A Slave Family


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, April 13, 1861

The April 13, 1861 edition of Harper's Weekly features news of the Civil War with important content on slavery and Abraham Lincoln. Newspaper thumbnails will take you to a large, readable version of that page.


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A Slave Murder

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A Slave Family





A Slave Family

Slave Family Traditions:

This leaf is an 1861 illustration by Thomas Nast, one of the most noted artists of the 1800's. Nast is credited with creating the popular image of Santa Clause, he created the original democratic donkey image, and the original republican elephant image. While famous for those images that have become part of our popular culture, none of his work could be as touching, captivating or collectible as this particular piece. Remember, the piece was created at a time when slavery was still practiced, and considered acceptable by many in this country. In this particular illustration, Nast introduces what would have been a revolutionary concept . . . that people are all basically the same, as reflected by their family customs and traditions. He drives home this point by showing traditional family activities of White's on the top, and corresponding activities of Black or Slave families on the bottom. For example, the upper left inset image shows a white family celebrating an "apple cutting", which was a tradition of whites at the time to come together to store the apple harvest for the winter. Under it is an image of a slave family celebrating a "Corn Husking". An old black man is shown playing the fiddle as his friends and family shuck corn. "Corn Huskings" were times when slaves from surrounding plantations would come together to celebrate bringing in the corn crop. It was a time of celebration, festivity, renewing old acquaintances, and making new ones. (please email me if you would like resources or references on this Slave tradition. I would be happy to provide at no cost to anyone interested)

Similarly, the illustration shows a comparison between the White tradition of having "dances", and the Slave tradition of having "Breakdowns".

In this historically important leaf, Nast was making what would have been an explosive point for his time . . . that we are all basically the same. It was a revolutionary and controversial point at the time, but a belief whose time had come, and one that helped serve as the beginning of the end of slavery in this country.



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