Broadside for a New Orleans Auction

This poster announces an auction of enslaved persons to be held at the St. Louis Hotel in New Orleans by Norbert Vignie on March 25, 1858. It describes 18 enslaved persons from Alabama who are to be sold.
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concept 6.

THH broadside New Orleans
A single-sheet broadside with bold serif font typeface advertising an auction for the sale of eighteen slaves. It consists of black printed text on white paper. The top of the broadside reads "SLAVES! / Long Credit Sale / of / Plantation Hands / from Alabama, without reserve.” The broadside lists the sale location as the St. Louis Hotel and date the sale is to take place as March 25, 1858. It then lists the names, ages and skills of the people being sold. A disclaimer in the middle of the broadside reads “All of the above Slaves are from the State of Alabama, and sold under / a full guarantee, except the defects above stated. The bottom portion of the broadside lists additional enslaved people being sold at this auction. At the bottom of the broadside an additional disclaimer and terms of sale are listed.
The enslaved persons to be auctioned are listed as follows:
Absalom, 28, plantation hand
Ned, 43, plantation hand
Tom, about 46, plantation hand
Bill, 23, plantation hand
Frank, 25, plantation hand
Alfred, 35, plantation hand
Polly, 23, cook, washer and ironer
George, 23, plantation hand and carriage driver; to be sold with his wife Martha, 30 and their four children, Ned, 7, Nancy 6, Horace, 4, and Mary, 1
Dan, 23, cooper
Lewis, 35, general labor
Firman, 40, laborer
Mary, 27, house servant
Jim, 26, general labor


This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from https://nmaahc.si.edu/object/nmaahc_2011.155.305.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    Who was Norbert Vignie? What information does the poster provide about him? What does this information tell us about the system of slavery?
    Vignie was an auctioneer in New Orleans who sold enslaved persons at slave auctions. He had an office in the French Quarter, at the corner of Conti Street and Exchange Alley—a three-minute walk from the St. Louis Hotel, where he auctioned the enslaved persons. This shows that Vignie not only had employment through the system of slavery—through selling enslaved people—but had an office from which he operated, which might have certain class implications.
  2. Question
    The poster provides descriptions of varied length for each of the 18 persons it advertises as being for sale in the coming auction. What type of information does the poster provide about these persons? What does this tell us about slavery?
    The information provided fits mostly into two categories. The first is physical—the age or estimated age of the person and any notable physical “defects” such as “the defect in the right knee” of Tom or strengths such as a description of Alfred as a “powerful built man.” The second is occupational—the poster details the labor to which each adult is accustomed. This implies that these were the two categories in which enslavers were most interested when purchasing enslaved persons.
  3. Question
    Why does the poster split the persons to be auctioned into two separate groups? What is the difference between the persons in these two groups? What does this tell us about slavery?
    The poster distinguishes a list of “acclimated slaves” from a list of “plantation hands” listed above. Unlike the descriptions for the enslaved persons listed as “plantation hands,” the descriptions for the “acclimated” enslaved persons contain more specific areas of labor. Dan, for instance, is noted for his skill as a cooper, or cask or barrel repairman or maker. Lewis and Firman are both noted for being “accustomed to work in a brick yard.” The fact that the poster separates these “acclimated” enslaved persons with more specific labor skills from the “field hands” implies an element of class that enslavers imposed on enslaved persons based on their labor experience and skill.
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