The Insidious Workings of the Fredericksburg Slave Trade

from:  Harrison

When Madison Henderson, an enslaved man, received a death sentence for murder, robbery, and arson in St. Louis in 1841, he dictated a “confession.”  Printed by one of that city’s publishers, this account related details of Henderson’s life working for a slave trader in Virginia, evidently in the 1820’s, and other locales.  Henderson described how even those Fredericksburg-area slaves whose owners declined to offer them for sale had remained vulnerable to southward trafficking and to destruction of their families and family connections.  He also noted that aspiring owners risked a far milder but still substantial form of victimization through entanglement with the slave trade.

Madison Henderson

I was born, as well as I can recollect, the slave of Mr. Asa Brockman…who resided some miles in the country from Orange Court House…. When I was about 12 or 15 years
of age (I suppose I must have been about this age, as, by what I know of my birth, I think I am now 34 or 35 years old,) I was sold by my master at Orange Court House, to a negro trader by the name of James Blakey.  Mr. Blakey, I understood to be one of the partners in a company of traders, whose names, so far as I know them, were Mr. Blakey, Samuel Alsop, Mr. Ballard and James Franklin.  I remained about six weeks at Orange Court House, when a number of negroes having been collected, we were moved forward on the road to Richmond, to Mr. Alsop’s one of the partners I have named:  here we remained about a week.  From Alsop’s the gang were conveyed to Richmond…. Here we remained about a week, and on Sunday morning, at day light, we were put on board a steam boat and carried to a vessel lying in the stream at Norfolk…. We were a month or more going to New Orleans.  During the trip round I was taken by _______ as his body servant, and waited upon him very attentively.  During this time he seemed to have formed an attachment for me, and when we arrived in the south I remained in his service.  This service has been my ruin….
This man was the chief of a company of negro traders, and the principal person in carrying them south.  His operations in selling and occasionally in buying extended to all the southern parts.  New Orleans, Natchez, Vicksburg and Mobile, were the principal markets for sale.  His purchases were made in nearly all the cities and towns in Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas, and in these I accompanied him, and assisted in his operations at all the following places, viz:  Charleston, S. C., Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Norfolk, Spotsylvania, C. H., Orange C. H., Fred[e]ricksburg, Culpepper C. H., Louisa C. H., and Green Springs.  We went to these places to buy, and if the negroes whom we wished to purchase, were unwilling to be sold, it was my duty to overcome their objections, and by false tales of what my master would do for them, or the purposes for which they were wanted, induce them to agree to be sold.  But the most important part of my duty was to coax off, and harbor negroes:  in other words, to aid in stealing them…. this required a good deal of courage and skill, and was generally accomplished by representing my master as from a free state, generally from Philadelphia, and that his purpose in getting them to run off was to set them free; that he would take them to Canada, or some other place out of the reach of their masters.  To the men I represented that they would become rich and own plenty of property–to the women and girls, I held out the prospect of marrying rich white men, and of living in style and splendor.  In these offices, I believe I became quite an adept, and, with the aid of my master, seldom failed in our purposes.  


…I took the liberty of remonstrating against the stealing of negroes, and told him that I had understood that if they caught us we would have to go to the penitentiary for life or be hung, and that no amount of money would save us.  He replied that he had intended for some time to quit it, and believed he would, I told him I had a plan by which he could make more money, and no body could be hurt for it but me.  He wanted to know what it was, but I would not tell him until we got to the east.  After some time we left and went to Washington….

At Washington, we formed a plan, for my master to sell me as often as he could, and I would run off afterwards, and go back to him.  To carry out this scheme, he was to recommend me….

In a short time my master and myself took the stage and went to Philadelphia where we spent two days.  There my master bought horses and a barouche, and we started back into the slave States.  After travelling about some time we went to Fred[e]ricksburg.  At this place I was called by him John Henry.  Before, I had been called by my right name, and by that name had been sold.  At Fred[e]ricksburg I was again sold to a man by the name of Rarall, the owner of a large wheat and grocery store, for $1,000. My master went away in his borouche and left his horse at the tavern stable. I staid with Rarall a fortnight, and on Saturday night took the horse, which I had been attending to occasionally, and joined him [my master].  He was out on the road leading to the Orange Court House, about 20 miles.  From thence we started, at five o’clock on Sunday morning, and travelled about sometime through Spotsylvania and Culpeper counties, and went to Green Springs and Orange C. H.  During the time my master bought several negroes, but did not steal any.

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