You might think African Americans living in Massachusetts in 1839 would be safe from the horrors of slavery, but eight-year-old Sidney Francis of Worcester would have told you differently. The Worcester Historical Museum retells his story on the museum blog.
In brief, Sidney Francis was a child in a black family living in Worcester at the time. Two strangers conned his family into letting Sidney go to work for them. By the time his parents figured out something was amiss, the boy was on his way to the southern states.
Sidney’s kidnappers got Francis all the way to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where they sold him into slavery. A young slave at that time could have been worth more than $1,000. The slave trader who bought the boy grew suspicious and reported his suspicions to the local authorities, who then returned Francis and his kidnappers back to Massachusetts. The mastermind of the kidnapping got seven years in Charlestown Jail and Francis returned to his family with a nasty education about the ways of slave traders.
The photo accompanying this story is the auction block preserved in Fredericksburg, Virginia and said to have been used for the sale or hiring out of slaves. The slave would stand upon the block while buyers placed their bids. There remains debate about whether it was actually used for slave auctions or not, though no one disputes that they did take place in Fredericksburg.