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Contrabands: 1862

Contrabands: 1862

May 14, 1862. Cumberland Landing, Virginia. "Group of contrabands [runaway slaves] at Foller's house." Photographs from the main Eastern theater of war: The Peninsular Campaign, May-August 1862. Wet-plate glass negative, half of stereograph pair. View full size. Photograph by James F. Gibson (b. 1828).


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This picture has been used in textbooks under different headings. It is finally being properly identified.

Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation freed nary a soul as it only applied to areas not under Union control. Additionally, it specifically excluded portions of occupied Southern states that the Union did control. It was purely a War measure designed to prevent England and France from recognizing the Confederacy, and spark a slave revolt elsewhere. In the former Lincoln was successful, but not in the latter.

Such Nobility

The nobility in these faces... no words to describe.

The true heroes

we always hear about how the slaves were docile, and many were loath to leave their homes and captivity. These people show the truth, they wanted freedom and knew they were threatened with death and pain to keep it. These unschooled former slaves show wisdom beyond their years. And maybe a little hope as well.

Non persona, sed res

(Latin for "not a human being but an object.")

On the subject but only for the "strong-hearted":

Oldest photo

on Shorpy so far? I asked myself a few days ago, no one protested, but no, see Washington Monument: 1860

[Um, what about 1840s! Hugh Brady: 1840s, but that one was posted in 2008 - Alex, Corr. March, 27 2020]

Those casual men

custer had a name...
does anyone know this man's name?

i would not have survived, unless by magic.


What saddens me most about this photo is that even 100 years after it was taken, the children and grandchildren of these fine people would still not have full, equal rights in the United States.

A very fitting photo for the eve of April 4th.

History with Faces

It's amazing to think that slavery had been in the Colonies/United States for over 200 years by the time this photo had been taken. Slavery was just a long-accepted part of life and even cited in the Constitution.

That's just the way it was.


I can certainly see three generations as well; I can see the changes in some of their features going down the generational line--even if they are not all blood-related. What a sad time in our history; I often have said that I don't think I would have survived slavery, but given our pride, strength, determination and wherewithal, I do believe now that I would have survived. I'd like to know who this family is, where the descendants are, etc. Thank you so much for printing this beautiful but poignantly sad piece of our American history.


The term "contraband" when associated with escaped slaves put them in a sort of no man's land as far as status, not truly slave but as of the time of the photo - eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation - not truly free either. Indeed the first commander to encounter slaves escaping to his lines - Benjamin Butler at Fort Monroe - "kept them as slaves" according to Wikipedia. His justification in not returning them was that they were contraband of war - property that might be used to materially aid the Confederacy in its war effort, with the emphasis on the property aspect.

Make that all three generations...

Since Lincoln didn't issue the Emancipation Proclimation until September 1862.


The faces suggest there are three generations here. It's likely that at least two generations, and perhaps three, were born into bondage. Very sobering image that exemplifies the words of the old spiritual: "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen."


Not too many unfurrowed brows in that group. What a scary time. I wonder how their lives turned out?


This is one of the most fascinating pictures yet - and that's saying something.

It's hard to believe that we Americans ever believed that we could own people. When you can see the faces of the people we enslaved, you have to wonder how anyone thought it was acceptable. Just normal, real people like anyone else, but denied all rights.

Amazing. Thanks for putting a face on history, yet again.

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