Enslavement & Human Bondage — Charleston, SC

The Accidental Historian

Native and an eighth generation Charlestonian, Margaret Seidler’s genealogical research led to the discovery of her ancestor’s bustling slave brokerage business on Broad Street, further cementing Charleston’s deep reliance on the institution of slavery in its early history. In an unexpected twist of fate, Seidler was researching her lineage to find medical genetic markers, instead discovering both ancestral slave traders and the locations of their trade, supporting the city’s deep-seated and undeniable role in promoting the economic system of slavery.

While the opening of the IAAM at the disembarkation site of Gadsden Wharf will tell the story of how most of the captured Africans were brought to the young country, Seidler’s research furthers the narrative of the burgeoning domestic slave trade. With the outlawing of importing enslaved Africans in 1808, the sale and brokering of domestic enslaved Africans emerged to feed the growing demand for labor fueling the region’s powerful economic engine.

The research led to unknown ancestral links to the formerly enslaved, culminating with the crushing discovery that three generations of her family in Charleston were slave traders for 90 years. The frontrunner was her fourth great-grandfather, William Payne. More than 1100 newspaper ads depict a decades-long business enterprise responsible for the sale of likely more than 10,000 local enslaved people; many had been living here for generations. Additionally, her research discovered other nearby locations where humans were brokered both at public auction and privately within the Broad Street buildings themselves. Their stories remain to be told.

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Margaret Seidler’s genealogical research led to the discovery of her ancestor’s bustling slave brokerage business on Broad Street

Historic Market at 34 Broad Street

In the case of 32-34 Broad street, William Payne operated an auction house in which he brokered the sale of estates and their contents. His near-daily advertisements in Charleston newspapers offered furniture, silver service, housewares, equipment…and enslaved people. In addition, his family lived on the upper floors, leaving the first floor for the display of auction items, and likely holding pens for the enslaved men, women, and children.

As Charleston attorney, author, and historian Robert Rosen notes, “The institution of slavery shaped and defined as much, if not more than, any other force in its history…Charleston was more committed to the institution than any other southern city.”

Providing additional evidence of Rosen’s observations, the Broad Street marker offers incontrovertible evidence of a new chapter into Charleston’s deep reliance on the institution of slavery. This embrace of slavery, in all its forms, propelled Charleston to preeminence as a center of wealth and culture, bringing fortune seekers from both the Northeast and Europe who wished to benefit from this burgeoning economic system.

Through making these discoveries known, Charleston can continue to build upon its initial steps of racial conciliation by embracing the truth of its past.


Margaret Seidler

Margaret Seidler, The Accidental Historian, is a retired Organization Development consultant, master trainer, and author. She was born and raised in Charleston. At age 65, she discovered her Charleston roots were deeper than she had ever been told when DNA testing revealed distant cousins of African descent. It was one cousin’s request to find common ancestors that drove Margaret’s more than 400 hours of family research. Shocking results yielded both those ancestral connections and that William Payne, her 4th great-grandfather, brokered the sale of more than 9200 human beings through his Broad Street office location. Over 1100 newspaper ads confirmed the magnitude and details of the vibrant Charleston domestic slave trade between 1800-1834.