Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Negroes for sale. These three words were printed often in Kentucky newspapers during the antebellum and Civil War years. But when they appeared - ironically - in the Independence Day, 1862, issue of the Frankfort Tri-Weekly Commonwealth they were for an unusual happenstance.

In that particular issue an advertisement appeared that read:

ON MONDAY, the 21st INSTANT, at 12 o'clock, before the Court House door, (it being County Court,) I will sell for cash inhand to the highest bidder, two LIKELY NEGRO MEN, Jordan and Abner, pardoned by Gov. Magoffin out of the Kentucky prison, and sold into slavery, under provisions of an act approved March 17, 1862.
J. H. GARRARD, Treasurer

Curiosity got the better of me so I looked up the legislative act that pardoned Jordan and Abner. Sure enough, it was in the ACTS OF KENTUCKY, 1862. It read:

AN ACT to amend section 25, chapter 93 of Revised Statutes

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

§1. That it shall be lawful for the Governor of this Commonwealth; in exercising his pardoning power, should he choose to do so, in favor of Jordan, a slave, formerly the property of R. M. Ewing, of Scott County, and Abner, now confined in the State penitentiary, to do so on the condition that such slaves will agree to be again restored to their original condition of servitude, by sale, as herein provided for.
§2. Upon the giving and acceptance of such pardon, the Governor shall inform the Treasurer thereof, whose duty it shall be to sell such slaves at public auction to the highest bidder for cash in hand, having first advertised the time, place, and term of sale for two weeks next previously in a newspaper printed and published in Frankfort.
§3. The costs of sale, including five percent on the amount to the Treasurer, shall be paid of the proceeds, and the remainder paid into the public treasury, and the slaves delivered to their purchasers.
§4. This act to take effect from its passage.
Approved March 17, 1862"

Unfortunately, not much information can be gleaned as to why these two men were pardoned. It appears that there was nothing more to their release than their agreeing to return to slavery on condition of being pardoned. Perhaps it was decided they could be more useful and profitable out of prison as slaves than remaining incarcerated for life.

The bottom part of the document above, found in Gov. Magoffin's official papers and dated July 21, 1862 - the day of their advertised sale - is interesting.  It reads:

"This writing was read to and explained to Abner and Jordan the slaves above named and they consented as above stated and desired that their consent and agreement be signified by the above writing to which their names were placed in their presence by their request[.] July 21st 1862" 

If slaves were not citizens, as per the Supreme Court's Dred Scott Decision in 1857, why would the state legislature need to pass an act for the governor to pardon them in order to sell them out of prison? I'm not sure. 

The backside of the document gives some bits of history of Abner and Jordan. Abner was apparently from Graves County, and as mentioned in the advertisement, Jordan was from Scott County. Both are listed here as convicted of manslaughter and sentenced "for life."

One wonders, who bought them? Did they ever sell? Having been convicted for manslaughter, perhaps their particular circumstances resulted in their victim's accidental deaths. But, would their value be reduced due to their associated crimes? One wonders.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if we can assume they had been freedmen before? Shows how so much of the lives of the enslaved can only be hinted at by documentation. I just discovered my enslaved tennessee ancestor came from kentucky.