The Slave Trail

The way south and west for slaves who had been sold to traders was often by foot in the first decades of the nineteenth century; later by rail and ship or river boat as well. The experience was vividly described in a variety of sources including traveler's accounts, contemporary artwork, newspaper ads, and by slaves themselves in narratives published, in some cases, after their escape. Click on the map and explore the documents linked in the activity below.



Travelogues were one of the more common literary forms in the late 19th century. Often composed like a diary, travelogues were aimed at providing readers with a colorful account of the writer's experiences in exotic places. An excerpt from the travelogue of George William Featherstonhaugh, a geologist for the US government, describing his trip through the southern states in 1844 is included as one of the documents in the Slave Trading Experiences map journal above.

Imagine that you took a journey through the South prior to the Civil War and encountered the creators of the Slave Trading Experiences documents. You met the authors of the various written pieces and listened to their stories. You saw the various posters and visited the slave auctions and markets. And you witnessed the scenes portrayed in the sketches and paintings. Write a short travelogue of your own discussing your experience.

Wrtiting Guidelines are provided. Remember, though, that your work will be colored by the perspective you adopt - perhaps that of a Quaker missionary, the son or daughter of a Mississippi planter, a British banker who is heavily invested in cotton production in the Mississippi River basin, or ... you decide. In any case, make your narrative interesting and consistent with the facts in the various documents.


map journal basemap from Lazlo Kubinyi, "Slave Trading Routes 1810 - 1860," in Edward Ball, "Retracing Slavery's Trail of Tears," Smithsonian Magazine, (Nov, 2015).

Last modified in October, 2021 by Rick Thomas