I haven’t been posting because I’ve been enjoying family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s at the heart of why we are all genealogists, right?

I’m taking a short break to tell you all about a website I discovered.

The website is called, “The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record.” (Update: it is now called just “Slavery Images“)

Slavery Images

As the website describes, the project contains approximately 1,235 images of mostly enslaved laborers in the Americas and the New World.

This is a joint project of the Virginia Foundation and the Digital Media Lab at the University of Virginia Library.  There are 18 categories of pictures, some of which are:

  • Capture of Slaves and Coffles in Africa
  • European Forts and Trading Posts in Africa
  • Plantation Scenes, Slave Settlements and Houses
  • Physical Punishment, Rebellion and Running Away
  • Music, Dance and Recreational Activities
  • Emancipation and Post Slavery Life

 Many of us are focused on uncovering our ancestors in Virginia in 1870 or South Carolina in 1849, for example. We often forget the scope and scale of slavery. It’s tragic path through the West Indies, the tearing apart of custom and tradition.

I think because of modern photography, we all are drawn to the more common images from the 20th century, and late 19th. These images are a reminder to us of slavery’s reach.

I do love photographs, but if you want to try to envision a plantation in Jamaica or Cuba in 1759 or 1810, illustrations are what we have.

These pictures made me think more deeply about the extraordinary expanse of this monstrous institution. And remember that most slaves in the Caribbean from this era did not live to reproduce other generations as in mainland North America. Most died and planters simply purchased more.

Here are a few pictures from the database, but please do go and spend a little time looking around when you can.

In the category “Slave Sales and Auctions: African Coast and the Americas”:

Metal Branding Irons With Owner’s Initials, Isabelle Aguet, A Pictorial History of the Slave Trade (Geneva: Editions Minerva, 1971), plate 33, p. 45.

The Illustrated London News (Jan-June, 1861), vol. 38, p. 307.

I have never seen nor thought of slaves being sold in top hats.

In the category, “Religion and Mortuary Practices“:

Catholic Baptism of Slaves in Brazil, Jean Baptiste Debret, Voyage Pittoresque et Historique au Bresil (Paris,1834-39), vol. 3, plate 8, p. 129 (top).

I was struck by how ornately the enslaved were dressed.

1831 Funeral in Suriname, “Figure 16” in Pierre Jacques Benoit, Voyage à Surinam; description des possessions néerlandaises dans la Guyane (Bruxelles: Société des Beaux-Arts de Wasme et Laurent, 1839).

The caption says that the people with their faces covered were the mourners.

In the category “Marketing and Urban Scenes“:

Three Enslaved Women, Suriname, 1939, “Figure 15” in Pierre Jacques Benoit, Voyage à Surinam; description des possessions néerlandaises dans la Guyane (Bruxelles: Société des Beaux-Arts de Wasme et Laurent, 1839).

Clothing Styles, Paramaribo, Surinam, 1839, Image Ref: BEN7b

The caption says that they are not wearing shoes because only freed blacks could wear shoes!

Take a look around this fascinating and eye-opening collection.

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