Three Centuries Of Slavery

We all know that slavery once existed in the United States. This gallery introduces us to realities of the so-called “peculiar institution” that we may not know. Learning about these realities can help us understand how our nation’s slaveholding past continues to shape our economic, social and political systems today.

This gallery contains some tough descriptions of man’s inhumanity to man. It also tells uplifting stories of resistance by slaves and their allies – white and black – and their redemption.

Three centuries is a very long time. Our nation itself is younger than that. Ten to twelve generations of African Americans lived out their entire lives as slaves. At the same time, generations European Americans lived their entire lives in a land where slaveholding was “normal,” where it was acceptable to think of and treat dark-skinned people as less than human.

As you explore this gallery, think about how inheriting this system as a citizen of the United States – black or white – may have influenced your ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.

The gallery is currently under construction. Please check back periodically to see exhibits as we add them. For upcoming exhibits please view the ‘Exhibits to Come’ exhibit below.



"Contrabands": During the Civil War, thousands of slaves escaped their owners in the South by getting to Union Army camps. Thus freed, many continued on to settle in the North.

The Freedmen of Wisconsin

Some stories of the thousands of slaves who freed their families by escaping to Union lines. Why and how they came to settle and thrive in rural Wisconsin.

The Scourged Back: This slave named Gordon ran for 80 miles to join the Union Forces in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in March 1863. This famous photo of the welts on his badly "scourged back" was taken while he was being fitted for a uniform.

The Scourged Back: How Runaway Slave and Soldier Private Gordon Changed History

This famous photograph communicated a powerful message about the so-called “peculiar institution”—undermining the notion that slavery was benign.

FredDouglass w:firewks

Frederick Douglass: “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”

On July 5, 1852, abolitionist and ex-slave Frederick Douglass gave this famously pointed speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He told his white audience, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

slaves in cotton field

How Slavery Became the Law of the Land “For Blacks Only”

The system of basing slavery on a person’s race did not occur in the first years of European settlement in America. However, by the 1660s, slavery was instituted and reserved for Africans only. How did this happen?

Slave Auction Poster

A 1859 Slave Auction in Savannah, as Reported by the New York Tribune

In early March 1859 an enormous slave action took place at the Race Course three miles outside Savannah, Georgia. Four hundred thirty-six slaves were to be put on the auction block including men, women, children and infants. Word of the sale had spread through the South for weeks, drawing potential buyers from North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana. All of Savannah’s available hotel rooms and any other lodging spaces were quickly appropriated by the influx of visitors. In the days running up to the auction, daily excursions were made from the city to the Race Course to inspect, evaluate and determine an appropriate bid for the human merchandise on display.

Joshua Glover Plaque

Some Exhibits to Come – Three Centuries Of Slavery

See a list of of some of the exhibits planned for this gallery.