Slave Houses, Louisiana (1853)

The drawing is a depiction of the life of enslaved people found in Harper’s Magazine.
Grade Level

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

slave house, teaching hard history, Harper's magazine

"... the parlor, the yard, the cabin, and the fields? As a general thing, the dog in the South occupies an equivocal position, and falls by association into two classes, which may be designated the white and the black. A negro-dog knows his place as well as his owner; and there is a manner and a spirit sometimes displayed by this race toward each other, that is a most painful reflection upon the manners of some of the "lords of the creation." We have seen the "house-dog" surly and overbearing to the "quarter-dog;" the former putting on airs of superiority, and the other... "

This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from http://slaveryimages.org/details.php?categorynum=8&categoryName=Plantation%20Scenes,%20Slave%20Settlements%20and%20Houses&theRecord=28&recordCount=83.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    Who and what is sketched in the artwork? How many people are there? What actions are the people engaged in?
    Eight people are shown in pairs. They are enslaved people depicted in conversation, music and dance.
  2. Question
    Are there any religious symbols sketched in the artwork?
    There is a cross depicted in front of one of the four small houses.
  3. Question
    Where was this picture published? Was the artist likely an enslaved person?
    This picture was published in New York’s Harper’s Magazine, and was likely not drawn from the enslaved perspective. The picture romanticizes slavery and depicts life as relatively calm and stable. We know slavery to have been the opposite.
  4. Question
    Why might slavery have been depicted in this way? Whose interests would such a positive depiction of slavery have served? With what you’ve already learned about the violence and terror of slavery, how does this photo depart from the reality of the African-American experience?
    Slavery might have been depicted in this tranquil manner in order to serve the economic and social interests of a slaveholding society. Depicting African-American life under slavery as relatively enjoyable, they aim to argue for the continuation of the American slave trade in the face of a growing abolitionist movement. In reality, life for enslaved people under slavery was one of perpetual violence and terror. While enslaved people did maintain a cultural heritage amidst the violence, such a depiction fools the viewer into thinking that leisure was at all representative of slavery in the United States.
Reveal Answers