A good friend of mine, Emmanuel Dabney, recently started a blog in which he discusses the many and varying challenges that interpreters face. Emmanuel is a historian at City Point and Petersburg National Battlefield, and is probably one of the greatest up-and-coming researchers of the African-American experience during the Civil War.
His blog, Interpretive Challenges, has a post entitled, “Poignant, disturbing object in the Kinsey Collection,” which discusses a letter dated 1854 that reads as follows:
Charlottesvill [sic] April the 3d 1854
Messers Dickenson & Hill
This will be handed you by my servant Frances. I am told that it is useless to give the capabilities of a servant, that it depends altogather [sic] on there [sic] personal appearance; be that as it may, I say positively that she is the finest chamber-maid I have ever seen in my life, she is a good washer, but at house cleaning she has perfect slight of hand [sic]. She is 17 teens years old the eleventh of this month.
She does not know that she is to be sold. I could not tell her; I own all her family, and the leave taking would be so distressing that I could not.Plese say to her that that was my reason, and that I was compelled to sell her to pay for the horses that I have baught [sic] and to build my stable. I believe I have said all that is necessary, but I am so nervous that i hardly know what I have writen [sic] Respectfully yours
A M F Crawford
It is difficult for us today to comprehend a way of life that justifies selling a human being to purchase a few animals and a barn. Such is the reality of a slave culture, that a human being come with a price tag equivalent to an animal. It illustrates to me how far we’ve come in just 150 years, and how much work is still left to do.