are a few pictures from the database, but please do go and spend a little time looking around when you can.

In the category “Slave Sales and Auctions: African Coast and the Americas”:

Metal Branding Irons With Owner's Initials, Image Ref: H019

Slaves Awaiting Sale, New Orleans, 1861, Image Ref: NW0028

I have never seen nor thought of slaves being sold in top hats.

In the category, “Religion and Mortuary Practices“:

Baptism in a Catholic Church, Brazil, 1816, Image Ref: JCB-07385-18

I was struck by how ornately the enslaved were dressed.

Funeral, Paramaribo, Surinam 1839, Image Ref: BEN15a

The caption says that the people with their faces covered were the mourners.

In the category “Marketing and Urban Scenes“:

Clothing Styles, Paramaribo, Surinam, 1839, Image Ref: BEN7b

The caption says that they are not wearing shoes because only freed blacks could wear shoes!

In the category “Domestic Slaves and Free People of Color“:

House Servant, Baltimore, 1861, Image Ref: iln307

House Servant, Baltimore, 1861, Image Ref: iln307

Clothing Style, Female Servant, Lima, Peru, 1865, Image Ref: JCB-05677-13

Coachman with Horse and Carriage, Havana, Cuba, ca 1850 Image Ref: Album-12

They make it all look just so delightful, don’t they? Hmfph.

And last, but not least:

Extracting a Chigger, Brazil, 1820, Image Ref: IMG01

I can’t fathom that someone felt this image was worthy of remembrance !

I hope that last picture doesn’t dissuade you from viewing this fascinating and eye-opening collection.

This database reminded me of a plantation visit. I was in St.Croix last year & visited an 18th-century sugar plantation called “The Whim Plantation”. It was fascinating….the docent was extremely knowledgeable. Here are a few pictures:

Plantation "Greathouse"

Plantation Equipment

For Pressing Sugar Cane

List of Slaves Working Plantation

I also found some pictures from sugar plantation ruins on the Virgin Island that are much larger.

4 Comments

  1. December 4, 2009    

    Thanks for posting some of the pics. I tried to visit the site a couple of days ago, and for some reason, couldn’t manuver through it. I will try again!

    Renate

  2. December 5, 2009    

    Very interesting, reading, Rob…You never cease to amaze me with your lessons:-) keep them coming. T

  3. December 7, 2009    

    Great site! Another new one for me… 😉

    Give me a call this week if you have the chance.

  4. Michelle's Gravatar Michelle
    January 1, 2010    

    Hey there, You are so right in delving in this massive site of historical data on the slave trade. I am amazed even today at how expansive the slave trade spanned. Our own history teachers or rather the lack thereof really only focused on the American trade of African humans. And even that was done on the surface. Mind you not soley because they did not want to, I think because of lack of information. This site is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing.

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I blog, teach, write and lecture about family history research and it's just as rewarding today as it was when I began 18 years ago. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my past and I've taken back--reclaimed- my kin and some of that lost memory.  

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