slavery

Image of the St. Malo Maroon community from an 1883 edition of Harper's Weekly.
The Historic New Orleans Collection

You live in a cave, six feet underground. You’re surrounded by wild animals, swarms of mosquitos, thick mud, and you can only come out at night. Why? Because it beats being a slave.

“They could live there for five, seven, 10 years”, says Sylviane Diouf, director of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York.

The Mechanical Curator Collection / The British Library

This story is part of TriPod: New Orleans at 300. Tripod moves beyond the familiar themes of New Orleans history to focus on forgotten, neglected, or surprising pieces of the city's past to help us better understand present and future challenges. 

The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1974.25.23.4

This story is part of TriPod: New Orleans at 300. Tripod moves beyond the familiar themes of New Orleans history to focus on forgotten, neglected, or surprising pieces of the city's past to help us better understand present and future challenges. This story visits physical landmarks that bear witness to the city’s role in the national slave trade.

courtesy of the Holden Family Collection

Most Americans hear the phrase “slave trade” and picture ships sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, with captured Africans chained inside, terrorized and sick. But twice as many people were sold in the domestic slave trade, which forcibly moved over a million people, primarily from the Upper South to the Lower South, primarily over land and on foot.

After the United States outlawed international slave trading in 1808, New Orleans became home to the nation’s largest domestic slave market.

Courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection

This episode of Louisiana Eats! examines African-American culinary life and culture in slavery times and today. Historic New Orleans Collection curator Erin Greenwald gives us a private tour of Purchased Lives: New Orleans and the Domestic Slave Trade, 1808–1865, an exhibit that examines the domestic slave trade in America. Solomon Northup, the free man of color who wrote the memoir "Twelve Years A Slave," comes to life with some amazing documents that shed light on his true story.

For decades, slavery tore apart African-American families. Children were sold off from their mothers, and husbands were taken from their wives. Many desperately tried to keep track of each other, even running away to find loved ones. After the Civil War and emancipation, these efforts intensified. Freed slaves posted ads in newspapers and wrote letters — seeking any clue to a family member's whereabouts.