Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Enormous Price

Perusing Civil War newspapers in effort to catch bits of military information almost always turns up peripheral social, economic, and political information if one keeps their eyes open for it.

While reading Hood's Texas Brigade by Susannah J. Ural, I learned that some of the Texans posted an advertisement in the Richmond Whig seeking shoes for their soldiers. Not having access to digital versions of the Whig, I wondered if they might have posted the advertisement in other Richmond papers. I looked through some of the available November 1863 issues of the Richmond Enquirer, but got sidetracked by many of the advertisements that mentioned slavery in the November 3 edition. One brief notice (pictured above) particularly caught my eye.

After the introductory title "ENORMOUS PRICE.-" it reads: "A negro girl, aged seventeen, was sold by Hargrove & Co. for the small fortune of six thousand one hundred and fifty dollars cash, on Monday last, at Lynchburg."

My historical thinking mind started churning. The first thing that came to me, largely from my reading and research on slavery was that this was likely a "fancy girl" situation. Especially attractive, young, female slaves sometimes brought extraordinary prices. Although the advertisement does not give a physical description of this young woman, those of light complexion, straight hair, and shapely form sometimes became the most sought after of possessions. Desired by both slave traders, who hoped to improve profits on their human investments, and often bachelor males who sought enslaved females for sexual purposes, bidding wars sometimes drove prices to astounding amounts.

Attempting to consider all possibilities, and thus continuing my line of thinking led me to reason that war-time inflation may also have escalated slave prices. Inflation had repercussions on almost everything in the Confederacy, particularly items in short supply. However, it seems that if inflation was the cause, this would not have been an outstanding case and thus the newspaper would not have claimed it an "enormous price."

Enslaved people who possessed skills often brought higher prices. Coopers, carpenters, brick masons, weavers, cooks, and similarly skilled laborers commanded advanced values. But, those talents normally upped their cost by tens and hundreds of dollars, not normally the thousands of dollars that this young woman apparently commanded. It is difficult to believe that a seventeen year old woman had acquired many skills to bring such an exorbitant price.

Are there many other possibilities than this being a fancy girl? Does anyone have thoughts?

No comments:

Post a Comment