Mar 29, 2018 - Sale 2471

Sale 2471 - Lot 36

Price Realized: $ 2,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 1,000 - $ 1,500
"MANY HUSBANDS & WIVES AMONG THESE DEGRADED PEOPLE ARE PARTED" (SLAVERY AND ABOLITION.) Houston, Christopher. A white Tennessee farmer reflects on the evils of slavery. Autograph Letter Signed to his son Placebo Houston of Houstonville, Iredell County, NC. 4 pages, 8 x 6 1/2 inches, on one folding sheet with address panel on final page. Cornersville, TN, 14 November 1834

Additional Details

Christopher Houston (1744-1837) was a 90-year-old white Revolutionary War veteran from Pennsylvania who had settled in North Carolina and then Tennessee as a farmer. The sight of hundreds of slaves being driven through his town toward the booming cotton fields of Mississippi caused him to reflect ruefully on slavery in a letter to his son. "Never before has there been such encouragement for speculating on the merchandise of slaves! . . . A man has arrived here from Virginia who travelled some days in company with a drove of slaves for the market of Mississippi of 300 slaves, and several persons are now gone from here to Va. in the same laudable pursuit, shall I say? Many droves have gone along through this neighborhood, but it seems they are only commencing the business. A man from our neighborhood is now in Mississippi state with some few slaves to sell. . . . He has written to a friend that a likely negro man there will sell at 1000 dols, and women at from 500 dols to eight hundred. . . . I hope this information will not excite envy in your mind or heart towards any of these fortunate speculators. Many husbands & wives among these degraded people (the slaves) are parted."
Houston then recounted an anecdote that had been in circulation since the 1810s, about a slave in a coffle who gained freedom by singing the national anthem: "You have, perhaps, heard of a slave merchant who had his drove in chains, who stopped them in the city Washington. When stopped, one raised his arm as high as his chain would permit, and called out 'Hail Columbia, happy land, the land of the free, and the home of the brave.' Some gentlemen laid their purses together, bought him & gave him liberty" (the story seemed to originate with Jesse Torrey's 1817 pamphlet "A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery," page 39-40.) Houston then argued in favor of the African colonization movement: "Some of my Carolina friends say it will not do to give these people liberty & remain amongst us. I never thought it would, but if [we] were as willing to send, as we were to fetch them, they could [be returned?] to the land of their fathers." Support for slavery was not universal even among the whites of the future Confederacy.