The Old Slave Mart Museum traces the history of the site, Charleston’s role in the slave trade, and the lives of the people who were bought and sold there.
In 1808, a little known provision in the Constitution went into effect that called for an end to the United States’ participation in the international slave trade. At the same time, the boom of the cotton industry in the Deep South further increased the demand for slaves. To satisfy this demand, a system of interstate slave trading developed, with Charleston acting as a sort of hub for the collection and reselling of enslaved people.
The building that houses the Old Slave Mart Museum was once an “auction gallery” where human beings were displayed and auctioned off to the highest bidder. The museum building is the only remaining structure from a complex known as Ryan’s Mart that also included a kitchen, slave jail and morgue.
The museum displays give the visitor an overview of the history and economics of American slavery and then focus on the mechanics of the slave trade and Charleston’s role in the industry. As the exhibits take you through the daily operations of this brutal business, firsthand accounts and personal letters give voice to the people on both sides of the auction block.
But the main artifact at the Old Slave Mart Museum is the building it is housed in. As you take in the exhibits at the Old Slave Mart Museum, the knowledge that you are standing on the site where hundreds of souls were sold is haunting and makes you hear the story of our country’s slave trade in a new and visceral way.
The Old Slave Mart Museum is located at 6 Chalmers St. in Charleston. It is open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is $7.