Margaret Seidler attended my presentation, Research Though Time Periods to Find Your African American Ancestors, that I gave at the Family History From a Distance Workshop held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Charleston, SC Family History Center. She graciously shared her research with me after the event. I hope that African Americans in search of ancestors from Charleston, SC are able to piece this portion of their ancestry.
The PDF of an Excel Spreadsheet with the 1100 newspaper ads I documented in my family’s domestic slave trading business as well as examples of other prevalent traders from 1800-1861. This documents the Payne family’s sales of at least 9217 domestic enslaved people.
A narrative about three generations of my family in the slave trading business as I pursue a marker at the site.
A You Tube link from the presentation I gave last Monday to the Charleston Tour Guide Association. They had no idea that enslaved people were sold in the businesses on Broad Street (see video below).
If you are able to identify your family, please contact Margaret Seidler for further information:
45 Coburg Road, Apt. 335
Charleston, SC 29407
CTA Education - Domestic Slave Trading in Charleston 1800-1832
This is a YouTube Video of a presentation given by Margaret Seidler on Monday, October 12, 2020 to the Charleston Tour Guide Association:
This is Margaret Seidler's narrative about three generations of her family in the slave trading business:
Domestic Slave Traders: The Family Business
William Payne, Vendue Master, Broker, Auctioneer
32 Broad Street (formerly known as 28 Broad)
The telling of a more complete history of Charleston is emerging in recent years, driven in large part by the approaching opening of the International African American Museum. As a native Charlestonian, it has been an eye-opening experience to gain a sense of what life was like here when my ancestors resided and made their living. William Payne, the son of servants to the Irish family of Butlers, arrived in Charleston during the mid-1780s with his friend, Edward Butler.
Edward Butler was the son of the 6th Baronet of Cloughrenan, County Carlow, Ireland. Major Pierce Butler, his uncle, a strong advocate for slavery, was one of four South Carolina delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention. He later served in Congress and as a US Senator. When Edward Butler and William Payne came to Carolina seeking their fortunes, both were quickly accepted into local society because Major Butler had married aristocrat, Mary Middleton.
William Payne was soon appointed a clerk to Major Butler, but by 1790, both young men had gotten in trouble with the Major. In letters sent to his sister in Ireland, the Major described his anger about the two young men, “The allurements and dissipation in Charleston proved too much for them, both wanted to be rich at once.” Butler further called his nephew “unworthy and ungrateful” while branding Payne an Irishman “well-versed in hypocrisy and falsehood; even though he married the daughter of a Respectable Good Man, he was ever a ‘scoundrel.’”1
That “respectable good man,” John Torrans, was a prominent merchant from New York City who came to Charleston in 1758 to expand the Irish merchant trade here. He established the offices of Torrans, Greg and Poaug on Bay Street, a ship owner-agent, firm. In 1761, they influenced the legislature to create a bounty program which helped to populate the SC backcountry frontier, thus protecting Charleston’s trade from the Indian tribes. In just a few years, the firm reaped the financial benefits of bringing hundreds and hundreds of Ulster Irish Protestants to Charleston.
That all came quickly to an end when they served as agents for the ship Nancy of Belfast. The advertised capacity of the ship was exaggerated, three and one-half times greater than its 80-passenger capacity. As a result, when the ship arrived in Charleston in June 1767, many aboard were sick or dying. Here the SC Gazette reported that the firm "not only nipped them of the provisions allowed them but heaped them one upon the other, to such a degree in their berths that it must be absolutely impossible they could survive.”2 In response, the Legislature failed to renew its bounty program. With a sizeable loss of income, Torrans then turned to using his ships and shipping contacts to transport hundreds of Africans to the city.
Torrans, a Loyalist, died in 1780 and had his holdings dissolved as directed by his will in anticipation of confiscation by the Patriots. After Torrans’ death, William Payne married his daughter, Maria Margaret Torrens.
Payne’s first documented foray into business was at “129” Broad Street in a November 30, 1786, newspaper ad. He offered items for sale from a brigantine, the Sea Nymph. Soon, he moved to various addresses on Elliott Street and for five years continued a “Cash Store” retail business.
In 1790, Payne purchased what is now 32 Broad, plus adjacent 34 Broad. Only once that year did he broker the sale of a planation, Paradise, 765 acres on the Wando River. Payne’s first recorded advertisement where enslaved people were sold occurred on March 21, 1796. This sale was on behalf of the estate of John Witherspoon which included the estate’s “three Negroes.”
Payne’s efforts to run a Cash Store retail business with partner, William Collier, ended in bankruptcy in 1803. Seemingly desperate, Payne sells 34 Broad. We see Payne’s ads placed daily for several months, seeking any and all items for sale, these led to an auctioneering and brokering business. From that start, Payne had a successful decades-long career and family business in residential real estate, plantations and local enslaved people. The property and goods in his newspaper ads were from estates, debts, such as mortgages, as well as for tax delinquencies as he served as an agent for the city Sheriff. Payne made a career in this business for the next 31 years until near his death in July 1834.
In 1806, Payne began serving as Secretary-Treasurer of the Santee Canal Company. This position seems to have played a major role in his gaining connections across the lowcountry to further his brokerage business. Later, In 1810, Payne and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney founded the Charleston Bible Society, Payne serving as its first Treasurer, Pinckney as it first President. This Society’s advertised purpose was to distribute bibles without cost. It is difficult to reconcile these men of Christian faith who monetized the selling of thousands and thousands of enslaved people.
Payne along with his son, John William Payne, who joined the business in 1812, built a thriving business together and became the “auction house of choice” for many wealthy plantation owners such as John Ball, who died in 1817. “He (Ball) possessed seven plantations and 695 people…the Auction House of William Payne & Son handled the business, and the sale began Monday morning, February 8, 1819. For two days the auditorium thronged with merchandise and buyers, as one family after another stepped onto the block – 367 people all told.” (excerpted from Slaves in the Family, Edward Ball, 1998.) 3
William Payne & Sons’ payment is documented, "Sales on a/c of the Estate of John Ball Esqr. ... 8th & 9th February 1819" reveals the commission paid to Payne & Sons, equal to 1% of the sales, was $3,083.18, roughly the equivalent of $64,346.43 in 2020. 4
Payne & Son’s business also included public auctions at their Vendue Office, private sales in their offices or sales at the client’s site. Research of local historical newspapers reveal the number and, in many cases, the names of the enslaved people, their work skills and family status. In some cases, there are three generations of families being sold together. Also, the human references to familial relationships were recognized as generations were sold at the same time. The assumption here is that families were more valuable as they were less likely to run away.
William Payne’s son, Josiah, joined his father in the slave auctioneering business, selling hundreds more of enslaved Africans as the 1850s saw the demand intensify with the growth of the abolitionist movement. Payne and his sons, John William and Josiah, continued the business of offering private viewings and public auctions at their nearby Vendue Office.
Josiah Smith Payne, not only worked as a broker, he also developed Cool Blow Village, now lost to time. The residential area survey work for Cool Blow was done by his prominent brother, Robert Keith Payne, a surveyor in the city of Charleston who also had an office for a period of time at 32 Broad. Robert Payne’s surveyor’s protractor can be found today on exhibit in the Charleston Fireproof Building Museum, home of the SC Historical Society.
Below are samples of the ads documented in the research by Margaret Seidler, descendant of William Payne.
Three Generations advertised on June 19, 1810.
Skills sets are described to entice the purchaser. Also, Postscript (P.S.) speaks to the Negroes low level of consideration.
In one instance, there is 15 years old “fellow” for sale who can speak French and English. In addition to death of the owner, a range of reasons are provided for these folks being sold such as “to satisfy a mortgage, a suit against the property owner, owner is leaving the plantation business, leaving the country, living abroad in Europe, or for reasons only to be disclosed at the table. Also, several ads state that the enslaved person declined to move to the country.” Upon John’s death in 1826, the business falters despite his brother, Josiah’s attempts to regain volume.
Ad announcing that people could viewed in the office. Africans and Negroes were differentiated in this period. 99% of Payne’s enslaved ads involved sale of local Negroes.
Negroes as currency.
Conducted sales on behalf of the city Sheriff, July 12, 1810.
Payne’s Vendue Office was located on East Bay Street near the Exchange Building. The personal descriptions of the Negroes’ familial relationships are prominent in most ads. April 30, 1816.
In his long career, Payne and his family alone profited from the sale of at least 9123 enslaved persons. Payne’s brokerage business also included the sales of numerous plantations and several cases, entire islands such as Folly Island in February 1823.
April 24, 1828 in the Charleston Courier, in-office viewings.
FEB 22 , 1832 Ad, Seen at office, sale was not immediate.
Given this new research, a marker can support further illumination of Charleston’s history through the identification of 32 Broad as the most prolific auction house location of its time. No other broker can be found who was in business any length of time or came near the volume sold by the Payne family. The need for residents and visitors alike to understand the exact nature of the bustling business on Broad Street can help in the specific acknowledgement of this business.
Placing a marker at 32 Broad Street provides people tangible evidence recognizing that sales and viewings took place here before all public sales were banned on the streets of Charleston at the end of 1856. These sales were held at this historic site, making the story more evident and palpable. Telling this part of Charleston’s story for the first time shines a light on the heretofore hidden histories of Charleston’s undeniable role in the business of slavery. This specific marker can deepen our opportunity to understand the depth of the “business” which took place on historic Broad Street.
1 – Major Butler’s Legacy, Five Generations of a Slaveholding Family by Malcolm, Bell, Jr. - University of Georgia Press, 1987.
2- They Came Through Charleston By Richard K. MacMaster, www.electricscotland.com/familytree/magazine/augsep2002/ulster_roots.htm
3- Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball - Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
4-Ball Family Records - Toni Carrier, International African American Museum
Research Summary by Margaret Seidler, 4th great-granddaughter of William Payne, updated February 19, 2020.
Source: Charleston County Public Library Online Records
NOTE: After William Payne’s death, his son Josiah Smith Payne continued the family business at a State Street address. The auction houses of Thomas M. Hume, followed by Isaac S.K. Bennett & Roland Rhett rented the site from the Payne family and continued the business of selling enslaved people as volumes skyrocket in the 1850s while pressures against enslavement increase.
Documented Payne Family Sales of at Least 9217 Domestic Enslaved People
We are very grateful for the research of Margaret Seidler and her desire to let those of African American descent know. You can search the .pdf file that she has compiled listing at least 9217 documented people from 1800-1861. They were sold in estate sales, mortgage debts, and in tax liens as agent for the City of Charleston Sheriff.
Auction of Research Sales
Auction Research of Sales APR 2020
Download PDF • 1.74MB