Mar 24, 2022 - Sale 2598

Sale 2598 - Lot 26

Price Realized: $ 1,375
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 600 - $ 900
(SLAVERY & ABOLITION.) Thomas D. McDowell. Letter negotiating the sale of an enslaved man, unwittingly sent into town on an errand. Autograph Letter Signed to Gillespie & Robeson of Wilmington, NC. One page, 10 x 8 inches, with address panel and no postal markings on verso; folds, moderate foxing. Elizabethtown, NC, 9 November 1846

Additional Details

Thomas David Smith McDowell (1823-1898) was the eldest son of a wealthy planter father who had died the previous July. As shown in this letter, his first goal was to turn some of that inheritance into ready cash, by selling Harry, an enslaved man who could "do as much work as any negro I ever saw." What did that hard unpaid labor get Harry? Not a "thank you," but rather a surprise sale to another owner during a trip into town: "I would rather he would not know that I intend selling him." In full:

"I started my man Harry in Thos. J. Norman's raft a few days since, and he will probably be in Wilmington within a day or two. I have come to the conclusion to sell him if I can obtain a reasonable price for him, and wish you to attend to his sale for me. If you can get five hundred dollars, you can take it, nothing less than that sum, and as much more as you can, for I verily believe he is worth considerable more than that amt to any one who has an overseer. I need say nothing respecting his qualities as you are acquainted with him, being sound and healthy and able to do as much work as any negro I ever saw. I would rather he would not know that I intend selling him. If you are unable to obtain my limit, please give him a pass and send him home immediately. P.S., the title is indisputable, being willed to me by my father."

McDowell, a University of North Carolina graduate, went on to serve many years in the North Carolina legislature, and one term as a Confederate congressman.