Scenes of Slave Life Contributor: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Scenes of Slave Life may have been used by abolitionists to depict the degrading and horrific aspect of slavery in the United States. Six different vignettes of slave life are shown on a single, horizontal-format, rectangular sheet of paper, interspersed with text and with some texts enclosed within balloons issuing from the figures’ mouths. At upper left, a partially clad slave kneels, hands uplifted in a pleading posture, on a grassy knoll beside a small tree or shrub in which two birds perch. At lower left, a white man fires a gun at a slave beset by dogs in a swamp. At top center, white bidders eye various slaves who are shown at an auction block; in the distance at the left of this vignette, a white man appears to be whipping a slave at the foot of a liberty pole. At bottom center, three slave women hoe a crop while a male overseer brandishes a whip over their heads. At upper right, a group of slaves marches in front of a white horseman cracking a whip over their heads. At lower right, a slave woman hoes, a chain attached to a collar around her neck; beside her stands a small child, while a bird perches in a shrub or small tree to the left, and two in another to the right. The simplification and rapid execution of this particular series gives it the quality of pictorial shorthand.