Not Dead Yet

The February 21 edition of Civil War Emancipation discussed evidence of slavery as an institution coming apart in early 1863. Also included was a cowardly but wise qualifier, “While slavery was far from dead . . .” This edition of the blog considers evidence of slavery’s persistence in the middle of the Civil War. Certainly slavery was under pressure throughout the South in early 1863, with the pressure stronger in some places and weaker in others. But the peculiar institution definitely was still far from dead, even after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.



The first piece of evidence in this regard is  a bill of sale for a slave, dated March 7, 1863. An image of the receipt is above and it states:

Received of Mary A. Greathouse sixteen hundred dollars in full payment for a certain negro woman named Charity age about twenty six years which negro we warrant sound & the title we warrant & defend against the claims of all persons whatsoever

This document does not specify the exact location where this transaction took, but the receipt can be found online at the website of the Northeast Texas Digital Collections at Texas A&M University – Commerce. So it is safe to presume this document concerns the sale of a slave in Texas. The substantial price, $1600, while reflecting in part the inflation of Confederate currency, which was on average 10 percent per month from October 1861 to March 1864, was still much more consistent with prewar slave prices, where the average valuation of a slave was about $800 in 186o, and considerably more for a female slave in her childbearing years, such as Charity.

So it is safe to say slaves were worth a lot more in Texas in early 1863, which was the area of the Confederacy at that date safest from attack from Union forces, than in Maryland where slavery as an institution was under great stress and effectively dying. Indeed, Texas was the most common destination during the Civil War for southern slaveholders from further east seeking to “refugee” or keep their slaves away from the federal army. And so slaveholders in the Lone Star State in early 1863 were still comfortable buying and selling slaves at a price commensurate with high value of slaves before the war, not the fire sale prices for slaves then prevalent in Maryland. Eventually, slaves in Texas would be liberated, but it would not occur until just after the Civil War, when Union troops finally arrived in force and were in a position to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.

However, it also should noted that slavery was not completely dead in Maryland in the first half of 1863, despite being increasing moribund. While slaves more and more could run away from their owners with a realistic hope of becoming free, at least some slaveholders in the state had not reconciled themselves to the fact those slaves increasingly could not be recovered. Still, some tried.

On March 7, 1863, the following advertisement appeared in the Baltimore Sun:

$25 REWARD – Ran away from the subscriber, on the 2d of March, a NEGRO MAN, BILL; he calls himself Wilmot Smith. He had on when he left home a grey suit, and wore a cap. He is of a light black color and wore a slight beard. Supposed to be about five feet six inches high. I will give the above reward, provided he is placed in jail so that I get him.
BENJ. T. WORTHINGTON Reisterstown Post Office, Baltimore county, Md.

And on March 16, 1863:

$20 REWARD – Ran away on the 3d instant, from the subscriber, living near Reisterstown, Baltimore county, a negro man who calls himself BILL BROWN, aged about 55 or 60 years. He is a dark mulatto, with a scar from the cut of a knife all across his right cheek; had on a good drab cloth sack coat and trowsers, good shoes, stockings and hat, and carried with him an axe. He is probably skulking about the premises of Mr. Alexander Browne, near Brookland, Baltimore county, or Dr. Nicholas Hutchins, near Monkton, as he has a daughter hired at both places, or at Major Chas. W.Hood’s, near Sykesville, Carroll county, where he has a grand-daughter. I will give the above reward for his apprehension and return to me at my residence.

And on May 15, 1863:

$100 REWARD – Ran away from the subscriber, Baltimore county, near Reisterstown, on the 10th of May, FOUR NEGROES – One is a yellow Boy, likely and slender in his make, tall and dressed in linen trousers and cotton oanburg shirts and good shoes; about 17 or 18 years old, named Charles Williams; one other is black as a crow, about 17 or 18, and rather short; good linen pantaloons; shoes not so good; one other verly likey copper-colored Boy, aged about 15 or 16, and dressed in good linen pantaloons and cotton shirt; shoes a good deal worn; the other a dark colored Boy, named Bill,aged about 14, with the same clothes. They each took two shirts, which I expect are on their backs. I will give One Hundred Dollars reward for their apprehension, if secured in jail so that I get them again, or Twenty-five dollars for either. They may make their way to Washington, D.C.

So while slavery in Maryland was on the ropes in early 1863, it still showed signs of life. If for no other reason than at least some slaveholders had not reconciled themselves to its demise and continued to go through the motions of what slaveholders commonly did before the Civil War when slaves escaped–place an ad. And in Texas in March 1863, it was still seemingly business as usual for the peculiar institution. But there too the owners were simply in denial about what was to come.

Sources: 1); 2)

About Donald R. Shaffer

Donald R. Shaffer is the author of _After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans_ (Kansas, 2004), which won the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship in 2005. More recently he published (with Elizabeth Regosin), _Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files_ (2008). Dr. Shaffer teaches online exclusively (i.e., a virtual professor). He lives in Arizona and can be contacted at
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