American slavery

Old American newspapers reveal the horror of slavery

Imagine you picked up a newspaper and there were classified ads for slave auctions and rewards for the return of runaway slaves. That would shock you deeply. And yet in my vast collection of very old newspapers, I have two mid-19th century originals that have exactly that. They reveal the day-to-day horror of what American slavery was all about in the southern states.

The Charleston Courier of 25 September 1834 is full of ads from concerned slave owners about the whereabouts of their escaped property, as you can see below. This copy of the newspaper is one that was owned by the back office and the numbers indicate for how many days or weeks an ad was going to run.

So click to watch this edition of Beardy History where I’ll show you examples of these ads and how they really were just a humdrum feature of everyday life in the slave owning states of the US before the Civil War.

Interestingly, the British Empire had outlawed slavery in most parts of the empire (except those run by the East India Company) by the early 1830s. This was as a result of a campaign by a group of wealthy Anglicans who were nicknamed the “Clapham Saints” or “Clapham Sect“. I explain all about them in the video – so watch to find out more.

It should be pointed out that even though slavery was abolished in the United Kingdom long before the United States, huge reparations were paid to slave owners by the British government. Today of course, there are demands for reparations to be paid to the descendants of slaves – not slave owners.

DISCOVER: How were Roman and American slavery different?

2020 has seen issues of race come to the fore. In the US, this has proven to be hugely divisive and polarising. It does show that many problems have not been resolved, but simply swept under the political carpet.

It is critical at this time to have a long, historical perspective. So I hope this short video will shed light on what slavery did to people in the 19th century. It was an unnatural practice that distorted human relations and institutionalised appalling violence. But also, when you see the newspapers, there was something almost matter-of-fact for those directly involved.

They never seem to question the morality of owning human beings. The slaves were viewed as something akin to livestock. And this economic and social system was almost seen as being divinely sanctioned.

Well, I look forward to your comments and do tell me what you think and if you want to know more about American slavery in future posts.

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