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Slaves Waiting for Sale

Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade

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.

280 pages | 12 color plates, 125 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2011

Art: American Art

Black Studies

History: American History


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 | 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

“This is an attractive book about an unattractive subject. Author Maurie D. McInnis . . . has produced a splendid art book that looks at the ugly face of slavery in the antebellum south.”

Washington Independent Review of Books

“A wealth of information for visual studies and social science scholars looking for a comprehensive overview of the visual language of slavery and abolition.”

Visual Studies

“McInnis takes the reader deep into the grim but lucrative workings of antebellum slave commerce through careful study of visual and material culture contextualized by meticulously gathered period descriptions, public records, statistics, photographs, and maps. . . . [Her] exemplary book makes a significant contribution to new scholarship and initiatives that document and share this unvarnished history.”

Virginia Magazine

“Maurie McInnis has produced a most significant and sustained piece of work that takes up several neglected aspects of the visual archive generated around the North American slave–sale systems in the mid-nineteenth century. In its methodological and formal diversity, the work is nothing short of a triumph. . . . “McInnis’s close reading of Eyre Crowe’s remarkable masterpiece is a triumphant proof of the imaginative realignments that this book insists upon. This author’s insights will be working their way through slavery studies for many years to come. I think Maurie McInnis for producing this morally centered and precisely written contribution to the semiotic study of slave sales.”

Marcus Wood | Slavery & Abolition

“As we follow Crowe to the slave auctions he sketched, McInnis vividly reconstructs the geographies and everyday life of the cities that supported the slave trade and that Crowe tried to navigate for his eyewitness accounts. She also . . . thoughtfully compares the slave trade in Charleston and New Orleans, where auctions were staged theatrically in hotels and on city streets, with its less conspicuous, though no less integral, presence in Richmond.”

Journal of American History

“Chronicling the thematic, topical and aesthetic developments in depictions of transatlantic and domestic slave trading, selling and auctioning, Slaves Waiting for Sale provides a nuanced examination of the nexus of visual culture and politics on the eve of the Civil War. . . . Its showcase of new and diverse primary source material, fashioned into a compelling case for the centralization of art in the study of the American slave trade, asserts Maurie D. McInnis’s [book] as a critical and necessary contribution to current scholarship on American slavery.”

Journal of American Studies

Slaves Waiting for Sale is a welcomed addition to the visual portrait of slavery seen through the vision of nineteenth-century artists and a study that scholars of the domestic slave trade will want to read.”

American Studies

Table of Contents

Introduction: Waiting

With Thackeray in America
Representing the Slave Trade
Mapping Richmond’s Slave Trade in 1853
The Red Flag
Dressed for Sale
Going South
Exhibiting the Slave Trade in England

Remembering the Slave Trade



National Museum of American Art: Charles C. Eldredge Prize

Library of Virginia: Library of Virginia Literary Awards

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