Below is the final draft of the text, captions and quotations that will become the outdoor educational exhibits erected at the Forks of the Roads Negro Market sites located in Natchez, Mississippi. Graphics, images and photographs are not shown here. The City of Natchez contracted with a private exhibit firm to develop, design and erect the exhibits. A committee of local persons including my person sat in oversight for the development of the exhibits. My person fought for the humanity of Afrikan descendant Ancestors and Foreparents ill-gotten and sold at the Forks of the Roads Negro Mart. This final draft is more acceptable to my person than the draft first posted up on our Forks of the Roads website several months ago. The term Negro Mart and Negroes for sale was the historical terms used in the majority of the 19th Century newspapers when referring to business or activity at the Forks of the Roads as stated by enslavement traffickers and dealers themselves. Seemingly, it is imbedded in the psyche of the white folk who ultimately controlled the development of these exhibit to somehow keep using the term “slaves” when such term was not the standard use for dealings at the Forks of the Roads. Nor were the markets named “slave” markets, but Negro Mart. Meanwhile, I have signed off on the official final draft as it appears below. It is important to get something visible erected on the vacant lot for the public to see when visiting the Forks of the Roads and our struggle for history democracy continues in Natchez and Mississippi.
Ser Seshs Ab Heter-CM Boxley, Coordinator of Friends of the Forks of the Roads Society Inc. and chief activist advocate for preservation, interpretation and presentation of the story of chattel slavery via the Forks of the Roads Negro Mart in Natchez. Once the capital of King Cotton and now a popular anti-bellum tourist town, where it has been publicly stated that “the old south still lives.”
Natchez in the Center of Slavery
Slavery is central to American history. The labor of enslaved African Americans built much of the nation’s wealth and enabled it to gain its economic independence. The enslavement of people also challenged America’s fundamental commitment to freedom.
You are standing at Forks of the Road, the site of several markets where enslaved humans were bought and sold from the 1830s until 1863. This was the center of the trade in Natchez, one of the busiest slave trading towns in the nation.
A mile from Natchez, we came to a cluster of rough wooden buildings in the angle of two roads. . . Entering though a wide gate into a narrow court-yard, partially enclosed by low buildings, a scene of novel character was at once presented. A line of negroes, commencing at the entrance. . . extended in a semicircle around the right side of the yard. . . they stood perfectly still, and in close order, while some gentlemen were passing from one to another examining for the purpose of buying.
“Southwest by a Yankee,” Joseph Holt Ingraham, 1834
coffle, Washington, DC
A coffle of slaves in downtown Washington, DC. Traders bound slaves together in “coffles” for transport to market.
map of site,1856
Bibb/free state/slave state
East Carolina University, Joyner Library
The slave has no rights; he is a being with all the capacities of a man in the conditions of the brute. Such is the slave in the American plantations. He can decide no question relative to his own actions; the slave-holder decides what he shall eat or drink, when and to whom he shall speak, when he shall work, and how long he shall work; when he shall marry. . . what is right and wrong, virtue and vice. The slave-holder becomes the sole disposer of the mind, soul and body of his slave. . .
Former slave Frederick Douglas, 1846
The Forced Migration
The Forks of the Road market served as a nexus of the largest forced migration of labor in American history.
Between 1800 and 1860 more than 750,000 enslaved African-Americans were moved from the upper to the lower South, reflecting a shift in the agricultural economy of each region and the legal closing of the international slave trade after 1808. While migrating planters brought their own laborers to the new cotton and sugar plantations, slave dealers brought many more through their interstate trading network. Purchasing surplus workers from plantations and at auctions in Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky, these traders sent them in groups to the lower South for sale.
Many enslaved resisted being ‘sold south,’ fearing break-up of families and harsher working and living conditions. Some escaped north, some implored neighbors to purchase them, and some even resorted to self-mutilation to make themselves unsaleable.
Map AND images of boats and overland coffle
Traders brought slaves to Natchez along three routes:
New crops in Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland such as wheat and hemp required far less labor than tobacco. At the same time the acreage of labor intensive crops of cotton and sugar expanded with the opening of Native American homelands in the lower South.
Closing off imports from Africa after 1808 increased the price of enslaved people already living in the upper South.
slave pen at Alexandria; doorway to pen
New-York Historical Society
This slave pen and yard at Alexandria, Virginia, was a gathering point for coffles and shipments of slaves to the lower South, many destined for Natchez. Slave-trading businesses such as Franklin and Armfield involved one partner gathering slaves in Alexandria and another selling them in Natchez.
Armfield was a regular inland slave trader, run slaves from Alexandria to New Orleans, had two vessels in that employment, when one would leave Alexandria with a load of slaves the other would leave New Orleans to get a load of slaves. This I know, I have passed them more times than I have fingers and toes.
Former enslaved seaman George Henry, ca. 1834.
slaves being loaded aboard a ship/ Bibb
East Carolina University, Joyner Library
I was at length knocked down, to a man whose name was Denton, a slave trader, then purchasing slaves for the Southern market…I stayed in his jail but two days, when the number was completed, and we were called to form a line. Horses and wagons were in readiness to carry our provisions and tents…Mr. Denton taking the lead in his sulky; and the driver, Mr. Thornton, brought the rear. While stopping [in Tennessee], the men were hired to pick cotton. While in Tennessee, we lost four of our number, who died from exposure on the road. After the lapse of three weeks, we started again our journey, and in about four weeks arrived in Natchez, Miss., and went to our pen which Mr. Denton had previously hired for us; and had our irons taken off…
Former slave Henry Watson on the start of his march from Richmond to Natchez, 1827.
husband and wife (“Sold to go South”)
Before we proceeded very far, Mr. Denton gave orders for us to stop, for the purpose of handcuffing some of the men, which, he said in a loud voice, “had the devil in them.” The men belonging to this drove were all married men, and all leaving their wives and children behind: he judging from their tears that they were unwilling to go, had them made secure.
Former slave Henry Watson on the start of his march from Richmond to Natchez, 1827.
I bought a fellow a few days since at $400, he was confined with another fellow which I purchased about the same time in a gentleman’s yard and in my absence. . . he got possession of an axe, and cut off all of the fingers of his right hand. . .
Virginia trader Jordan Saunders reporting the self-mutilation of a slave shortly before being shipped south, 1829
The Business of Slavery
Fueled by the closing of the interstate slave trade into Louisiana from 1831 through 1834, traders began flooding Natchez with their human cargo. With the increasing trader activity, Natchez residents and physicians warned that the slave jails were not only a nuisance but also a threat to health. In the wake of cholera outbreaks, an 1833 ordinance was passed banishing “those persons commonly called negro traders” from the city.
Traders then purchased or leased land here at this intersection or ‘fork’ of Liberty Road and St. Catherine Street and set up compounds for housing, feeding and displaying people for sale. These were not auction houses, but showrooms and inspection rooms where a buyer could purchase a person from those available that day.
While Forks of the Road became the center for the sale of ‘imported’ slaves, local slaves could still be purchased throughout the city.
In the last two weeks we have Buried. . . 9 Negroes and 6 or 7 children and we have 7 or 8 Negroes sick. . . the way we send out dead Negroes at night and keep Dark [secret] is a sin. .
Slave trader Isaac Franklin reporting Natchez cholera deaths in 1832 to Rice Ballard, his partner in Richmond, Virginia.
The more negroes lost in that country the more will be wanting if they have the means of procuring them
Rice Ballard in a letter to Isaac Franklin.
slave hospital was located on St. Catherine Street near the Forks of the Road.
slave pen in New Orleans”
Well-dressed for a good presentation and sale, the enslaved often discarded these clothes as soon as possible because of the stigma of being recently from the market.
The slaves are made to shave and wash in greasy pot liquor, to make them look sleek and nice; the heads must be combed and their best clothes put on; and when called out to be examined they are to stand in a row – the women and men apart – then they are picked out and taken into a room, and examined.
Recollection of former slave William Anderson on being prepared for sale in Natchez, 1827.
The men dressed in navy blue suits, with shiny brass buttons, and "plug" hats, was intended to capture most any boys attention; as they march single and by two's and three's in circle. The women wore . . .calico dresses, and white aprons, and for further ornament & effect, a piece of pink ribbon at the neck with their hair matty, and carefully braided. There were no commands given by anyone, no noise about it no talking in the ranks, no laughter, or merriment, connected with the business, silently, & quietly,- they went through those daily drills, headed by a leader who knew his place, as every other one in the ranks knew his or hers. After an hour or so, of this exercise, they would orderly repair to the benches, prepared for them beneath the long gallery at the quarters, and seat themselves in rows.
. . . A planter needing more field hands, and ready to purchase the same, comes to this Market, where this particular species of goods and chattels are usually kept for sale.
Felix Eugene Houston Hadsell
courtesy of Isabel Hadsell Linch
Bill of Sale for the “purchase of a negroe boy named Royal,” 1832, Adams County
The Collapse of the Trade
The Forks of the Road was a bustling depot trading in human flesh when Mississippi, in 1837, enforced its ban on the sale of out-of-state slaves, curtailing the markets for a period. When the law was repealed in 1846, the markets at the Forks re-opened. By 1856, the numerous traders at the Forks spilled over adjoining St. Catherine Street.
The last sales at the Forks happened in early 1863, just months before the U.S. Army occupied Natchez, bringing the Emancipation Proclamation and ending slavery in the area. Freedmen (freed slaves) flocked to town from the surrounding countryside, many settling here at the Forks near an encampment of black, Union soldiers who may have used the buildings as barracks.
Nat Turner title page
In 1831, about forty slaves in rural Virginia under the leadership of Nat Turner killed fifty-five whites during a three-day rebellion. In the emotional aftermath, nearly every southern state restricted or banned the importation of out-of-state slaves, fearing introducing violence-prone slaves onto local plantations. Mississippi’s restrictions, written into the 1832 state constitution, had no enforcement until 1837. Ten years later, under pressure for more labor in an expanding economy, the restrictions were lifted.
sketch, freedmen leaving the plantation
graphic: Wash Day in camp
long line of men and women standing (cropped from “…Smith plantation...”)
line drawing, black soldier
In 1863 the Forks were occupied by the 58th Regiment of U.S. Colored Infantry, one of several black regiments recruited in Natchez. Ironically, it is conceivable that some of the soldiers stationed here had been held here as slaves for sale.
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