The Library of Virginia is preparing for a groundbreaking exhibition on the U.S. domestic slave trade that existed after the transatlantic slave trade was outlawed. The “To Be Sold” exhibition begins with the paintings by an artist who was horrified by what he saw during a visit to Richmond.
The exhibition will feature works by Eyre Crowe, who saw an ad, went to see a slave sale, then painted and engraved heart-wrenching scenes. Library Director of Public Services Gregg Kimball says most people think of the transatlantic trade, but the profitable domestic trade sent two million laborers to the burgeoning Cotton South.
“Masters in places like Virginia have too many slaves to do the work that’s required," Kimball says. "One of the really perverse ironies of this whole system is that natural reproduction makes some of their labor redundant. And so, masters turn to the auction block.”
The exhibition will include ledgers, ads, a runaway slave collar, and related artifacts. It will illustrate the trade business, but also the human side and the post-war effort to re-build families.
“People are constantly trying to find relatives who’ve been sold, so they put ads in newspapers," Gimball says. "And there are cases where people have the minister in a church read an announcement: ‘Do you know where So-and-so has gone to? I’m looking for him.’”
The exhibition will open on Oct. 27.