Slave Sale, Charleston, South Carolina, by Eyre Crowe (1824-1910). Source: Illustrated London News, 29 November 1856, p. 555. Images and text added by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use the images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the source and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on both images for larger pictures.]

Here, Crowe explains how difficult it was for him to make the sketch on which this engraving is based (see below):

The stranger notices that his steps are watched with that suspicion characteristic of sentinelled fortresses. If, therefore, in wandering through the purlieus of this great stronghold of slavery you add to your equivocal appearance as a foreigner the yet more aggravating circumstance of carrying a pencil in your hand, you are looked upon with the covert hostility with which a gentleman brandishing a pistol or a stiletto in open daylight would be regarded elsewhere. Without stopping to inquire whether there is danger to be apprehended from the lead — true Cumberland — with which our weapon is loaded, or which makes the most damaging puncture, albeit of poniard or pencil, we shall proceed to describe briefly the scene of the auction... [

The original sketch, though published later: Crowe's The Charleston Slave Market, 1893. Source: Crowe: facing p. 138.

The man on horseback would be the slave river. Maurie Dee McInnes notes the "chaotic density of the bodies" here (123), and points out the ship's mast in the distant background, towards the left, bringing out what Crowe only suggested, by explaining that the cotton trade helped to fuel the slave trade. She also tells us that Thackeray and Crowe (serving as his amanuesis) spent less than a month in the south, yet it seems to have made a huge impression on Crowe. In the Illustrated London News piece, Crowe expressed himself quite clearly, criticising those who could "thus profane the freedom cherished by their British ancestry" (556).

Related Material


Crowe, Eyre. With Thackeray in America. New York: Scribner's, 1893. Internet Archive. Web. 21 February 2018.

McInnis, Maurie D. Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

"Sale of Slaves at Charleston, South Carolina." Illustrated London News, 29 November 1856. 555-56. Hathi Trust. Web. 21 February 2018.

Last modified 27 June 2020