Torture and punishment were the norm for many slaves during the time of slavery, between the 15th century and the mid-17th century. Iron collars on their necks was just one of the myriad forms of punishment slaves often faced. These iron neck collars were used to discipline and/or identify slaves who masters considered risks of becoming runaways (Slavery and Abolition). For instance, the iron collars made it impossible for slaves to lie down or lean against a surface or even run away since the prongs could get stuck on bushes and trees. Other slave owners also used them to brand their slaves, such as the one photographed in my artifact (Punishment Collar).
In the photograph, the man wearing the iron neck collar is Wilson Chinn, a (approximately) sixty-year old slave from New Orleans. In the photo, Wilson is wearing an iron collar because his master, Volsey B. Marmillion, had a tendency of branding his slaves. If you look closely at the picture, you can faintly see that Wilson has the letters “V.B.M.” on his forehead. The picture was taken in New York in 1863 by photographer, Charles Paxson and is currently featured on the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, courtesy of William L. Schaeffer (Wilson, Branded Slave from New Orleans).
Charles Paxson was a photographer from New York who participated in an abolitionist campaign. Aside from Wilson, he also photographed Charles, Rebecca, and Rosa – former slave children who looked white. His photographs were used in cartes de visites, which were calling cards with portraits on them that were popular during the 1860s. The cards were sold by various organizations, such as the American Missionary Association and the National Freedman’s Relief Association, to raise funds for schools for emancipated slaves in New Orleans. Paxson’s photos are unique because he mainly photographed white passing children. This is because Paxson, other photographers involved with the campaign, and leaders of the organizations leading the campaign thought people would have more sympathy for them as opposed to darker-skinned children, when looking at the calling cards (Brown).
I chose this photograph as my cultural artifact because when I first saw it, it made me feel uncomfortable and uneasy, but it was a reality. I first came across the photo on twitter as a post made from the famous activist and writer, Shaun King. After researching the photo on Google, I was able to find the museum that currently houses the photograph. This photograph is significant to me because it teaches me about the horrors of slavery that I was not taught in school. In addition, it sheds light on resistance displayed by slaves, since iron collars were commonly used as a form of punishment, especially for slaves who attempted to run away or resisted in other ways.
This photograph is also significant for many other reasons. Wilson’s portrait was used on calling cards to raise funds for schools as stated previously. His portrait was supposed to show sympathizers the horrors slaves faced from slaver owners. Although the picture itself was not taken during the time of slavery, it symbolizes what used to be inhumane treatment of slaves. Also, the photograph is a form of freedom and resistance. The funds from the calling cards went towards the education of newly emancipated slaves. Although many laws and policies still prohibited their complete freedom, getting an education was their way of fighting the system and resisting against oppressive laws (Brown). This is significant to the time period in which the photograph was taken because the efforts of the photographer, the associations, and Wilson (as well as the other children Paxson photographed) came at a time when there were still slaves trying to be freed. Recently emanicpated slaves during this time had little to no rights, yet they were trying to raise funds to educate themselves (Brown).
Lastly, this picture is unique because while it displays the horrors of slavery, the form in which it is used is powerful.
Slavery and Abolition. Smithsonian Institution. 15 Nov. 2015.< http://www.civilwar.si.edu/slavery_collar.html#>
Punishment Collar. Understanding Slavery Initiative. 14 Nov. 2015.http://www.understandingslavery.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=533:punishment-collar&Itemid=255
Wilson, Branded Slave from New Orleans. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, New York. 14 Nov. 2015. http://metmuseum.org/exhibitions/view?exhibitionId=%7B9400f95d-89a4-4920-a05e-46ee3cedc9c0%7D&oid=302361
Brown, Tanya. A Black And White 1860s Fundraiser. NPR. 10 Dec. 2012. http://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2012/12/10/166093470/a-black-and-white-1860s-fundraiser