How much money was a human being worth in the 19th Century?
Documents now on display at the Museum of American History in Cabot show a 33-year-old mulatto carpenter named Stephan and his 28-year-old mulatto wife Sally who lived in South Carolina in 1829 had a market value of $1,800. Peter, 40, who like Stephan and Sally was a slave, was worth $700.
The exhibit also includes newspaper ads offering slaves for sale, rewards for the return of runaway slaves, a hoe used to cultivate the fields of a South Carolina plantation, a small brass bracelet called a manillas that European slave traders used to trade for slaves and a brick from the Chester Ashley mansion in Little Rock that was handmade by slaves.
“These items document a dark and controversial time in our history, but still a time that is vitally important to be remembered and studied,” said museum director Mike Polston.
Slavery was introduced into the American colonies in the 17th Century and continued into the 19th Century, ending in 1865 with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Initially, slaves were in demand as house servants and field hands throughout the colonies. Slavery as an institution was entrenched when the colonies declared independence from England.
By the early 1800s, when cotton became king in the South, most Northern states had either abolished slavery outright or had laws in place to end it gradually.
But in the Southern states, which depended on slave labor to produce crops, slavery continued until it was abolished following a four-year Civil War that started when the South seceded from the union.
The documents now on display at the museum include inventories of plantations in South Carolina and Virginia.
The South Carolina document gives a detailed description of each enslaved person and their estimated market value, Polston said.
The exhibit is for a limited time. The museum has owned the documents for many years, but they are fragile and are stored most of the time to protect them from light, he said.
Polston started the museum in a classroom at Cabot High School in 1981.
It now contains more than 5,000 pieces that chronicle the history of the United States. It is supported by the school district, donations and the Cabot Advertising and Promotion Commission.
The museum is located at 114 S. First St. beside the health department. It is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
To schedule group tours on other days, call 501- 743-3577. Admission is free.