Monday, May 9, 2016

Petersburg Auctioneer William Tench

One does not have to peruse too many issues of antebellum Petersburg newspapers to become acquainted with the name of William Tench. For many years Tench operated an auction house in the Cockade City that redistributed property wealth, often for the estates of the deceased, and often in the form of human chattel property. Tench could be labeled as a slave trader in that that form of property made up a significant amount of his sales. Tench, however, was also a respected and influential businessman in the city and region. 

In the 1840 census, Tench is shown living in Petersburg's East Ward. It identified his household as having eight white people in it and three slaves, who were two females and a male child; all the slaves were likely domestic help. 

Tench is listed as the forty-three year old head of his household in the 1850 census. He owned $1000 in real estate. Living with Tench was his wife, Sarah (42), and three sons and a daughter. Tench owned  two slaves in 1850, a twenty-five year old female and a twelve year old male.

Ten years later, Tench was still in Petersburg, but living in the Center Ward. He is listed as a fifty-three year old "clerk." He owned $4750 in real estate and $2400 in personal property. Also in the Tench household was still wife Sara (50), twenty-three year old "auctioneer" son John, who apparently followed in his father's footsteps. Joseph (21) and Theophilus (18) were both listed as clerks. Also included were teenagers Laura and Charles. In that census Tench is listed as the owner of a fifty year old slave woman, who lived in a single slave dwelling.

This brief notice above mentioning one of Tench's sales ran in the December 15, 1860, edition of the Petersburg Daily Express. I am a little curious as to why the newspaper would have published this specific common occurrence event. The price received for the sale is about in line for a female of child-bearing age values in 1860. Perhaps, Tench had the notice ran as a slightly different form of advertising. Regardless, Tench continued advertising the slaves he was auctioning into 1865. And although the changes wrought by the Civil War ended Tench's sale of people, he continued to serve as an auctioneer as witnessed by the 1870 and 1880 censuses.

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