Slaves Waiting for Sale

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In 1853, Eyre Crowe, a young British artist, visited a slave auction in Richmond, Virginia. Harrowed by what he witnessed, he captured the scene in sketches that he would later develop into a series of illustrations and paintings, including the culminating painting, Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia.

This innovative book uses Crowe’s paintings to explore the texture of the slave trade in Richmond, Charleston, and New Orleans, the evolving iconography of abolitionist art, and the role of visual culture in the transatlantic world of abolitionism. Tracing Crowe’s trajectory from Richmond across the American South and back to London—where his paintings were exhibited just a few weeks after the start of the Civil War—Maurie D. McInnis illuminates not only how his abolitionist art was inspired and made, but also how it influenced the international public’s grasp of slavery in America. With almost 140 illustrations, Slaves Waiting for Sale brings a fresh perspective to the American slave trade and abolitionism as we enter the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

Review Quotes:

Slaves Waiting for Sale is a stupendous contribution to the field of nineteenth-century racial representation. It is canny in its structure, astonishing in the depth of its research, and immensely sophisticated in the deployment of research details—all in the service of a deeply rewarding argument. Using Crowe’s painting as the backbone of the book is very smart, and the sequence of chapters, as McInnis charts the landscape of slavery from Richmond to Charleston to New Orleans, and the resulting visual representation of that landscape, is engrossing. It’s a book that will speak to readers in many different fields.”—E. B. Robertson, University of California, Santa Barbara

“With this book, Maurie McInnis consolidates the reputation, earned in her prizewinning book about Charleston antebellum architecture, as a forerunner in the integration of art and broader cultural studies. This latest brilliant integration brings a new dimension to our understanding of American slavery.”—William W. Freehling, author of Road to Disunion

Slaves Waiting for Sale epitomizes the best of scholarship. Beautifully crafted, compellingly argued, and powerfully original, this book guides us through Crowe’s painting in a far-reaching narrative that cuts across the antebellum South and transatlantic debates over the human cost and deeply contested ideologies of slavery. Her analysis brings to bear the evidence of works by other artists, archaeological excavations, literature, and personal accounts in a reading of Crowe’s work and its array of contexts that is sophisticated, accessible, and truly exemplary.”—Bernard L. Herman, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

“This book reveals an iconic work of art in remarkable depth and breadth. With ingenious research and imaginative writing, Maurie McInnis unites places and facets of life too seldom joined. No one will be able to see the slave trade—or nineteenth-century America and England, for that matter—in the same way after reading this powerful book.”—Edward L. Ayers, University of Richmond