Brooklyn in the Civil War
Soldiers Women Slavery Daily Life
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Introduction | Documents
portrait of Frederick Douglass
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Slavery existed in the United States since colonial days. By the middle of the 19th century, it had been outlawed in the North, but continued to exist in the South, where it formed a central part of the agricultural plantation economy. Africans were captured and brought to America to work in the fields, held in bondage by laws and violence. Many slaves resisted and although it was difficult, escaped to freedom. The Underground Railroad helped thousands of slaves escape, and slave rebellions threatened what was called the “peculiar institution.” The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 sought to uphold slavery by pledging federal government assistance to owners seeking runaway slaves. Meanwhile, the abolitionist movement grew in the years before the Civil War, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin portrayed the horrors of slavery and converted millions of people to the anti-slavery cause.

The election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860 increased the tension. Although Lincoln did not promise to abolish slavery, but rather to keep slavery from expanding to the Western territories and new states, the Southern states feared for their independence and way of life. The Confederate States of America formed when South Carolina seceded in 1860, and the following year Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina joined the Confederacy. The war started after the Confederates fired on federal troops at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina in April 1861, and Lincoln called for a volunteer army to defend the Union.

The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 freed the slaves in the states in rebellion against the US, but not in areas under Union control (the border states of Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri, and parts of Tennessee, Louisiana, and Virginia). African-Americans left the plantations and headed north, and some joined the Union army to fight against the South. Although slavery had been abolished, racial prejudice continued to exist in the North and South, and separate “colored” units were formed. After the war, the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended slavery in America. Former slaves worked to improve the lives of African-Americans and struggled against continuing discrimination, relying on the strength of their families, religious institutions, traditions, and communities. Not until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s did African-Americans achieve a significant degree of social equality.

This section includes handwritten documents about the sale of slaves, an advertisement for reward money for fugitive slaves, abolitionist newspapers, drawings of slave girls freed at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, and President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation issued January 1, 1863. Photographs include slave life in the South, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass (two African-Americans who were influential during and after the Civil War), and African-American soldiers. Also included are photographs of artwork commemorating Harriet Tubman’s bravery in leading 300 slaves to freedom.


Select images from the list below and click on the link to read more. Each image can be enlarged to view more details. To browse through the images, start at the first image and follow the “slavery” link for more on this theme.

Title Categories Date
thumbnail of Slave prices

Slave prices

Document 3



thumbnail of interior of slave kitchen document

Interior of slave kitchen

Document 4


ca. 1850s

thumbnail of Beecher and slave girl document

"Mr. Beecher selling a beautiful slave girl in his pulpit."

Document 7


ca. 1856

thumbnail of Edmonson document

One of the Edmondson sisters

Document 8

Slavery Women

ca. 1856

thumbnail of $100 Reward! Ranaway document

"$100 Reward! Ranaway"

Document 11



thumbnail of Plymouth Church

Plymouth Church, Brooklyn

Document 12


ca. 1860

thumbnail of Pinky looking at her Freedom Ring

"Pinky" looking at her Freedom Ring

Document 13

Slavery Women

February 5, 1860

thumbnail of Purchase of a Slave in Plymouth Church article

"Purchase of a Slave in Plymouth Church"

Document 14


February 6, 1860

thumbnail of Bill of sale

"Bill of sale" for Sally Maria Diggs, aka "Pink"

Document 15

Slavery Women

February 8, 1860

thumbnail of Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Document 16

Slavery Women

between 1860-1875

thumbnail of Frederick Douglass' Paper

Frederick Douglass' Paper

Document 17


May 4, 1860

thumbnail of The Liberator

The Liberator

Document 18


January 18, 1861

thumbnail of slaves in the South

Slaves in the South

Document 45



thumbnail of Emancipation Proclamation article

Emancipation Proclamation

Document 46


January 2, 1863

thumbnail of photo of Co. E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry

Co. E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry

Document 47

Slavery Soldiers

ca. 1863

thumbnail of photo of Unknown Drummer Boy

Unknown Drummer Boy

Document 60

Slavery Soldiers

ca. 1864

thumbnail of Colored People in Railroad Cars article

"Colored People in Railroad Cars."

Document 73


June 30, 1864

thumbnail of The Irrepressible Conflict Renewed article

"The Irrepressible Conflict Renewed."

Document 84

Slavery Women

September 25, 1865

thumbnail of Harriet Tubman at AME Church article

Harriet Tubman at AME Church

Document 85

Slavery Women

October 23, 1865

thumbnail of Portrait of Frederick Douglass

Portrait of Frederick Douglass

Document 98



thumbnail of Portrait of Harriet Beecher Stowe

Portrait of Harriet Beecher Stowe

Document 99

Slavery Women


thumbnail of Slavery Here article

"Slavery Here. Right in Brooklyn and Out on Long Island."

Document 100


December 29, 1891

thumbnail of Henry Ward Beecher Statue at Plymouth Church

Henry Ward Beecher Statue at Plymouth Church

Document 105

Slavery Women


thumbnail of Harriet Tubman dress

Harriet Tubman dress

Document 106

Slavery Women


thumbnail of Runaway Slave

Runaway Slave

Document 107

Slavery Women


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