Mapping Richmond's Slave Market
About the Map
In March 1853, the English painter Eyre Crowe visited Richmond. Having recently read Uncle Tom's Cabin, on his first morning in the city Crowe promptly located some advertisements for slave auctions in a local paper, asked someone at his luxurious hotel (the American Hotel, located just a couple blocks south of Virginia's Capitol) for directions, and set off to witness the slave trade firsthand for himself. He didn't have to travel far down Main Street —just a few blocks—before he located the nucleus of Richmond's slave trading establishments on 15th or, as it was also known, Wall Street. He witnessed one auction, moved a bit down the road to another auction house to witness a second, and again to a third. In that third room, he took out paper and pencil to sketch a group of slaves waiting to be auctioned. Drawing these enslaved men and women rather than buying them was a suspicious and provocative thing to do. Fearing he might be an abolitionist, the dealers and buyers in the room soon threatened Crowe. While, by his own account, he didn't immediately flee lest he betray cowardice, he did display common sense; he soon if unhurriedly left, making his retreat from Richmond's slave district.
This map, the accompanying essay, and the book on which they draw (Maurie McInnis, Slaves Waiting for Sale: Visualizing the Southern Slave Trade [University of Chicago Press, forthcoming, 2011]) provides the twenty-first century public a look at the Richmond Crowe saw. It shares one of the English painter's goals: to document the material culture of Richmond's slave market. On an 1856 map of Richmond we have placed representations of buildings from Richmond's commercial district. (The footprint of these buildings comes, for the most part, from Frederick W. Beers' 1876 Richmond City Atlas.) Those represented as grey had a wide assortment of uses: some were manufacturing or commercial establishments, others private residences, others combined both private and public functions. Those in red were in 1853 together constituted Richmond's slave market. They were auction houses where men and women were sold, slave jails where they were held prior to sale, and auxiliary businesses that supported the trade.
Interspersed among these buildings are numerous antebellum sketches, photographs, and daguerrotypes. These images convey something of what nineteenth-century Richmond and the city's slave market looked like. Use the navigational menu to explore this three dimensional environment. When clicked all of the slave market buildings and many other buildings will yield information their proprietors and functions in 1853. Double-clicking a sketch or photograph show that image aligned within the 3D model.
Mapping Richmond's Slave Trade is a collaborative project between scholars at the University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab, Maurie McInnis, Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia, and archivists at the Valentine Richmond History Center. Our goal in presenting this view of 1853 Richmond is to join the conversation about how Richmond represents its past (a conversation that has recently been organized and institutionalized through efforts such as the Future of Richmond's Past). Memorializing the civil war and antebellum past on the landscape is a familiar practice in the former capital of the Confederacy. Its memorialization, however, has rarely addressed the topics and places represented here.