“Fredericksburg’s Principal Auction Site in Pre-Civil War Days for Slaves and Property.
The Fredericksburg Auction block is a monument that has received much controversy over the course of its history. Though believed that it has been used by countless people to aid in climbing on to horses or into carriages, or as an auction block for inanimate goods, such as tools or furniture, but it is most remembered for its aid in the selling of slaves.
That being said, there are many locals in Fredericksburg who claim that this monument was not the original auction block for slaves. In 1924 the local Chamber of Commerce petitioned City Council to remove the block itself, however, the Daily Star wrote on July 9th of that same year that “the communication stated that the rock was not a slave black but was used years ago as a base for ladies to mount horses.” The Chamber of Commerce later argued that the association of the stone with slave history “may serve somewhat to keep alive the sectional feeling which has long ago since disappeared.”(1)
Local historian and Confederate veteran John Goolrick – of Goolrick’s pharmacy located on Caroline Street – threw his support behind the removal of the auction block. He reportedly said “It [the auction block] was never used and never intended to be used as a slave block…” but still thought that “…it should be broken up and carried away,” because Fredericksburg was now a “veritable show plae for its cleanliness, for its good streets and pavements.” The auction black, in the eyes of John Goolrick left a “false impression which this block has made to the strangers who come within our gates.”(2)
All of this 20th century arguing can easily be put to rest by a notice published on January 6, 1854, in the Fredericksburg News recalling:
Large Sale of Slaves. Fredericksburg seems to be the best place to sell slaves in the State. On Tuesday, at Charter’s Hotel, forty-three slaves were sold for $26,000. One bricklayer brought $1,495. One woman and child, 5 or 6 years old, brought $1,350. Several were quite old servants. It was a considered a tremendous sale.(3)
It is unknown currently where the Charter’s Hotel was in Fredericksburg, however, in 1855 the Planter’s Hotel was built on the corner of William Street and Charles Street. The auctioneer who lived across the street from the Planter’s Hotel, Mr. N.B. Kinsey, was outraged by the claim that the auction block was not used for slaves, and marched into the Daily Star and explained:
A recent article published to the effect that the stone block on Commerce Street [now William Street] was not used for sale of slaves was incorrect, … These gentlemen [Masters M.G. Willis, W.E. Bradley, Jas. Alsop, etc.] had often seen slaves sold from this block which is still standing. … The same block was used by ladies to mount horses, but was also used as an elevation for sale of slaves in front of the old Planters Hotel.(4)
Kinsey’s remark and evidence is what left the auction block in situ until the present day. The strongest evidence today that slaves were sold on this stone is an advertisement for the sale of slaves at the Planter’s Hotel. The key words, emphasized by being in all capitals, is “PUBLIC AUCTION.” As of 2017, historians can now accurately place nine sales of human beings on this corner.(5)
In 1862 it is reportedly said that the last slave – a man by the name of George Washington Triplett – was sold on this block. On the back of this image is a note from a Mr. James T. Knox that reads:
The Old Slave, George Washington Triplett, … was the last colored man sold on the slave rock (1862). It is a well established fact and has never been controverted or denied, and that I was an eye witness to the taking of the picture.(6)
The son of the Confederate veteran John Goolrick – John Goolrick, Jr. – remarked about Triplett’s connection to the block saying “Triplett, a Fredericksburg negro now  dead, stated always that he was sold upon the block.” (7)
Another known sale on this block is the sale of Albert Crutchfield who is pictured on the front of a 1920s postcard, showing him standing next to the block. The back of the card has an inscription that says “In the days before the Civil War it was used for the sale and annual hire of slaves. Albert Crutchfield, shown in the picture, was sold from the black about 1859, at which time he was a boy about fifteen years old.”(8)
The Auction block carries bruises and scars from lorry accidents and intentional damage. Today, Scott Walker, the current president of the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation board of directors, uses the auction block as a teaching moment;
white Americans need a reminder of this history. We can’t ask black Americans to suffer because we don’t remember. That’s why, if African-American residents feel united that there’s no way they can see the auction block continue as a hurtful marginalization, then I can’t ask them to keep it,”
says Professor Steve Hanna of the University of Mary Washington, regarding the continuing controversial presence of the Auction Block. Mike Middleton, a co-owner of Poppy Hill Tuscan Kitchen – a restaurant that used to be nearly 50 feet from the auction block – said “I’ve never had anybody say it was a celebration of slavery. To me, it’s a marker showing man’s inhumanity to man.” (10) The discussion on whether Fredericksburg will continue to publicly display this artifact is still underway, however preservation efforts have been discussed to prevent any further damage being made to this controversial subject.
Text by Rachel Dacey
Lakelyn Wiley, “Fredericksburg Auction Block in Fredericksburg, Virginia,” 2018.
(1) John Hennessy, “Fredericksburg’s Disputed Auction Block, Part 1,” published 4 June 2010, accessed 20 March 2018. https://fredericksburghistory.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/hello-world/
(3) John Hennessy, “Fredericksburg seems to be the best place to sell slaves in the State”: More evidence on the Auction Block,” Fredericksburg Remembered – Musing on history, public history, and historic Fredericksburg, published 11 June, 2010, accessed 20 March 2018. https://fredericksburghistory.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/fredericksburg-seems-to-be-the-best-place-to-sell-slaves-in-the-state-more-evidence-on-the-auction-block/
(4) John Hennessy, “Fredericksburg’s Disputed Auction Block, Part 2,” published 5 June 2010, accessed 20 March 2018. https://fredericksburghistory.wordpress.com/2010/06/05/fredericksburgs-disputed-auction-block-part-2/
(10) Cathy Jett, “Fredericksburg Slave Auction Block has a history of controversy,” Fredericksburg.com, published 22 August, 2017, accessed March 20, 2018. http://www.fredericksburg.com/news/local/fredericksburg/fredericksburg-slave-auction-block-has-history-of-controversy/article_7e4b5aac-798a-5d5f-91c2-030d6a132ed4.html
(11) Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, “Former slave pictured in postcard was well-known and respected in Fredericksburg area,” originally published 16 June 2011 in the Free-Lance Star. Date accessed, April 26, 2018.
This 3D scan of the Fredericksburg Auction Block was not completed by this project, the user “mspen1bi” posted this scan on Sketchfab for public use. If you are unable to view the Auction Block yourself due to travel restrictions, feel free to zoom/drag/click/explore all around this object.