1863: Child Slave “Cartes de Visites”

Slave children, freed and brought North by abolitionists to emphasize the plight of slaves. The proceeds from sale of the photographs were to be used to educate freed slaves who had come under the jurisdiction of the Union Army in the New Orleans area. A caption on one of these photographs points out that the children had been turned out of a hotel in Philadelphia because of their “color.””

Eastman House



24 Responses

  1. Tonya

    These are wonderful. They help to dispel the continued myth of what a slave is “supposed” to look like.

  2. andrij

    “They help to dispel the continued myth of what a slave is “supposed” to look like.”


    Nearly every group has been enslaved at one point or another in history….why would anyone have a “preconceived notion of what a slave has to look like?” lol

  3. John

    I cannot but help wondering whatever became of the people we see on here who are often in dire circumstances.

  4. Shea

    I would like to learn more about this, can anyone suggest additional resources? Plus, how much research has been done on the authentication of the individuals pictured? Thank you

  5. Rigaud

    Ah, New Orleans. That explains their color. My notion is that they were children of mostly white ancestry, but of black ancestry as well. That was VERY common in New Orleans, and I think that’s why that group of abolitionists chose those particular children as subjects. Seeing slave children that looked like their own would have definitely ignited a spark in Northerners, causing contribute more passionately to the cause.

    • Astrid

      Slavery still exists in Europe, too. 21st century and people are still being forced to work in some way, deprived of their free will. I don’t think it can ever be completely aboloshed (despite laws that make it illegal).

  6. Wayne

    The first poster was correct, though. There is a preconceived idea of slaves appeared in antebellum US. It is also worth noting that slavery was generally practiced throughout the world at that time. It was not uncommon for war ships to sell the crews and passengers of captured merchant and war ships into slavery. This went for white, brown, or black, and men, women, and children. Slavery still continues to this day in some parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

    • George

      Scary to hear some people believe that ‘slavery was generally practiced throughout the world at that time’! 1863!

    • anabella

      With a nod to George…indeed.

      “slavery was generally practiced throughout the world at that time”.

      The importation of slaves was illegal, at least on paper, in every country of the Western Hemisphere by 1830. By 1833, slavery itself was banned throughout the British Empire, however the Royal Navy began boarding slave ships as early as 1807. By 1848, every country in Europe had banned slavery. By the 1860′s the rulers of much of Africa had signed enforceable anti-slavery treaties with Britain. By 1887, slavery was banned throughout the Western Hemisphere.

      “It was not uncommon for war ships to sell the crews and passengers of captured merchant and war ships into slavery”.

      Not true in the 1860s.

  7. Abby

    I think of New Orleans Quadroons when I see these children. I wonder if their mothers were such women?

  8. Dinerwood Mike

    There’s probably a bit of propaganda by the Abolitionist side going on there too with regards to using the lightest skinned slave children they had access to. Easier to pull the heartstrings of your potential backers if you show them children who look closer to their own. No doubt a significant portion of slave-born offspring were bi-racial (Mary Chesnut’s civil war diary has a passage decrying the hypocrisy and willful ignorance on the part of the owners and their wives with regards to mixed race slave offspring), I have a hard time believing this children exemplify the norm.

  9. John

    These may have been propaganda photos to elicit money for their cause. But there certainly were people that looked totally European, but had African blood. If you had, I believe, up to a certain amount of African blood, such as 1/64 you were considered to be black and thus a slave in New Orleans.

    • anabella

      You’re way off base here.

      There was never a time when “If you had, I believe, up to a certain amount of African blood, such as 1/64 you were considered to be black and thus a slave in New Orleans.” In fact, New Orleans had by far the largest number of free people of color in the U.S. before the Civil War. After the influx of Haitian refugees in 1809/10, the numbers suggest that as many as one in three were ‘gens de couleur’.

      New Orleans was the first city in the U.S. to allow free people of color to own property with numerous examples going back into the mid-1700s. Historically speaking, the Faubourg Marigny and Faubourg Treme are considered to be the two oldest Creole/African American owned communities in the continental U.S.

      Your statement concerning ’1/64 African blood’ probably, mistakenly, refers to the notorious “one drop rule” which was instituted during Reconstruction…after the Civil War.

      This was when those of mixed heritage [common enough in New Orleans] found themselves legally defined as ‘black’ for the first time. And it was this new standing under the law which, in 1896, prompted Homer Plessy, with the backing of a group of New Orleans businessmen, to challenge a law [enacted in 1890] requiring him to sit in a “colored only” train car.

      This was, of course, long before Rosa Parks dreamed of taking a bus ride.

  10. Nicole

    For more on this topic, see the work of Dr. Mary Niall Mitchell, specifically “Raising Freedom’s Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future After Slavery.”

  11. Tracey

    The boy looks like my son, who is 1/2 African (his dad is Nigerian). Although my son is tri-racial (African, European, Native American) he looks white. Fortunately we live in the 21st century and in Canada, where for the most part multi-racial children are accepted and becoming the norm.

  12. Cranios

    I can remember a time when even in the north, black people were still thought of as not quite fully human by most whites. I can only therefore imagine how they were thought of 100 years earlier! Not surprised the abolitionists used these examples, because most whites would not have cared too much about the plight of darker skinned Americans. Sad, glad this is largely past us now.

  13. Neshobanakni


    You must be very, very old. The old white folks I know (seventies and older) are from the south, and never felt that way. The white folks I know – of any age – aren’t so stupid, having lived side-by-side with black folks all their lives. The north suffers from a shortage of black population and that *might* lead to ignorance of basic human truths. People are people, and if you judge them too quickly you’re limiting yourself.

    Some other posters are quick to point to European laws as proving slavery to be a uniquely American sin. If only those those laws had been enforced. Only in the English-speaking world was slavery considered a crime against humanity and actively suppressed. Slavery was not proof of American evil, but the fight against slavery was the vindication of our nation. The English and U.S. governments took up arms against slavery everywhere it existed, and we paid the price in the blood of six hundred thousand dead Americans. The Civil War forever washed away our founding fathers’ original sin.

    Your insight into the motivation of abolitionists in using these children is spot on, in my opinion. I share your gladness that this is largely past us now.

  14. workingdee

    I am familiar with these pictures. They are authentic. The parents of these children were quadroons or octoroons. Mixed race children that despite their primarily “white” appearance would havr been enslaved. These cards were indeed used to illicit sympathy from the north. The children were taken on tour for abolitionists to gain more support. If you can take the time do a little research on the names and you wilk find more of their history.

  15. Hag

    I love how no one ever brings up what the federal government was doing to the native Americans and the treatment of the Chinese out west…?? Indentured servitude continued beyond the emancipation proclaimation. To have thirty years of your life contracted out at age five is still slavery regardless of ethnic origins. still to this day in our own country, the native Americans have the life expectancy of folks in a third world country. I’m grateful to live in a time when I learned about segregation in history class and thought it was completely ridiculous. But folks back then were literally ignorant and barely educated. Slavery wasn’t a black and white issue. It was poor folks being abused by those that had more…same old story…still going on.


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