Monday, July 20, 2015

Purchased Lives & Lost Friends- The Legacy of Slavery in New Orleans

The Historic New Orleans Collection recently hosted an exhibit entitled: Purchased Lives - New Orleans and the Domestic Slave Trade, 1808-1865.  This museum exhibit examined the lives of the human beings that were traded as property and considers New Orleans role as antebellum America's largest slave market.  We had the good fortune of visiting this exhibit twice last week before its conclusion on July 18.  To view a brief summary of the exhibit go to the website of the Historic New Orleans collection: Purchased Lives Exhibit

Slave Auctionca. 1831; ink and watercolor; The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1941.3
In the six decades before the Civil War, approximately one million enslaved people were forced to leave behind their homes and families and were sent to labor in the sugar cane and cotton fields of the Deep South.  They traveled by steamboats and sailing ships, wagons and railcars but most came on foot. When they arrived in New Orleans, the traders would advertise the sales of enslaved men and women in the local newspapers.  The newspapers were also regularly used to post rewards for the return of runaway slaves.  The exhibit presented many of these advertisements in a booklet which was a very thorough compilation of images and text of the exhibit.  The booklet is not currently available as a PDF but I have made a request with the Historic New Orleans Collection that the guide be published online.

One feature of the exhibit that has been placed online is the Lost Friends database.  The contents of the database are described here:

  • Two dollars in 1880 bought a yearlong subscription to the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a newspaper published in New Orleans by the Methodist Book Concern and distributed to nearly five hundred preachers, eight hundred post offices, and more than four thousand subscribers in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The "Lost Friends" column, which ran from the paper's 1877 inception well into the first decade of the twentieth century, featured messages from individuals searching for loved ones lost in slavery.
  • This searchable database provides access to more than 330 advertisements that appeared in the Southwestern Christian Advocate between November 1879 and December 1880. Digital reproductions of the Lost Friends ads are courtesy of Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University Libraries.
I performed a few searches for surnames of my client, Gesenia Sloan Pena to see if any of her family names were listed.  I only found two matches for the surname "Sloan."

Published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate on March 11, 1880.

Published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate on May 13, 1880.
After reviewing the description again, it became clear that the online database only includes one year of the advertisements that were published for over forty years by the Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper.  It is also clear that the contents of these ads are a treasure trove for African American family history researchers.  The first ad directs pastors to read the requests from their pulpits and to report any cases of reunions which were facilitated by means of the letters published in the Southwestern.  I would certainly like to read one of those reports.

The Lost Friends database can be searched by first name, last name or full name or they can be searched by state, county or city.  The advertisements also can be browsed.  Perusal of these advertisements tell many stories of lost family and friends.  The names of slave owners are listed along with names of parents, spouses, children and other family members.

Here is an article that I found with a search of Brenham, Washington County, Texas:

Published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate on November 13, 1879.
This next article shows how names that were used during slavery often changed after emancipation.  The Rev. B.M. Taylor used the surname of his slave owner, Louis Taylor.  Presumably his brothers, Sam, Peter and Jeff and sister Amy also went by Taylor.  However, their lost sister, Darkens Taylor changed her name to Maria Walker.

Published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate on March 25, 1880.
Perhaps if we contact the Historic New Orleans Collection (HNOC), we can encourage them to publish the rest of this wonderful Lost Friends collection in their database.  Also please contact HNOC if you would like a PDF copy of their Purchased Lives exhibit brochure.  The Historic New Orleans Collection can be reached at (504) 523-4662,

Since the letter from Rev. B.M. Taylor mentions Huntsville, Texas, it would seem an appropriate time to remind you that I will be making a presentation on Immigration and Emigration Records on July 31, from 8:30 to 12:30.  Here are the details for the event which runs on both Friday, July 31 and Saturday, August 1, 2015:

Frances Sprott Goforth Memorial Genealogy Weekend
Cost: Free
Location: Huntsville Public Library, 1219 13th Street, Huntsville, Texas 77340

The Weekend is hosted by Huntsville Public Library & Walker County Genealogical Society. The Huntsville Public Library is a FamilySearch Affiliate Library.

Pre-registration is encouraged, but not required. For more information go to or contact: Mary Kokot, Adult Services Coordinator at 936-291-5471.

1 comment:

  1. Nick, I didn't know this even existed. What a wonderful service the paper did in attempts to reunite those affected by slavery. I love that they said submissions would run for free for their subscribers or a small fee for non-subscribers. I too would love to see letters of reunions. Thank you for sharing this information.