Mar 28, 2019 - Sale 2503

Sale 2503 - Lot 29

Price Realized: $ 2,750
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 600 - $ 900
(SLAVERY AND ABOLITION.) Thomas, William. Letter on the abduction and sale of a free African American boy from the District of Columbia. Autograph Letter Signed to Philip R. Fendall, District Attorney of the District of Columbia. 2 pages, 10 x 7 3/4 inches, plus integral address leaf bearing inked postmarks; folds, minor wear. Dumfries, VA, 4 August 1852

Additional Details

Letter reporting the kidnapping and subsequent sale of a young African American boy. "Some few days before last Christmas, George H. Cockrell, late an inhabitant of Washington, D.C. & now of this place brought from the city of Washington a Negro boy from seven to ten years of age, the child of an emancipated slave woman named Susan, formerly the property of Miss Hancock of Prince Wm. Co., Va. . . . Cockrell kept the boy a few weeks in Dumfries & took him to Richmond, Va. where he sold him. One report says that he sent the boy by some trader to Natchez, Miss. & sold him to his brother who resides in that place. . . . My object is to know whether he is answerable to the laws of the District or Virginia, as I am not inclined to let such offences go unpunished."
The letter was written to district attorney Philip Richard Fendall II (1794-1868), a native Virginian who was known to oppose slavery. We don't know with any certainty who the author William Thomas was, or why he chose to get involved with this case. The 1850 census lists only one adult named William Thomas in Prince William County, a free black farmer born circa 1793 with $1500 in assets; he was recorded at that time as literate. Certainly, it would be unusual for a white Virginia farmer to literally make a federal case out of an abducted free black child.