17th Street: Selling Goods, Real Estate, and People

17th Street: Selling Goods, Real Estate, and People

Since the development of Richmond into the city it is today, 17th Street has come to be recognized for having one of the most well-known market squares in the city.  Within the four years in which the United States fought the Civil War 17th Street thrived as Richmond’s main market area.  In those years, from April 12th, 1861 until April 9th, 1865, Richmonders looked to 17th Street as the source for any goods, livestock, real estate, and even for the trading of slaves.  During the war, though, the people of Richmond did not focus on buying the same things.  In fact from 1861 to 1865 the people of Richmond switched their needs from simple goods and necessities, to real estate, and eventually to the slave trade. After the prosperous years of 1861 to 1865, in which 17th Street profited off the selling of goods and slaves, the war finally came to an end in 1864 and 1865. It was in the last years of the war that 17th Street appeared to go into a mild state of chaos, as there were many instances of stealing, drinking, and other reports of citizens breaking the law.

When paying close attention to advertisements in the Richmond Daily Dispatch, a newspaper written at the time, in the year 1861 venders seemed to be promoting the sales of essential goods that Richmonders would need to maintain a healthy standard of living.  J. W. Frayser was one of the many apothecary or general stores that sold multiple products on 17th Street.  He announced in an advertisement printed in the Richmond Daily Dispatch that he was selling goods such as “Medicines, Fancy Articles, Soaps, Perfumery, Paints, Oils, Burning Fluid, Kerosene Oil, Alcohol, Garden and Flower Seeds, Cigars, Snuff and Tobacco, Brushes, and Combs.”[1] Such essential goods as the ones sold in J.W. Frayser’s apothecary mirrored the wants of Richmonders in 1861. There also didn’t appear to be as much military presence in 17th Street area as there were in other parts of the city.  Due to this factor 17th Street in 1861 was not forced to change its products, as there was no immediate need for goods being sold at stores, like J.W. Frayser’s, to adapt there products to the militaries needs.

The auctions held on 17th Street were a unique aspect specifically to this street that began to flourish in 1861.  In the auctions held throughout the 17th Street market possessions such as furniture, clothing, and occasionally real estate were sold off.  Civilians throughout the city heard about the auctions of new and used goods through advertisements posted in the Richmond Daily Dispatch.  The auctions were held almost daily and proved to be essential to social and economical prosperity of the street at the time, as multiple people paid daily, weekly, and even month fees to newspapers, like the Richmond Daily Dispatch, just to inform buyers of their daily auctions. These prices ranged from fifty cents for a small square for one day to up to five dollars for a small square for a month.[2] While slaves had not yet begun to be sold in the auctions on 17th Street, the auctions were already occurring daily and drawing a lot of attention to the 17th Street farmers market.

In 1862 by contrast, newspapers were covered in auctions of houses and real estate on sale.  In newspapers, like the Richmond Daily Dispatch, real estate was mentioned on several occasions and many houses were being rented or leased off to citizens in the area.[3]When before 17th Street had been the market to buy mainly simple goods and products such as food and clothing, now the market had become a place to sell one’s house and get out of town.  As Gregg Kimball mentioned in his book, American City, Southern Place, that many of “the ‘most respectable and influential citizens’ of the state might leave for ‘some more congenial latitude’- the states that had already seceded- if the convention did not act decisively to protect their property by taking Virginia out of the Union.”[4] Not only did influential citizens think of fleeing the city, but also families worried about their safety and, “thought about sending relatives out of danger.”[5] While the mass of people leaving Richmond created a strong real estate market it also left many skilled and unskilled labor positions open and built the need for workers.

In 1863 the Confederacy needed workers to fill in the empty roles of those that left Richmond.  Kimball pointed out that “the newspapers failed to mention the workers who were leaving daily, thus depriving the Southern confederacy of a critical asset: skilled labor.”[6] Kimball was right in that because of the many people leaving Richmond it had become difficult to seek skilled and even unskilled labor. In 1863, the need was no longer as much for real estate as it was for individuals that could perform cheap labor or skilled labor.  While yes many of the same products such as soaps, flour, furniture and other basic goods were still being sold by the market, the overall focus of 17th Street had changed to slave trade.  Many of the women “negroes” being sold off were being used as house servants to wash and do basic tedious farm work while men were being sold off as labor workers on farm to do heavy lifting and strenuous work.[7] In 1863 it had become apparent that the need for slave labor increased greatly as the shift of the Richmond people’s wants shifted to unskilled labor.[8]The auctions on 17th Street that had once sold clothing, food, and other necessary used and unused good, had now fully transformed into a slave trading frenzy. These slave auctions are described in multiple articles from the newspaper entitled Harper’s Weekly, as hectic gatherings in where a vendor stood on a box arguing with customers on a fair price for each slave to be sold.  If owner could not reach a price that he deemed acceptable then the slave stepped down and was not sold until another day.[9] While slave trade had been popular in years before across the south, it was in 1963 that the auctioning of slaves had reached its height in popularity on 17th Street.

In 1864 and 1865 the amount of crime greatly increased in the 17th Street neighborhood.  The Richmond Daily Dispatch displayed multiple wanted advertisements for runaway slaves often posting rewards for return of them.[10] Also, in the newspaper, there were a few people that drowned due to alcohol and multiple soldiers that were charged with assault.[11] 17th Street, which had mostly only dealt with crimes such as stealing and a few minor assaults in the past, was now dealing with a state of chaos. As the war started to come to an end in 1865 the crime on 17th Street only continued, as it seemed the frustration of the city was putting pressure on 17th Street.

While the Civil War generated many changes to our nation as a whole, the years of 1861 to 1865 proved to also affect 17th Street in the city Richmond.  The 17th Street market became an essential place for people all around the city to go for what ever there needs may have been.   This street was shaped by rises and falls of the Civil War as the Confederacy looked to the market to supply the people of Richmond with the proper needs to survive and uphold a strong stand of living.  The spaces of 17th Street were incorporated as a vital piece to the city of Richmond from 1861 to 1865, as this street brought to the city economical and social prosperity during a time of war.

Bibliography

1)             The Daily Dispatch: March 21, 1864. Richmond: by Cowardin & Hammersley. March 21, 1864

2)             W.H. Russell, “Slave Auction in the South,” Harper’s Weekly, July 13, 1861.

3)             The Daily Dispatch: April 13, 1863. Richmond: by Cowardin & Hammersley. April 13, 1863

4)             Gregg D. Kimball, American City, Southern Place: A Cultural History of Antebellum Richmond. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000) Pg. 233

5)             The Daily Dispatch: May 13, 1861. Richmond: by Cowardin & Hammersley. June 7th 1861

6)             The Daily Dispatch: May 13, 1862. Richmond: by Cowardin & Hammersley. May 13, 1862

7)             The Daily Dispatch: May 13, 1861. Richmond: by Cowardin & Hammersley. May 13, 1861


[1] The Daily Dispatch: May 13, 1861. Richmond : by Cowardin & Hammersley. May 13, 1861

[2] The Daily Dispatch: May 13, 1861. Richmond: by Cowardin & Hammersley. June 7th 1861

[3] The Daily Dispatch: May 13, 1862. Richmond: by Cowardin & Hammersley. May 13, 1862

[4] Gregg D. Kimball, American City, Southern Place: A Cultural History of Antebellum Richmond. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000) Pg. 233

[5] Gregg D. Kimball, American City, Southern Place: A Cultural History of Antebellum Richmond. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000) Pg. 233

[6] Gregg D. Kimball Pg. 233

[7] The Daily Dispatch: April 13, 1863. Richmond: by Cowardin & Hammersley. April 13, 1863

[8] The Daily Dispatch: April 13, 1863. Richmond: by Cowardin & Hammersley. April 13, 1863

[9] W.H. Russell, “Slave Auction in the South,” Harper’s Weekly, July 13, 1861.

[10] The Daily Dispatch: March 21, 1864. Richmond: by Cowardin & Hammersley. March 21, 1864

[11] The Daily Dispatch: March 21, 1864. Richmond: by Cowardin & Hammersley. March 21, 1864


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