From John Hennessy, NPS (for Part I of this post, click here):
John Goolrick’s 1924 assault on the supposed status of the block at the corner of Charles and William as a the site of slave sales and the Chamber of Commerce’s request to City Council that the block be removed prompted local auctioneer N.B. Kinsey (whose shop, incidentally, was almost directly across William Street from the block, next to the building that today houses Kybecca) to march into the offices of the Fredericksburg Daily Star a few days later armed with evidence he claimed demonstrated the use of the block for slave auctions. Most importantly, he produced a newspaper clipping of an advertisement for the sale of slaves in front of the Planter’s Hotel. Quoting the July 22, 1924 issue of the Daily Star:
The advertisement, dated October 14, 1857, stated “seven young and valuable slaves” will be sold for the high dollar by Thos. B. Barton and John M. Herndon, commissioners. Another sale of “three likely young negresses” by W.C. Downer, administrator.
(This ad does not appear in any of the surviving copies of Fredericksburg papers of the time–the News, Virginia Herald, and Weekly Advertiser. Likely it appeared in the well-circulated Christian Banner, edited by the equally ardent Unionist and [at the time] racist James Hunnicutt; no issues of the Banner are known to survive from 1857.)
Kinsey went on to explain “that a recent article published to the effect that the stone block on Commerce Street was not used for sale of slaves was incorrect, quoting Mssrs. M.G. Willis, W.E. Bradley, Jas. Alsop, and others as authority.” (It’s worth noting that William Bradley, 17 at the time of the Civil War, was the son of wartime merchant James Bradley; M.G. Willis didn’t come to Fredericksburg until after the Civil War.) “These gentlemen, he said, had often seen slaves sold from this block which is still standing…. The same block was used by ladies to mount horses, but was also used as an elevation for sale of slaves in front of the old Planters Hotel.”
Kinsey’s counter-assault against John Goolrick and the Chamber of Commerce apparently had the desired effect. Council never acted on the demand by Goolrick and the Chamber of Commerce that the stone block be broken up and hauled away. The matter vanished from public notice.
For our purposes, by far the most important piece of evidence produced by Kinsey is the advertisement for a slave sale in front of Planter’s Hotel–at the site of the block. This ad has heretofore been unknown to us. But another ad has been well-known for years. It appeared in the Fredericksburg News, December 22, 1857–just over two months after the ad produced by Kinsey appeared–and I reproduce it here.
Neither Kinsey’s nor this ad expressly claims the use of the block in front of Planter’s for the sales, but certainly given all the possible locations for the auction (including Timberlake’s auction house elsewhere in town), the selection of the corner of Charles and William is, at least, very interesting. We can say with little doubt that at least two sales of slaves took place there. [Update: as of 2020, we now can place more than 20 sales of human beings on this corner.]
Beyond these pieces of hard evidence putting slave sales on that corner, the tradition of the block as a tool for selling slaves has persisted in Fredericksburg for well over a century. The earliest reference I have seen to the “slave block”–this by a Union veteran–dates to 1894 (if you know of an earlier reference, please let me know). In the early 20th century, photographs and postcards appeared touting the site as a slave block.
By far the most interesting of these is the 1920s postcard, “Old Slave Block,” that shows former slave Albert Crutchfield standing next to the block. The back of the card reads:
“In the days before the Civil War it was used for the sale and annual hire of slaves. Albert Crutchfield, shown in the picture, was sold from the block about 1859, at which time he was a boy about fifteen years old.”
What of the claim about Crutchfield? In fact, we know a good deal about him. First off, we know he was not 15 in 1859, but five or six–according to at least two census records (1870 and 1880) he was born in 1853 or 1854. Still, as described in his obituary (Free Lance-Star, January 24, 1931) he recalled his sale on the block “distinctly.” He and his family had been owned by Ann Carter Oliver of Spotsylvania County. After Oliver’s house burned in the late 1850s, she took up residence in Fredericksburg, renting an apartment “a stone’s throw” from the Planter’s Hotel. When she died, her will’s attempt to manumit Albert, his mother and siblings was challenged, and instead the family was sold. Two brothers were sold south never to be seen again, but Albert, his mother “Mammy Judy,” and siblings, Douglass, Tom and Maria were sold to Arthur Goodwin, a prominent local banker who lived on Prince Edward Street (Goodwin owned seven slaves in 1860, five of them children, though none of the ages correspond with the presumed ages of Judy [Juda] and her children). Albert claimed the sale took place on the block in front of Planter’s Hotel.
After the war, the Crutchfield family took up residence together, except for Maria. Albert became a laborer; when he died in 1931, the local newspaper praised him as “a respected colored man.” Ironically, his mother Judy took employment for many years with Judge John T. Goolrick, the very man who in 1924 asserted that the auction block upon which she and her son were supposed sold was no such thing.
Finally, when Kinsey presented his proof to the Star in 1924, he asserted “that according to information in his hands, the last slave to be sold from this block was George Triplett, who was purchased by Montgomery Slaughter, the Civil War Mayor of Fredericksburg.”
In 1880, George Triplett, a drayman age 47, was living with his family in Spotsylvania. We do not know the date of the supposed final sale, but we do know that the 1860 slave schedule does not include a 27-year-old male owned by Montgomery Slaughter. At the same time, it’s entirely possible that Slaughter’s acquisition of Triplett came after the census was complete. We have no way of confirming Triplett’s sale to Slaughter, or its location at the block in front of Planter’s Hotel. Rather, it is another detail that contributes to the tradition of the use of the block for slave sales.
[Later addition: John Goolrick, Jr.,–the naysayer’s son–had this to say about Triplett and his connection with the block: “Triplett, a Fredericksburg negro now  dead, stated always that he was sold upon the block.”]
You’ll pardon my inclusion of so many details in this discussion, but the status of the block is a matter huge importance to the ongoing discussion of history–especially slave history–in Fredericksburg. If any of you have additional details, please pass them along.
Next up, we’ll look at where all this leaves us, historically and culturally, as we ponder the disputed auction block in front of Planter’s Hotel?