Monday, July 3, 2017

Contraband, Changing Quarters

When I happen across a Civil War-era image that I haven't seen before, particularly one that deals with a subject matter of special personal interest, it is a little bit like Christmas. While searching for the lyrics to the Civil War song "The Colored Volunteer," I found the above image on the "Jubilo! The Emancipation Century" blog, who credited it to The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd.

The print shows a young African American man, presumably a slave, riding a magnificent white horse from the right side of the image to the left. Running beside the horse is a canine that is looking up at the rider. The horseman appears to be leaving a military encampment that displays a "Stars and Bars" on the right to a camp floating the "Stars and Stripes." Perhaps the "contraband" rider was a jockey for his former master, as his colorful cap, saddle blanket, and shirt may indicate.

I am not sure if the artist intended the image to be literal or figurative, or possibly, both. Is the escaped slave actually leaving his master (on his master's horse) as a camp servant in the Confederate army to a new life of freedom with the Union forces? Or, does the Confederate encampment represent the Confederate States of America at large? Does the Union garrison symbolize the free labor North? And, does the horse represent the acts of agency that were displayed by thousands of so-called contrabands?

Unfortunately, I was unable to find out much anything about the artist, the publisher, or the date of the image. There are addresses of Hartford, Connecticut and New York on the bottom border of the picture, but I am unable to read what it says before those locations are given. Regardless, the picture provides the viewer with a lot to think about and provides an intriguing interpretation on the situation experienced by thousands of people from 1861-1865.

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