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   Chapter 5 THE SLAVE-MARKET.

Clotelle: A Tale of the Southern States By William Wells Brown Characters: 5002

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Not far from Canal Street, in the city of New Orleans, stands a large two-story, flat building, surrounded by a stone wall some twelve feet high, the top of which is covered with bits of glass, and so constructed as to prevent even the possibility of any one's passing over it without sustaining great injury. Many of the rooms in this building resemble the cells of a prison, and in a small apartment near the "office" are to be seen any number of iron collars, hobbles, handcuffs, thumbscrews, cowhides, chains, gags, and yokes.

A back-yard, enclosed by a high wall, looks something like the playground attached to one of our large New England schools, in which are rows of benches and swings. Attached to the back premises is a good-sized kitchen, where, at the time of which we write, two old negresses were at work, stewing, boiling, and baking, and occasionally wiping the perspiration from their furrowed and swarthy brows.

The slave-trader, Jennings, on his arrival at New Orleans, took up his quarters here with his gang of human cattle, and the morning after, at 10 o'clock, they were exhibited for sale. First of all came the beautiful Marion, whose pale countenance and dejected look told how many sad hours she had passed since parting with her mother at Natchez. There, too, was a poor woman who had been separated from her husband; and another woman, whose looks and manners were expressive of deep anguish, sat by her side. There was "Uncle Jeems," with his whiskers off, his face shaven clean, and the gray hairs plucked out ready to be sold for ten years younger than he was. Toby was also there, with his face shaven and greased, ready for inspection.

The examination commenced, and was carried on in such a manner as to shock the feelings of anyone not entirely devoid of the milk of human kindness.

"What are you wiping your eyes for?" inquired a fat, red-faced man, with a white hat set on one side of his head and a cigar in his mouth, of a woman who sat on one of the benches.

"Because I left my man behind."

"Oh, if I buy you, I will furnish you with a better man than you left. I've got lots of young bucks on my farm."

"I don't want and never will have another man," replied the woman.

"What's your name?" asked a man in a straw hat of a tall negro who stood with his arms folded across his breast, leaning against the wall.

"My name is Aaron, sar."

"How old are you?"


"Where were you raised?"

"In ole Virginny, sar."

"How many men have owned you?"


"Do you enjoy good health?"

"Yes, sar."

"How long did you live with your first owner?"

"Twenty years."

"Did you ever run away?"

"No, sar."

"Did you ever strike your master?"

"No, sar."

"Were you ever whipped much?"

"No, sar; I s'pose I didn't deserve it, sar."

"How long did you live with your second master?"

"Ten years, sar."

"Have you a good appetite?"

"Yes, sar."

"Can you eat your allowance?"

"Yes, sar,-when I can get it."

"Where were you employed in Virginia?"

"I worked de tobacker fiel'."

"In the tobacco field, eh?"

"Yes, sar."

"How old did you say you was?"

"Twenty-five, sar, nex' sweet-'tater-diggin' time."

"I am a cotton-planter, and if I buy you, you will have to work in the cotton-field. My men pick one hundred and fifty pounds a day, and the women one hundred and forty pounds; and those who fail to perform their task receive five stripes for each pound that is wanting. Now, do you think you could keep up with the rest of the hands?"

"I' don't know sar but I 'specs I'd have to."

"How long did you live with your third master?"

"Three years, sar."

"Why, that makes you thirty-three. I thought you told me you were only twenty-five?"

Aaron now looked first at the planter, then at the trader, and seemed perfectly bewildered. He had forgotten the lesson given him by Pompey relative to his age; and the planter's circuitous questions-doubtless to find out the slave's real age-had thrown the negro off his guard.

"I must see your back, so as to know how much you have been whipped, before I think of buying."

Pompey, who had been standing by during the examination, thought that his services were now required, and, stepping forth with a degree of officiousness, said to Aaron,-

"Don't you hear de gemman tell you he wants to 'zamin you. Cum, unharness yo'seff, ole boy, and don't be standin' dar."

Aaron was soon examined, and pronounced "sound;" yet the conflicting statement about his age was not satisfactory.

Fortunately for Marion, she was spared the pain of undergoing such an examination. Mr. Cardney, a teller in one of the banks, had just been married, and wanted a maid-servant for his wife, and, passing through the market in the early part of the day, was pleased with the young slave's appearance, and his dwelling the quadroon found a much better home than often falls to the lot of a slave sold in the New Orleans market.

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