The Civil War in Missouri

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The Last Sale of Slaves

Oil on canvas, painting by Thomas S. Noble, ca. 1880, after an original from 1865-1866
MHM Collections

The last public sale of slaves in St. Louis reflected the changing attitudes of the city toward slavery and hinted at the institution's eventual demise. On January 1, 1861, the city sheriff offered seven slaves as part of a customary sale to settle an estate. A large crowd, numbering as many as 2,000 and probably including many anti-slavery Wide Awakes, gathered for the auction on the courthouse steps and held the bidding at $3. Over the course of two hours, bidding rose slowly, dollar by dollar. When the price failed to reach higher than $8 the exasperated auctioneer quit and led the slaves back to the jail where they had been held. No further public sales were held in the city, and Missouri slave owners resorted to selling slaves in Kentucky.