Wilson Chinn: A Branded Slave



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.


Diana Betancourt

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

3 thoughts on “Wilson Chinn: A Branded Slave

  1. No. I can not know the writer is going to use a picture as an artifact. The title can be improved if it mentions a picture, but the title does release some information.
    Yes, the author chooses a picture as the artifact. The blog is about the history background of this picture. The slave owners tortured slaves with iron neck collars. The blog explains the reasons this picture is significant.
    When we watched 12 Years Of Slave, a lot of descriptions of torturing slaves. I want to know the background of this picture and the meaning of iron neck collars. Under what condition the slave owners would use this penalty.
    I think the author can improve the blog by connecting more information of the picture and the course material. Because I do not see many connections between the two.
    I think the author gives a really specific introduction to the artifact. However, I think he can write more, and connect more with the course material.


  2. The person’s title reflects what the title will be about, but it can be improved. I would suggest something like “Documenting Slave Branding” or something along those lines. There is a visual representation of the cultural artifact that does well at depicting the artifact in question. I would like to learn how the cultural artifact addresses specific horrors of slavery and how masters treated their slaves. Based on what I have learned in the course, the author does not connect the cultural artifact very well. It is rather vague, and so for improvement for blog two, I would suggest to expand on the ideas they touched on in their first blog.


  3. 1. Yes, the title reflects what the project will be about. I think this is a good title because it introduces what the blog will be about directly. Good job!
    2. Yes, there is an image presented on the top of the blog page. It shows the topic of the blog directly, so I think this is great choice of the cultural artifact.
    3. I would like to know why Wilson Chinn was sold branded. Was there a significant meaning of this branding system or was it just making it easy for white people to buy the slaves?
    4. I think you did ok on discussing the significance of the cultural artifact from many aspects, but I didn’t see you address much about the connection between the artifact and the course. I only see you state the significance of the cultural artifact to the time period.
    5. I suggest that you add some more about the connections between the cultural artifact and what we have learned from the class. But I really like how you make this blog so personal.


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