Tag Archives: African American History

My Heart Went Right Down–The Devil’s Half Acre and the Richmond Slave Trade

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.

Lumpkin's Jail

The small piece of open land in the middle of the photo, which sits between a parking lot and route 95, was the site of Lumpkin’s Jail.

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 »

1 Comment

A Newspaper Connection–”Slaves Waiting for Auction”–Thackeray & Crowe Check-In

Left: William M. Thackeray. Center: Crowe's illustration of Richmond 1853. Right: Eyre Crowe.

Left: William M. Thackeray. Center: Crowe’s illustration of Richmond 1853. Right: Eyre Crowe.

Daily Dispatch, March 2, 1853

Daily Dispatch, March 2, 1853

In November of 1852, William Makepeace Thackeray, still enjoying the considerable success and fame accruing from his novel of the previous decade, Vanity Fair, arrived after a two week voyage from Liverpool (on the Royal Mail ship “Canada”) in Boston harbor.  Thackeray’s purpose, besides adventure, was financial gain, a cushion for his daughters from a life he suspected might be foreshortened. In fact, it was–He died ten years later at only 52.

The lecture route, somewhat planned and somewhat improvised, would take a leisurely southern direction, with an appearance in Richmond scheduled for the following February.   Thackeray was accompanied by Erye Crowe, who acted as personal secretary, tour manager, amanuensis and, most importantly, good company during what promised to be a stimulating, but inescapably trying and lengthy journey.

Like Thackeray, Crowe was a skilled sketch artist.  Unlike Thackeray, who abandoned art studies as a young man to sketch words as a journalist, Crowe, 29 years of age and about a dozen years the author’s junior, still aspired to be an artist.  While Thackeray’s lectures and impressions of America inscribed in his letters now interest only scholars, Crowe’s oil painting, “Slaves Waiting for Auction”, derived from his drawing above, can still jab the conscience.

The work acts as centerpiece for the Library of Virginia’s exhibit opening later this month, “To Be Sold,” a close examination of Richmond as a distribution hub for the business of selling human beings.

Yet minus the intercession of a book and a newspaper, the painting might not exist at all. “I expended 25 cents”, writes Crowe in his memoir of 1893, With Thackeray in America, “in the purchase of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and was properly … read more »

Leave a comment

Before & After: The Staunton Tribune and Staunton Reporter

Last year, The Augusta County Genealogical Society generously donated rare African American newspapers to the Library of Virginia.

While the collection is comprised of a mere five issues, three issues of the Staunton Tribune from 1928-1931 and two of the Staunton Reporter from 1916, as historical resources these items are priceless, invaluable for the study of African American and Virginia history.

Historical newspapers such as these are especially rare and often in deteriorating condition when they are discovered–when this collection arrived at the Library, the papers were torn, brittle and extremely fragile. It is often the case that newspapers from the early twentieth century are in worse condition than papers published 100 years earlier due to the evolving methods of mass paper production.

The Library’s talented conservator, Leslie Courtois, de-acidified, mended and encapsulated the newspapers so they may be handled safely and studied for generations to come. After conservation, the originals were able to be microfilmed, making them even more accessible to researchers, students, historians, authors and genealogists.

Below are the photographs of the newspapers before and after conservation. The pictures speak for themselves:


AFTER CONSERVATION15_0256_002BEFORE 14_0407_06Before 1AFTER15_0256_001After 1BEFORE14_0407_07AFTER15_0256_006read more »


John Mitchell, Jr. Strong Men & Women Panel Discussion at LVA

Come on down to the Library of Virginia tomorrow night for what promises to be a fascinating discussion of the life and legacy of John Mitchell, Jr. For details, read the description below, taken from the Library’s calendar of events:

STRONG MEN & WOMEN PANEL DISCUSSION John Mitchell: Life and Legacy of Richmond’s “Race Man”
Planet's ForceWednesday, February 19, 2014
Time: 7:00 PM–8:30 PM
Place: Lecture Hall,  Free

Early in the 20th century, the term “race man” described a public figure who promoted the interests of African Americans on every front. John Mitchell published the Richmond Planet from 1884 to 1929 and made it one of the most influential black newspapers of its time. Greg McQuade of Richmond news station WTVR moderates a conversation on this important figure with historian Roice Luke, biographer Ann Field Alexander, and journalist Brenda Andrews.


A reception follows the program and rarely seen editions of the Planet will be on display.

This program, part of the Strong Men & Women in Virginia History project, is free and open to the public. It is underwritten by a generous gift from Dominion.… read more »

Leave a comment