Sunday, October 13, 2013

Slaves and the Local Courts

One of the main arguments of abolitionists was that slavery was not a static or isolated institution. They saw it as a cancer that infected every walk of life anywhere it was allowed to exist. Simply by being considered more as property than persons, enslaved individuals were often subject to abuse and given less consideration than non-enslaved persons. A couple of examples are provided here for interpretation on this point. 

The above advertisement from Fayette County, Kentucky, shows that two slaves, "Tom, aged about 40 years," and "a woman named Mary, aged about 24 years, and infant child" were to be offered for sale to the highest bidder by the county commissioner to settle the court decision in the case of "John Moore and others, vs. N. D. Moore." 

Court cases brought slaves as valuable property, and thus financial assets, into figuring the settlement of cases such as this one. Was Mary related to Tom? Was Tom Mary's father and the infant's grandfather? We do not know in this instance, but undoubtedly thousands of family members were separated in situations similar to this one. Abolitionists, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom's Cabin, often used the separation of slave families and spouses to arouse indignation toward the institution.

Another example from Fayette County was an advertisement posted by auctioneer C. T. Worley. This ad announced that in order to settle the debts of Richard B. Young "A Tract of Land in Lexington" containing six acres was offered for sale to the "highest bidder." In addition " FOUR OR FIVE NEGRO MEN AND WOMEN" were also offered to "benefit" the creditors of Young. 

Like the top advertisement it is not known if these individuals were related or married or what their fate entailed, but the ads show that slaves as property figured into civic functions such as the county courts and that the enslaved were at the mercy of the their owners finances.

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