The Library of Virginia’s current exhibit, “To Be Sold,” open through 30 May 2015, examines the slave trade in Richmond. Viewed through the lens of primary source material–broadsides, court records, city directories, business receipts, census records, artifacts, books and paintings–the exhibit provides the visitor with vital information from which the stories of Richmond’s past emerge.
Newspapers, of course, are another critical resource for historical study in this area–free, online digital resources, like Virginia Chronicle and Chronicling America, provide easy access to hundreds of thousands of newspaper issues and the history therein.
Together, the documents of the time create a more complete, deeply layered account of those directly involved in and affected by Richmond’s slave trade: Like Robert Lumpkin, one of the city’s most active slave dealers from the 1840s until 1865. And Anthony Burns, a slave who escaped to Boston, only to be captured and returned to Virginia under the Fugitive Slave Law.
The storied land that was home to Lumpkin’s Jail, aptly called the Devil’s Half Acre is, today, mostly covered by a sprawling parking lot and interstate 95. But from 1844 until the end of the Civil War, it was “a human clearinghouse and. . .purgatory for the rebellious.”[i]
In 1844 Robert Lumpkin purchased three lots on Richmond’s Wall Street, a commercial district and home to several of the city’s profitable slave auction houses. The lots, previously owned by Lewis Collier, contained a brick dwelling house, outbuildings and a jail when Lumpkin bought them. Under his ownership, the jail became known as “Lumpkin’s Jail” and established itself as Richmond’s most notorious compound for runaway slaves and slaves … read more »