Old Slave Markets
In 1835 The city Boasted a
Dozen Well-Established Dealers
By Stanton Tierman
of The Baltimore Sun
In the year 1835 there were at least a dozen
well-established slave dealers in the city of Baltimore, not
counting petty agents and visiting traders.
In 1840 the Maryland census showed 89,737
slaves in the State, about 5,000 of whom were in Baltimore.
Among some of the regular slave dealers of
this period were Austin Woolfolk, pioneer in the traffic (for he
dated back to 1824) and self-styled "The Justly
Celebrated." He was located on the north side of Pratt
street, west of Cove (now Fremont avenue) near the Three Tuns
Tavern [See also Frederick Douglass' July 4th Oration and his
reference to Woolfolk's slave trade business at the "head
of Pratt Street."]
James Purvis, whose business address was
Sinner's Hotel, southwest corner Albermarle and Water streets,
and his residence on Gallows Hill between Eden and Aisquith
streets, near Missionary Church.
Jospeh S. Donovan, on the east side of Light
street, four doors south of Montgomery.
Moody & Downs, 37 South street. Nathaniel
Austin, 24 South street.
James Bates, Barnum's City Hotel.
B.M. Campbell, whose address was at first 26
There were still others, but the main slave
dealer of them all was Hope H. Slatter, originally from Clinton,
a small town about fifteen miles northeast of Macon, Ga.
Slatter was in the slave business in
Baltimore at least as early as 1835. An advertisement of his on
February 2 of that year in the Baltimore Republican and
Commercial Advertiser shows that at that time he wished
"particularly to purchase several seamtresses and small
fancy girls for nurses."
During July, August and September of 1838
Slatter ran a series of twenty-seven lengthy advertisements to The
Sun. The wording in several of these notices varied
slightly, but they all referred to the new building which he had
just erected. In general they read somewhat as follows:
CASH FOR NEGROES
The subscriber has built a large and
extensive establishment and private jail for the keeping
of SLAVES. This new building located on Pratt street, one
door from Howard and opposite the Circus or Repository, is
not surpassed by any establishment of the kind in the
United States. All rooms above ground Office in basement
N.B.--I can always be found there, or a
line left at the bar of the Owings Globe Inn, corner of
Howard and Market streets, will be attended to in my
Having as a wish to accommodate my
Southern friends and others in the trade, I am determined
to pay the highest prices with good and sufficient titles.
Persons having such property to dispose of would do well
to see me before they sell, as I am always purchasing for
the New Orleans market.
Likely fellows, aged 13 to
23 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $500
Women of same age and
quality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $300 to
The best field hands
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
$300 to $400
According to the few existing descriptions of
the unsurpassed building referred to, it was a two-story brick
affair with barred windows. Back of it and along its western side
was a brick-paved yard about forty-feet wide and seventy-five feet
deep. It contained few benches, a hydrant, numerous wash tubs and
clothes lines. Within the courtyard the Negroes spent the daylight
During the time of the awaiting
purchase by a new owner, they were required to do but
little work and were allowed to while away the time by
playing cards or by dancing to the tune of fiddles and
banjos played by some of their companions. By means of the
latter mode of entertainment they were enabled
occasionally to earn a few pennies, tossed to them by
spectators who could look from the street through a tall
stockade gate, into the enclosure.
On the west side of the open year was the auction
block. Against the east wall of the building there is still to be
seen the brick fireplace that was used for cooking and warmth.
There are two descriptions of Slatter extant, both
of them very meager. One writer of the times says that he was a
man of much intelligence and tact, of good address and public
spirit, although because of his business he was a social outcast.
Another chronicler of that era, Daniel Drayton, an ardent
abolitionist, in his "personal memoir," upon observing
Slatter at the railway station in Washington April 22, 1848, when
the trader was about to board the train with a consignment of
Negroes to Georgia, described him, as he stood chatting with the
chaplain of the Senate, a Methodist brother, as an "old
On May 28, 1841, Slatter was visited by the poet
Whittier, who was accompanied by Joseph Surge, an English
fellow Quaker. The two callers were making a tour of
inspection of this part of the country at the time in the
interests of the anti-slavery movement.
Slatter told these visitors that his mother had
for fifty years been a member of the Methodist Church and that he
had been reared accordingly, that although he himself was not an
active member of the church, he had never sworn an oath nor
committed an immoral act in his life.
His own head slave, whose wife he had
voluntarily set free, was so reliable, he informed them, that he
often left him in charge of the business and of the jail for
His custom, he stated, was always to supply his
slaves with good whole-hearted food, and to furnish them with a
new suit of clothes if they needed it, when they were sold. He
was in favor, so he told these gentlemen, of compensated
emancipation and utterly opposed to the sale of children.
He is said to have impressed the delegates
favorably. But as a later commentator remarks, they might not have
been inclined to put so much in his self praise if they had
chanced to see one of his advertisements that was running about
this time, in which he waxed quite enthusiastic over a
"sprightly bright mulatto girl only seven years old, as fine
a servant as I ever saw, who can intelligently run errands and
market for small articles by herself." His price for her was
Matchetts's Baltimore directory of
1847-48 still lists Hope H. Slatter as being located at
244 West Pratt street. No occupation is given.
On November 20, 1852, B.M. & W.L.
Campbell advertised in The Sun that they have just moved
from their former location at 26 Conway street to
Slatter's old stand at 242 West Pratt street.
The end of the slave jails in Baltimore was on
July 24, 1863. On that day, which was shortly after the Battle of
Gettysburg, Colonel Birney, accompanied only by Lieutenant Sykes
and Sergeant Southworth, proceeded to Slatter's jail, now
Campbell's, where by virtue of an order from General Schenck, he
enlisted the male Negroes in the army and liberated the female
In his report to the adjutant-general, Birney
says: "In this place I found 26 men, 1 boy, 29 women and 3
infants. Sixteen of the men were shackled together by couples at
the ankles by heavy irons. I sent for a blacksmith and had the
shackles and chains removed."
Birney next visited the slave jails of Wilson,
Hines, Fairbanks, Donovan and others, and did the same thing. At
Donovan's jail, which was located then at the southwest corner of
Camden and Eutaw streets, he established the office of the provost
Tradition says that several of these
last-mentioned jails had underground passage-ways and dungeons.
Certainly the boasts in Slatter's advertisements that all of his
rooms were above ground would tend to encourage this suspicion of
the others. In any event, so confident was Slatter that his own
inmates could not, or would not, escape, that along with his
charge for holding transient slaves, which was only 25 cents a
day, including "plenty of good and wholesome
provisions," he bound himself to make good the price of any
slave who got away.
In the course of time part of Slatter's jail
yard, or as seen, subsequently, Campbell's, was occupied by a
wholesale liquor house which was built on the corner. Adjoining it
was a flop house, run by a Frenchman named de Atlee. The jail
building became a poultry, butter and cheese commission house.
Years later the corner building was razed and
still later the one next to it and most of the remaining
slave-jail walls were torn down. At the time portions of old
chains and wrought iron rings were brought to the surface by the
steam shovel at work there. But whether these were part of
Slatter's old equipment or were the remains of a scrap metal yard
that for some time occupied the corner after the tearing down of
the whiskey house is not known.
A gasoline station now stands on the corner.
The slave yard itself is used as an automobile parking space.
Source: The Baltimore Sun
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updated !9 March 2010