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Digital Archive: Slavery & Emancipation in the Mountain South: Evidence, Sources, & Methods

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Images of Slavery in Appalachian Virginia

  Abingdon, Virginia    A slave chambermaid in an Abingdon, Virginia hotel. More than one-third of all Appalachian slaveholders and one-fifth of the slaves were engaged in such nonagricultural pursuits.

  Monticello  Monticello, the Blue Ridge plantation of Thomas Jefferson, typified Appalachia's wealthiest slaveholding elites.

  Botetourt County Field Laborers  The gender division of field labor is seen in this Botetourt County, Virginia wheat harvest. Two males are collecting the cut grain from the field and operating an oxcart to haul it to centralized spots where two women are stacking the grain. Subsequently, the same males would haul the grain to the barn where other women were threshing.

  Livestock Drive Appalachian slaves were livestock artisans and specialists of all kinds. This southwest Virginia slave drover is exporting his owner's cattle to Richmond. Appalachian pork and beef provisioned larger plantations in the Tidewater, the Lower South, and Latin America.

  Augusta County  This was hog slaughtering day on an Augusta County, Virginia small plantation. Appalachian slaves provided the skills to produce and process the pork and lard consumed on a small plantation, plus the surplus meat products exported by their owners.

Lexington, Virginia  In addition to their agricultural pursuits, many Appalachian slaveholders invested in town enterprises to which they allocated slave laborers, like this valet and hostler at a Lexington, Virginia hotel.

Tourist Resort Slaves provided much of the labor for Appalachia's antebellum travel enterprises, comprised of resorts, hotels, inns, transportation companies, and the livestock drover trade. During the summers, Appalachian slaves were regularly hired to work at 134 mineral spas, such as these workers at White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia.

  • Slaves & Canal Boating  Slaves regularly operated especially designed boats and bateaux on the three major canal systems that connected the Southern Mountains to distant trade cities. This barge was spotted on the North River extension connecting Lexington, Virginia to the James River and Kanawha Canal to Richmond.

  • Virginia Salt Manufacturing  Slaves supplied most of the labor to produce Appalachia's salt, one of the region's most important exports to the Lower South and the Midwest. At this salt manufactory in southwest Virginia, slaves did most of the skilled work, such as kettle tending (right) and boiler tending (left).

  • New River Slave Coffle  The Southern Mountains lay at the geographical heart of the domestic slave trade, so slave coffles were a common sight in Appalachian counties. This coffle had camped for the night, waiting to cross the New River in southwest Virginia.

  • Tobacco Manufacturing  Because they profited less from their field labor, Appalachian masters hired out a higher proportion of their slaves than did Lower South plantations. For example, mountain Virginia masters hired out surplus slaves to tobacco manufactories, like this one in Lynchburg.

  • Page County  This Page County, Virginia slave cabin was typical of the dwellings supplied for black Appalachians on small plantations. Note the leaning wood chimney chinked with mud. This couple is attired in clothing that indicates their higher status as servants in their owner's household.

  • Richmond Slave Auction House  Appalachian masters exported slaves to the Lower South by using the services of auction houses at trading hubs, such as this one in Richmond. Such interstate sales broke two of every five slave marriages.

  • Rockbridge County  Due to attenuated breastfeeding, malnutrition, and inadequate child care, one-half of all Appalachian slave children died before age ten. Elderly slaves, like this Rockbridge County, Virginia woman, tended large groups of children while mothers worked in the fields or were hired out.

  • Loudoun County Slave Escape  These Loudoun County, Virginia slaves were very aggressive in their escape to the North. Women were included among this group, but most such runaways were males aged 18 to 35.

  • Franklin County Slave Wedding  The celebration of a slave wedding in the yard of a Franklin County, Virginia plantation. Such social gatherings offered opportunities for Appalachian slaves to reach beyond the confines of small plantations to engage in community building and cultural celebration.

  • Fauquier County corn husking  There are no women at this Fauquier County, Virginia corn husking, a labor maximizing strategy at harvest time. On many small plantations, men processed corn while slave women quilted winter bedding. About midnight, food would be served, and the singing and dancing could begin.

  • Fauquier County Slave Dance  Summer and harvest dances were significant mechanisms for community building by Appalachian slaves on small plantations. In this Fauquier County, Virginia scene, the group is preserving African dance traditions. The mid-ground slave is "patting juba" to set the pace for the other two. Notice the observation platform in the tree. Slaves used such perches to light their night work in their subsistence parcels.

  • Fauquier County Slaves Escaping during the Civil War  After a major battle in their area, these Fauquier County, Virginia fugitives were crossing the Rappahannock River headed to the Union encampment. These are probably the families of the uniformed black Union soldiers (behind wagon). In the background are a commercial mill and a bridge. Source: Freedmen's Bureau Records, National Archives

  • Escaped slaves into Appalachian Towns  During and after the war, black Appalachians pored into towns, like Knoxville, Staunton, Rome, and Winchester. By 1870, one-quarter of the mountain ex-slaves were concentrated in towns, but few of them located stable nonagricultural occupations.