Lottery posters for slaves, cash & even a piano
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    Auction Finds

    Reader seeks info on slave depot in Columbus, GA

    Friday at Auction Finds is readers’ questions day. I try to guide readers to resources to help them determine the value of their items, and sometimes help them to gather historical information about a subject or item.

    Today’s question is about the site of the Harrison & Pitts slave depot in Columbus, GA.

    Question:

    Can a high resolution jpg of the poster from Harrison and Pitts slavery be purchased? My family is connected to the family of a rival slavery company at the time.

    Answer:

    The reader was referring to a broadside that I had photographed three years ago while attending a session at the Library Company of Philadelphia on collecting African American or black memorabilia. While there, a friend directed me to broadsides in a collage on the walls in one of the rooms. They were large broadsides of lotteries from the mid-19th century. The largest, dated for Feb. 16, 1858, was titled “Relief for Hard Times. $6,150 Lottery.” It was not only offering a “splendid new Rosewood piano,” but was also selling people at $10 a ticket: a black man and woman, and five children.

    The lottery was being conducted by Harrison & Pitts, a slave-trading company that owned a “slave depot” in Columbus GA, where the lottery was being held. The reader was interested in getting a copy of the broadside. I didn’t have the actual item but suggested that he contact the library. In his reply, he told me about his interest in the depot. (I sent him a copy of the original photograph.)

    A copy of an 1858 broadside announcing a lottery for a piano and enslaved Africans.

    A copy of an 1858 broadside announcing a lottery for a piano and enslaved Africans.

    Reader’s reply:

    There is connection with McGehees. Some of my relatives lived in Columbus and near A.C. McGehee and while I haven’t found any evidence of them being sold by either Harrison and Pitts or Hatcher and McGehee, it’s possible. I’ve seen little info on Harrison and Pitts over the years so was excited to stumble across your blog. It’s an interesting connection. Have you identified any additional biographical info about either Harrison or Pitts?

    Reader’s second reply:

    I visited Columbus about three years ago and much to my surprise I didn’t identify any kind of historical marker or reference to where either of Columbus’s three slave depots were described as having been located. I found this odd given the resources applied to both preserving and refurbishing the Columbus downtown area and Columbus State University’s efforts to extend the city’s history to the larger community. Hatcher and McGehee I’ve learned a little about, but Harrison and Pitts I know little.

    My reply: I was now intrigued by his research, so I started Googling to see what I could find. Like him, I could find little on Harrison & Pitts, only what he had already discovered. I did find that there may have been four slave-trading operations in the city.

    The full names of the owners of Harrison & Pitts were C.S. Harrison and George I. Pitts. The depot was located at 59 and 61 Broad, according to the Columbus City Directory for 1859-1860.

    slave pen

    The interior of a “slave pen” owned by “Price, Birch & Co. Dealers in Slaves” in Alexandria, VA. James H. Birch (or Burch) was the slave trader who enslaved Solomon Northrup.

    The enslaved Africans sold by Harrison & Pitts and others like it built the economy of Columbus and plenty of other towns in the South, making rich men of the owners. Enslaved Africans not only picked cotton on rural plantations and farms, they also worked in the city as domestics, and as blacksmiths, carpenters and other skilled workers. They also labored in warehouses and brickyards, and were hired out by their owners or hired themselves out.

    The city was divided over the issue of secession, but finally voted to withdraw from the nation. It was a major industrial center and the site of the last major land battle of the war in 1865.

    Harrison & Pitts was one of four slave-trading businesses in the city; the others were Hatcher & McGehee, S. (Seaborn) Ogletree and A. Ayer. A Hatcher & McGehee newspaper ad from 1858 announced a sale of men, women, boys and girls brought in from Virginia and North Carolina. In 1860, that company sold 465 slaves for an average of $1,000 each, according to the Columbus State College Archives. Here’s a listing of some others, with sale prices from 1858 to 1860 in the Hatcher & McGehee Negro Book.

    The city’s population included 3,547 slaves and 141 free blacks in 1860. A pricey neighborhood of fancy homes east of the city had 912 slaves along with 557 whites.

    The lottery broadside at the Philadelphia library seemed to be connected to a collector of lottery tickets and other such paraphernalia who lived during the 19th century. Here’s a description from the collection materials:

    “There is one undated newspaper advertisement for a lottery managed by Harrison & Pitts (Columbus, GA), for which the top prize was “a family of likely negroes,” consisting of a woman, five children, and a man. The second prize was a rosewood piano, and the remainder of prizes were cash. The family, it said, was on view in the auctions rooms, and tickets were priced at $10.”

    The bottom of the broadside advertising the slave lottery showed its location.

    The bottom of the broadside advertising the slave lottery showed its location.

    It’s chilling to read that these folks were on view in the rooms of the auction house, like the thrown-away items I always touch and scan at auctions. This is surely where Harrison & Pitts conducted its slave auctions. A 1977 thesis on slavery in Georgia as found in local newspapers from 1850 to 1860 – including the Columbus Enquirer – noted the company’s ad for the sale of 30 enslaved Africans, described as railroad hands. A receipt for the sale of a woman and child showed Harrison as one of the witnesses, on a form printed by Ayer and Harrison.

    What is considered the worst sale of enslaved Africans occurred on March 3, 1859 – known as “The Weeping Time” – when a slave owner sold 436 men, women, children and babies at a racetrack in Savannah, GA, to pay off his debts. The people waited in horse stalls for days and sometimes weeks before the auction started.

    Hatcher & McGehee (said to have been located at Broadway & 12th Street) was owned by Samuel J. Hatcher and Allen Clements McGehee. The Hatcher & McGehee Negro Book, housed in the Columbus State College Archives, contains the names of African Americans bought and sold by the company from 1858 to 1860.

    Pitts and Ogletree were both elected aldermen in 1854. Seaborn, who served in the Confederate army, was a slave owner, as I’m sure the others were, too. McGehee, presumably a colonel in the Confederate army, was said to be the last to import slaves from Africa.

    A 1979 Columbus College student paper on slavery in the city, also in the college archives, was said to include information about Hatcher & McGehee.

    As for Ayer, one site noted that the company owned an auction house between 10th and 11th Streets. The owner created a holding space in his back yard at Third and 11th with a brick wall topped by a mixture of cement and broken glass top to keep enslaved Africans from escaping before selling them.

    I could find nothing about Ogletree’s slave-trading business.

     

     

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