Slaveholder Documents

Slaveholder Documents


Letters provide a rich source of information about the lives of slaves, since owners and prospective buyers often corresponded extensively about their slaves. These letters from one of the most prominent families of colonial Virginia, describe their slave purchases, problems with runaways, and the importance of tobacco.

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Carter Family Correspondence #1

Carter describes a shipment of Africans to the Upper James, but writes that "the sort of slaves did not please [the buyers], consisting chiefly of a large number of children and some men and women, all but Ten past their prime." Explaining that "it is impossible to describe the wretched condition these slaves were in," Carter resolves in frustration that "indeed I never Intend to be concerned in such another Sale."

John Carter to Richard Gildart, Esq.

Shirley Aug. 1, 1738.

Captain Jeynson, according to your Directions to him received at Barbados, brought your ship Walpole to this place on Thursday the seventh of last month, and Immediately sent Notice into all these parts of the Country of the sale on Monday following. I had the Pleasure of seeing many more people than ususally come on such occasions, and I knew from the sales of their Pork last winter, and Tobacco this summer, they had money enough to purchase more than I had to sell, but the sort of slaves did not please them, consisting chiefly of a large number of children and some men and women, all but Ten past their prime, & they had great Expectations of many Negro--ships in this & York River, and besides all this, all but some of the children were in such a miserable state that It was impossible to conceal it, and I thought it the fastest method to accept of anything that looks like a Reasonable offer, & yet it was impossible to sell them fast enough some that seem'd to ail not much woud dye the Day following, and the case of one Thos Franklin a Poor man of sixty years of age is much to be pitied. He paid all the money he had in the world for a lusty Boy who I had reason to believe was subject to Fitts and as I was afterwards inform'd he had tumbled down for dead the very first Day he went a shore, which the Negroes did for two or three dayes before the sale to air themselves, the ship lying very nigh, But he was then relieved by being let Blood. The poor old man after paying £16 odd shillings carrying him about twelve miles on his Horse, & four miles in his armes, could scarcely get him to his House before he died. I hope you will think me at liberty to return this money, otherwise I must upon myself as bound in conscience to return it out of my own Pocket. In short, Sir, it is impossible to describe the wretched condition these slaves were in. The Capt. writ to me from York, where he was taken ill in his way from Hampton, That he had two hundred &nine slaves aboard his ship but all I ever could see was far short of that Number. He sayes he brought two Hundred & ninety off the coast, of which he sent twenty six to Maryland from Barbadoes. One hundred & thirty three have been sold here thirty two are sent with the Captain to the Eastern Shore &three left aboard the Ship not fitt to be removed on any Accot. So you will be easily able to compute what an unhappy mortality their has been among them; & it must needs be a sad sale, when I was Forsed to sell one & twenty of the young slaves (except an old woman, Mother to one of the children) to Capt Thos. Brewer for two hundred & five pounds current money; & Eleven men, nine women, four boys & one girl, to Mr. James Skelton, for two hundred & fifty pounds current money, and give him a years credit. And I do assure you, Sir, that their were not above ten out of both these parsels, that I would take as a present from any man. I cannot say, how these may go off that are gone to the Eastern Shore, having desir'd the Capt. to sell them for wheat or any thing else I may be able to turn into money afterwards. He recovered much Immediately after coming to this place; but undergoing a great deal of fatigue afterwards, and going out to see the Slaves buried every night, he seem'd to be in a very bad way, when he set off for the Eastern Shore However he was very diligent & would not be perswaded from going there. And yet I fear, after all, that many of the Slaves will die on their Passage. Mr. Fillingham seemed to be very sick of a Tedious Long Voyage, but would not be prevail'd on to put of [sic] his Journey to Maryland, where he went with some Letters from the Captain on your Business. A Friend of mine lent him A very Good horse, and I sent one of my Servants to be a Guide for him the First day; and about a fortnight afterwards a Messenger brought back the Horse with answers to the Captain's Letters, and he informed that the young Gentleman had been very Ill at Hobbs Hole but was on the Recovery, and intended to pursue his Journey, since which I have heard nothing concerning him. I believe you will think this a very Melancholy account of an unfortunate Voyage; and indeed I never Intend to be concerned in such another Sale. If you or your friends think fit to send Gambia, or Gold Coast Negroes, to me, I will endeavour to serve you, but will not accept of a Consignment from any other part. I have made what Interest I could, and hope to have near a Load of Tobo. for Bristol ready for your Ship by the time she has been hove down, and made ready to take it in; and the Constant Freight of this River being seven pounds per Ton, you must not Expect more. By her I shall make you a remittance of what I shall have received in bills or in [illeg. Tobo.?], and if a Considerable part happens to be of the latter sort, I shall give you timely notice, that you may Insure it. And by the same opportunity you shall have an account of sales, and an account currt. the Captain was so much afflicted for the loss of the Slaves, and so much in a hurry to get to ye Eastern Shore to dispose of the rest of them, that he could not write to you by this opportunity; but desir'd I would give his service to you, and that you would excuse him.

I am,
Your most humble Servant,
John Carter.

[John, Charles, Landon Carter Letterbook, 1732-1782, Special Collections, Alderman Library, University of Virginia]

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