Confederate Gen. Thomas Fenwick Drayton knew what he was fighting
for during the Civil War. At the start of the conflict, he owned
more than 100 slaves who toiled at his plantation on Hilton Head
Island in South Carolina, and he was battling to keep them in
A wall-sized photo at the Heinz History Center shows a dozen of
Drayton's slaves posing with Union troops who freed them, not as
human beings, but as "contraband" useful to the Southern secession
effort. The image, taken by photographer Henry P. Moore, is part of
the "From Slavery to Freedom" long-term exhibit that opened Nov. 30
at the museum in Pittsburgh's Strip District. The long-term show is
part of the history center's commemoration of the 150th anniversary
of the Civil War.
"I hope people will walk away from this exhibit with a greater
understanding of the role slavery played in building America,"
curator Samuel W. Black said. "They also should understand the
trauma that slavery caused in the black experience." Mr. Black is
director of the African-American programs at the Heinz History
Items and documents on display include traditional tools and
musical instruments like those that Africans would have used on
their home continent. It concludes with images of modern-day African
immigrants who have chosen to make their lives and careers in
"From Slavery to Freedom" focuses on the African-American
experience in and around Pittsburgh, but it relates an international
Visitors enter the exhibit through a re-creation of the hold of a
slave ship. They were large cargo vessels converted to carry as many
as 1,000 human beings in a minimum of space. An estimated 12 million
men, women and children were transported, most often in chains,
across the Atlantic to the Americas in such vessels. While the
museum space is gloomy, it cannot reproduce the noise and smells
aboard those crowded ships.
One of the first items visitors see is a four-pronged neck collar
from what is now Ghana. It was used to restrain and punish people
recently captured and brought to a coastal slave-trading center.
Nearby is a pair of child-sized shackles. They contain small pieces
of metal that would rattle whenever a young wearer moved.
Owners of sugar plantations in the Caribbean were among the early
and major users of slave labor.
J.P. Tudway, the mayor of Wells, England, had his name engraved
on brass shackles used on his family's 1,000 acre plantation in
Typical of other items used to control rebellious slaves are an
18th century Portuguese pistol and an overseer's leather whip.
Abolition of slavery came early but slowly to Pennsylvania. The
state's 1780 "Act for Gradual Abolition of Slavery" did not free
anyone already in bondage, but the children of slaves born after the
law's adoption became free after 28 years of indentured service.
John McKee, for whose family McKeesport is named, bought the
indenture of a 14-year-old girl named "Kut" on Sept. 24, 1793. The
terms of the deal are described in a handwritten document originally
filed at the Allegheny County Courthouse and now on display at the
The teenager, the daughter of a slave, was to work for McKee for
the next 12 years and six months. …