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April 12: Jewish Slave Traders

April 12, 2013

original_1Jewish slave-trading brothers Ansley, Benjamin, George, and Solomon Davis advertised the sale of "Sixty Likely Virginia Negroes" in the Columbus Enquirer (Georgia) on this date in 1838. Their list included "house servants, field hands, blow boys [buglers], cooks, washers, ironers and three first rate seamstresses." The Davises were mentioned in Harriet Beecher Stowe's A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, where they were described as "great slave-dealers. They are Jews, who came to that place many years ago as poor peddlars . . . These men are always in the market, giving the highest price for slaves. During the summer and fall they buy them up at low prices, trim, shave and wash them, fatten them so that they may look sleek, and sell them to great profit." However, Samuel S. Friedman, in his 1999 study, Jews and the American Slave Trade, describes the Davises as "immigrants from England who operated a dry goods store in Petersburg," whose slave-trading "activities pale when compared with the great gentile slave traders of Richmond."

"[I]n 1820, 37 of the 49 Jewish families in Richmond, Norfolk, and Petersburg owned a total of 149 slaves . . . 1.6 percent of the total slave population in Virginia." —Samuel. S. Friedman