History Behind the Story: Not as it Seems


At first blush, this looks like a group of slaves working under the watchful eye of an overseer.

But it isn’t.

It's from St. Helena Island, South Carolina, in 1863, and the black people in this photo are all free. This image is post-Emancipation Proclamation, enforced in the Sea Islands by the might of the U. S. Army, which had captured the Sea Islands in November of 1861.

The white man in the frock coat, Mr. David Thorpe, is a Northern abolitionist who came south to teach the former slaves and later to “superintended” the production of cotton by free labor.

If you want to see a gallery of images of life on St. Helena Island in 1863, take a look at these stereopticons from photographers Hubbard and Mix at the Library of Congress.