Letter to Ziba B. Oakes, February 1, 1855

Jesse King, an enslaver in Milledgeville, Aiken County, South Carolina, wrote this letter to Ziba B. Oakes, a slaver in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1855.
Jesse King
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concepts 4 and 8.


Milledgeville, 1st Feb 1855 

Z. B. Oakes, Esq. 

Dear Sir, 

What are the following described Negroes selling at in Charleston at this time, Good young men from 18 to 25. “Girls 14 years old", “16”, “boys weighing 80 pound are there many in market. I want Negroes that will do for the field but would not object to city [illegible] if strong and healthy. Is the market declining or advancing. Please have the kindness to let me hear from you by return mail. 

Your Truly, 

Jesse King 

Times are tight here. Money is worth 20 per cent per annum and scarce at that. 

This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:5q47sj09r.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    What does King’s use of the term “market” in this letter demonstrate about his view of the system of enslavement?
    His use of the word “market” demonstrates the fact that he and other enslavers viewed the system of enslavement and the slave trade as an economic market, driven by capitalism, commercialism, marketing, etc. The over-arching characteristic that made this market different is that it was based on a commodity that was human beings.
  2. Question
    What does King’s final comment after he signed the letter show us about his purpose in writing to Oakes?
    King’s comment that “times are tight” and that “money is… scarce” implies that he is feeling financial burden and thus needs to be more careful with his purchasing of enslaved persons.
  3. Question
    Milledgeville was a town in Aiken County, South Carolina, about 150 miles inland from Charleston. What does this letter demonstrate about the role of a town like Charleston in the system of enslavement that existed in the United States?
    This letter between these two enslavers—one inland inquiring about the availability of enslaved persons in the seaport—demonstrates the importance of a coastal city like Charleston as a market that gathered enslaved persons and distributed them inland to plantations. One could also extend this analysis and point to the fact that such markets were an essential component in the wealth of many coastal cities in the South.
Reveal Answers


I believe that the illegible word in this letter reads "raised." That would make the line read "I want Negroes that would do for the field but would not object to city raised if strong and healthy."
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