On this dayJul 29, 1880

Black Woman Seeks Daughters Sold from Her During Enslavement

On July 29, 1880, the Philadelphia-based newspaper, The Christian Recorder, published a plea from a black woman named Nancy Williams. Nearly fifteen years after the abolition of chattel slavery in the United States, Ms. Williams ran the ad seeking information about her daughters Millie and Mary, from whom she was sold away in 1860 while enslaved in Missouri.

Approximately half of enslaved people were separated from a spouse or parent during the Domestic Slave Trade. Sales focused on the profitability of enslaved people, instead of their humanity and roles as family members. The particularly cruel practice of separating children from parents prioritized the desire for money and power that fueled the slave trade in the United States. Teenagers and young people were valued for their strength, vigor, and the amount of work that they could perform. Their identities and responsibilities as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, or mothers and fathers were considered irrelevant in the capitalistic calculations of slave traders.

Ms. Williams’s ad was titled “Information Wanted of My Children.” In 1860 in Missouri, the ad explained, a man named Jacob Certain sold her to a man named Buren Wardell, who lived in Memphis, Tennessee. Ms. Williams’s ad also shares the ages of her daughters when she was parted from them: Millie, the oldest, was nine years old, while Mary was six years old. “It will be twenty years in October since I saw them,” Ms. Williams wrote, “and I would be more than glad to hear from them.”

The threat of being ripped apart from loved ones was an ever-present fear for enslaved families. After emancipation, “information wanted ads” like the one placed by Nancy Williams were placed in publications throughout the country as separated families attempted to reconnect with their loved ones after being torn apart by slavery, over many miles and many years. Parents like Ms. Williams were traumatized, pulled away from their children, taken from families creating immeasurable grief and despair. Though many retained hope and worked hard to reunite with their relatives, very few succeeded in locating their loved ones.

The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration explores the devastating history and continuing impact of the domestic slave trade in Alabama and throughout the country, including the inhumane separation of loved ones like Nancy Williams and her daughters (you can also learn more in EJI’s report, Slavery in America: The Montgomery Slave Trade). See more of the ads, like the one placed by Nancy Williams, after emancipation here


Nancy ad

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