For New Orleans, the Superior Passenger Steamer Ben Franklin

A second Middle Passage for American slaves

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This broadside advertises a steamship, the Ben Franklin, bound for New Orleans. Slaves were trafficked on ships such as this to relieve labor shortages on plantations in the Deep South. The advertisement was produced between 1854 and 1858, starting as a wood engraving enhanced with letterpress and printed by the Louisville Courier Steam Job Press.

In the six decades prior to the Civil War, roughly one million people were forcibly removed from their homes and families and sent to labor in the cotton and sugar fields of the Deep South. They came by steamboat and sail, stagecoach and railcar, but mostly they came on foot. For those bound for the New Orleans market, the overland journey often spanned many weeks and hundreds of miles. Chained together day and night, enslaved men led the coffle. Women and children followed, with the entire group of what might be hundreds of enslaved people overseen by slave drivers on horseback.

For the more than seventy thousand people who traveled to New Orleans from Alexandria, Baltimore, Petersburg, Mobile, Richmond, Norfolk, Galveston, and other ports, the voyage has been likened to a second Middle Passage. Slave traders with operations based in coastal communities (such as Hope Hull Slatter, who was based in Baltimore) sometimes allotted less space per person below deck than captains of vessels that had made the transatlantic crossing from Africa in centuries past.

Because of New Orleans’s accessibility from the river or the gulf, New Orleans–bound slaves often spent at least some of their journey on the water. Traders were businessmen, whose bottom lines depended on their ability to deliver their human product in salable condition and a timely manner. As transportation systems expanded to include steam-powered vessels and railway lines, slave traders became early adopters, eschewing flatboats for steamboats and making use of special railcars reserved for slave transport whenever possible.

This object was one of more than 75 original artifacts on display in the special exhibition, Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

For New Orleans, the Superior Passenger Steamer Ben Franklin Artifact from New Orleans
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