Rare picture of slave children (EDIT: OR NOT) found in attic

EDIT: It turns out that the AP story, Keya Morgan and the other experts cited in this article were totally wrong. It’s not a Brady print; it’s not of slave children and it’s not even rare. Here’s a copy in the New York Public Library
where you can see the photographer was Jerome Nelson, the picture was taken ca. 1870 and is charmingly entitled “Plantation Scene; Happy Little Nigs.”

I actually think the truth is even more compelling that the falsehood. That’s what passed for “happy” for black kids in the post-Reconstruction South. Many thanks to Linda Rowan for alerting me to the bullshit in a comment below.

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Slave children found in attic, courtesy of Keya MorganA Civil War-era picture of two slave children was found in the attic of a Charlotte, North Carolina home. The homeowner was collecting things for a moving sale and found the picture along with a document describing the sale of one “John” in 1854.

In April, the photo was found at a moving sale in Charlotte, accompanied by a document detailing the sale of John for $1,150, not a small sum in 1854.

New York collector Keya Morgan said he paid $30,000 for the photo album including the photo of the young boys and several family pictures and $20,000 for the sale document. Morgan said the deceased owner of the home where the photo was found was thought to be a descendant of John.

A portrait of slave children is rare, Morgan said.

“I buy stuff all the time, but this shocked me,” he said.

Art historians think the picture was taken in the early 1860s, either right before or right after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. The picture is from the Brady studio, however this photograph was most likely not taken by Matthew Brady himself, but by his apprentice Timothy O’Sullivan. Matthew Brady, the famous Civil War photographer, and his apprentices took many pictures of slaves around that time. They were used by abolitionists to drum up support for the war in the North.

Most of those pictures were of adult slaves who have been severely physically abused and had visible scars, though. Children, even incredibly sad-eyed ones like the boys in this picture, were not so obvious symbols of the violence and degradation of slavery.

Keya Morgan has a well-known collection of Civil War photographs, including the world’s largest collection of original Abraham Lincoln photographs. He’s keeping the picture and document in his personal collection right now, but he’s already received a sales inquiry from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Other photographs in his collection have found permanent homes in the collections of the White House, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian and even the Louvre.

Document of sale of slave named "John", courtesy of Keya MorganMorgan is also considering collaborating on a documentary about John. From the article it’s clear that Morgan thinks the John described in the sales document is one of the boys in the picture, but I’m not sure how they know that. Perhaps there’s an age reference in the document that I can’t read (there are no high resolution pictures that I could find), or maybe it’s just an assumption or even symbolic shorthand.

9 thoughts on “Rare picture of slave children (EDIT: OR NOT) found in attic

  1. I also see no specific indication of age, though the bit about giving up rights to claim future heirs of John may at least indicate that he was of an age to impregnate or someday would be. Given the amount paid, he must have been in good working shape and/oro had a promising future of many years of labor, ruling out an elderly (by their standards) man.

    1. Good points. Also, if the picture was indeed taken in 1862, then in order for the John in the bill of sale to be one of those children, he would have had to have been an infant or at best a very small child when he was sold in 1854. I seriously doubt he’d have been worth so much money when he was years away from being able to do hard labor.

  2. Of course historical images can be manipulated, just as the texts in contemporary chronicles can be adjusted to suit the writer or commissioner of the chronicle. But sometimes images have it all over text.

  3. Google “Rare picture of slave children” and you will find that this picture was not made by Brady,but by Jerome Nelson Wilson. A stereo view or this pic with other pics sold on eBay recently,so Keya Morgan’s find is not rare.Plus Morgans pic is cropped,not so for the one on eBay. Also you will find another stereo view copy at the NYPL digital library also showing Wilson,not Brady. So I guess Keya will have to settle on NOT selling to the Metropolitian Museum of Art. 👿

  4. In our opinion, the photo and document does not match. Charlotte, NC is located in a colder climate which is about 200 miles north from where we live here in the sub-tropics and bannana trees and what appears to be a sugar cane field just does not add up for this photo to have been taken in the Charlotte, NC area. The photo appears to have been taken in a tropical climate such as the West Indies. The switch and bait of photos and cabinet cards has been a long time practice to dupe the public. Just wanted to add our 2 cents :no: :no: :no:

    1. Thank you kindly for your input. I’ve edited the entry to point to new evidence about the photograph. According to an eBay seller selling the stereoscopic set including the picture above, the setting was Savannah, Georgia.

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