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Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-4574

Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-4574

One of the many reasons slaveowners conjured up to justify the buying and selling of people, especially when breaking up families, was that enslaved people did not form the same attachments to their children and spouses as whites did. Elizabeth Keckley was a former slave who later became famous as Mary Lincoln’s seamstress. In her autobiography, she recalled the

Keckley

Keckley

pain of her mother’s cries when her father was sold away. “Stop your nonsense,” her slaveowner’s wife said. “there is no necessity for you putting on airs. Your husband is not the only slave that has been sold from his family, and you are not the only one that has had to part. There are plenty more men about here, and if you want a husband so badly, stop your crying and go and find another.”

That same story of bitter parting can be found in most of the hundreds of narratives written by former slaves. Even slaveowner’s own runaway ads betray their rationale: frequent reference is made in those ads about the slave probably running away to where parents, children or siblings were. Slaveowners knew better.

Yet another sad part of the story is told in the ads placed in newspapers after emancipation by former slaves searching for spouses and children who were sold away. As the mother of a young child, I can’t imagine the horror of being torn away and literally never seeing that child again.

These ads can be found in African-American newspapers such as The Colored Tennessean, The Christian Recorder, The Appeal and others, though finding surviving copies can be a challenge. Many ads were placed in the earlier years after the war during reconstruction, but many people were still searching at the turn of the century. Almost 40 years later, they had still not given up hope of reuniting with their family. A 2012 book by historian Heather Williams called Help Me to Find My People: The African-American Search for Family Lost in Slavery discusses the topic.

The ads speak for themselves and for me, elicit a deep, deep sorrow, and a sense of the lingering pain and suffering that occurred long after the war was over.

Richmond Planet, August 1897

Richmond Planet, August 1897

The Appeal, August 1892

The Appeal, August 1892

The Atlanta Constitution, October 1892

The Atlanta Constitution, October 1892

The Appeal, August 1892

The Appeal, August 1892

The Times Picayune Sun,  January 1868

The Times Picayune Sun, January 1868

The Daily Standard, March 1867

The Daily Standard, March 1867

The Daily NewBernian, December 1880

The Daily NewBernian, December 1880

The Appeal, February 1891

The Appeal, February 1891

(As with anything on this blog, if you believe an image I post may relate to your family, please request via the comments and I will send you a source citation for the image.)

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