Negroes Leaving Their Home

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Negroes Leaving Their Home
April 9, 1864
Unknown Artist
Page 237
Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization. Vol. 9 No. 380
Folio A 5 .392 Vol. 8
Newberry Library

In this illustration in New York’s Harper’s Weekly magazine, an unknown artist has drawn slaves as they flee their homes by boat under the light of a full moon. As one prepares to leave, another is seen already in the distance. Can you see, far on the horizon, another larger boat? This is a federal ship that the slaves hope to reach—if they can make it, freedom is theirs. In the background you can see two slave cabins.

Harper’s Weekly employed a staff of artists to travel with the Union armies throughout the South and document scenes that would tell people in the North what was happening at the front. Though Winslow Homer and Thomas Nast were the most famous of these artists, others like Alfred Waud, Theodore Davis, and A. W. Warren created hundreds of important sketches of the war and its effects on the South.

Nearly from the beginning of the war, slaves ran away from their former homes in the South to the “freedom” of the Union lines. But after the Emancipation Proclamation, their numbers increased dramatically. Leaving the South was still very dangerous; if caught, Confederate soldiers could force them to work for the Confederate army, have them sold to another part of the South, or even kill them.


1. Describe the drawing’s action. How do you think the artist achieved this? What details does the artist provide to help us “see” the South?

2. This scene takes place at night. Why?

Further reading:

Berlin, Ira, Barbara J. Fields, Steve F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago