Our Market Is Fair

Slaver's Stationery 10 13 1860

Sometimes it’s the everyday things that touch and teach us, and this envelope from 1860 – stationery used every day for business correspondence – really gave me a jolt, more than any statistics or written history could.

The envelope held a letter, in which a business man calmly noted, “Our market is fair at this time, several here who wish to buy some good negroes…”

Before and during the Civil War, Richmond was a center of the slave trade, with more than 60 slave dealers and auction houses. But the business was no different to most than the trade in salt or tobacco. And slaves weren’t just bought and sold; they were bred, leased, traded, even used as collateral for loans. There was a futures market in slaves. Tens of millions of dollars changed hands.

Nor was this purely a southern enterprise. In the early days of the Civil War, slavery was still legal in six Union states—Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee and West Virginia—and the sale of slaves in these states was taxable.

This chilling piece of history is from an exhibit at the U.S. Postal Museum, which also includes documents that bear federally-issued revenue stamps as proof that the tax on a slave sale was paid, all very routine and official.

You will find the exhibit online here: http://postalmuseum.si.edu/freedom/p2.html

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The site of the Odd Fellows Hall noted on the envelope is today a part of the Richmond Slave Trail, marker #3 at North 15th Street & East Main Street. The marker notes that the slave auctions took place in the basement.

Gordon Ross

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Illustrations by Gordon Ross for Cheerio’s Book of Days (1940)

Born in Scotland in 1872, Gordon Ross sailed to San Francisco on a clipper ship as a teenager. He studied at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art. (The school was in the mansion of the late Mark Hopkins, a founder of the Central Pacific Railroad. The mansion survived the earthquake of 1906, but was destroyed in the fire that followed; the Mark Hopkins Hotel sits on the site today.) Ross worked in the art departments of the San Francisco Examiner and the Chronicle until 1904, and was a member of the Bohemian Club. He moved to New York after 1906, and became nationally known as an illustrator for books, especially those of the Heritage Press and the Limited Edition Club, with such titles as The Pickwick Papers, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, The Children’s Munchausen, The Life of Samuel Johnson, Impertinent Poems, The Jaunts and Jollities of that Renowned Sporting Citizen, Mr. John Jorrocks, The Seedy Gentleman, Ladies in Hades, and others. He also did illustrations for advertisements and magazine articles, prints, posters, cartoons, and at least one menu. He died in New York City the day after Christmas in 1946.

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Quiet and Calm

Incense Pirate

“Now the governor of Algiers in those days was a terrible old fellow, one Hassan Pasha, who did not hesitate, as a rule, to hang, impale or mutilate any who were unfortunate enough to be his prisoners. It was to the feet of this monster that Cervantes found himself dragged. But he stood before him holding his head so high, so utterly quiet and calm, that the tyrant was overawed by his astounding  fearlessness and did nothing more terrible than utter some hideous threats.”

– Illustration by Donn P. Crane for “A Spanish Hero” in My Book House: The Halls of Fame (1937)