Slave Receipts from an Atlanta Merchant and "Negro Dealer"
Someone suggested that I look at the image above, and when I did, I was almost without words. But I did look and then I began to see them.
Recently four documents were shared on AfriGeneas, on one of the message boards. They are images of four receipts for the sale and purchase of human beings. The receipts were dated 1862. And they stood out to me, because and even in spite of the turmoil of the Civil War, slavery was clearly a business that was still thriving in Atlanta, war or no war.
Upon closer examination, there was a lot more to be learned. These were pre-printed receipts documenting the slave of human beings by one Robert M. Clarke of Atlanta to the purchaser Joseph Silver. Pre-printed receipts where one only had to write in the name of the person being "sold" and the amount pad. How horrible and how sad, but we need to see them.
There are so many things jump off from these four receipts that demand scrutiny. First of all, this is the first image of a pre-printed slave sales receipt that I have ever seen. Upon discussion with a genealogy friend and mentor, the first question to emerge was whether this image of the four receipts was even real. And not only was the transaction on a pre-printed, receipt,but also the name of the seller was also included as if this was from an ordinary local downtown merchant. The dealer's name on the document, was a man called Robert Clarke.
The Negro Broker Robt. M. Clarke's name appears on this pre-printed receipt
In February of 1848 shortly after Atlanta began to organize the first city council, Robert M. Clarke's name appears when he assumed the position of city clerk. The position was held briefly by L.C. Simpson, but in February of that year, he resigned and the position was then filled by Robert M. Clarke.
Robert M. Clarke was also known in Atlanta because of a strong religious faith. In fact he became active in the first Sunday school of Atlanta, and was secretary and treasurer of the Atlanta Union Sabbath School.
Was this man of faith truly the same man who made a living in the trade of selling enslaved men, women and children? Was this human broker truly the same man who was a man of God and who established the first Sunday school in Atlanta?
Or could there have been other people in the city with the same name?
I decided to conduct an 1860 Federal census search for Robert M. Clarke, but did not come up with anyone in Fulton County or Dekalb County Georgia, with that name. So I then decided to search for anyone called Clarke in Fulton County, and I saw the name of R. M. Clarke for Fulton County. I looked more closely and I was certain that I had located the trader Robert Clarke. The occupation was clear. Negro Trader.
Source Citation: Year: 1860; Census Place: Atlanta Ward 2, Fulton,Georgia; Roll: M653_122; Page: 748; Image: 52; Family History Library Film: 803122.
There were also no other Robert Clarkes, or R.M. Clareks in the Atlanta area. But as I was trying to find more online learn more about the document, I saw an auction house that had offered these same receipts for sale. They were were offered for sale in 2009.
It appears that a large collection was possibly broken apart and each one sold separately, as I found one of the receipts sold in 2010 for $1000. It is hard to think that once again the sale of an item that reflected the slave trade made a profit for someone in the 21st century. I looked at the item from the 2010 sale it was for a slave not part of the original four receipts. This one was for a young woman called Ann, being sold by the same dealer Robert Clarke, to the same purchaser, Joseph Silver.
Receipt for purchase of enslaved woman Ann by Joseph Silver & sold by Robert Clarke
I wondered what was happening in them middle of the Civil War that made Robert Clarke decide to sell so many slaves.
-Was the turmoil of war making his business slower than before?
-Was this simply business as usual?
-Or was he selling a number of slaves in anticipation of things to come?
The transactions occurred in December 1862. Or was something else taking place that was prompting this sale of slaves? I noticed that even one of the sales occurred on Christmas Day. Perhaps the approach of January 1st was the motivation.
January 1st 1863 was significant, because that was the day that the Emancipation Proclamation was to have taken effect. The document proclaimed freedom for all enslaved who lived in the ten states that were in rebellion. That would have included Georgia. Of course the proclamation did not mean that slave holders were going to comply. But I cannot help but ask whether these transactions were business as usual for Clarke, the Negro Trader, or was he seeing ahead and choosing to make his profit while he could and collect his funds before the eventual release of the enslaved from bondage?
I mentioned that I had to note that I was not familiar with pre-printed receipts for the sale of slaves. I have seen many bills of sale, and many ads announcing sales, but I was thrown off when I first saw Robert Clarke's receipts. But as I investigated the sale, I was surprised to come across additional pre-printed receipts as well! And the strangest thing is that these receipts also bore the name of the same purchaser--Joseph Silver.
Two additional receipts from Richmond Virginia, showing the purchase by Joseph Silver
of two enslaved women Joane and Caroline, in February of 1861
Clearly Joseph Silver left an amazing paper trail of receipts from Richmond to Atlanta to wherever his estate may have been. He was a man who could easily spend a thousand or more when he felt he had to increase his supply of workers. I don't find him in Atlanta, and he was not a resident of Richmond. I wonder if by any chance he may have been the Joseph Silver of the Silverdale plantation in Mobile? I was surprised to see a large slave holder by that name, and even a site selling an image of the old Silver plantation in Mobile Alabama.
But before I began to study his history I had to stop myself and ask the question---- What is the story here? What is my focus?
-Is it about Robert M. Clarke the Negro trader?
-Or was it about Joseph Silver a man who regularly purchased slaves?
-Was it about the business which was so prolific that traders needed pre-printed receipts to keep track of their human inventory being traded?
- Or is there possibly another story?
I have chosen to end this piece with the other story.
Though there are not facts known about them, they were the target, and apparently even into the 21st century, 150 years after their bondage officially ended, and more than a century after their death, they were still the commodities, on sale to the highest bidders.
They were the forgotten victims that Atlanta's Sunday school founder could not see.
They were workers who would toil endlessly for Joseph Silver, with no hope of finding family again.
They were the men and women whom I can only hope, chose to survive.
I want to remember them as people. I have no words to provide details about their lives. And I have no words to describe the feeling of shock and sadness when I look at those receipts. But we all need to look at them. And we need to see them and hear their names called aloud.
So, in their honor, I must call them by name, for they were more than commodities on a receipt. They were Lavenia, Simon, Dick, Irving, Ann, Joane and Caroline.
Their dreams were deferred so long, but my hope is that they made it through the storm.