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A man’s hand branded for freeing slaves, 1845

Jul 1, 2011 By Abraham

Photo of a man's hand branded with "SS" for "Slave Stealer"

(The image is of a right hand with two S‘s branded beneath the thumb. The old-style of photography reversed images.)

From the Daguerreian Society…

The inscription on the back of the case reads:

This Daguerreotype was taken by Southworth Aug. 1845. It is a copy of Captain Jonathan Walker’s hand as branded by the U.S. Marshall of the Dist. of Florida for having helped 7 men to obtain “Life Liberty, and Happiness.”

S.S. stood for “Slave Stealer” to those who inflicted the punishment. To others, it meant “Slave Savior.”



  1. Alanna Coca says:

    I look at things like this, and think “I’m so glad we’re past the barbarianism of our past”. Then I see people who think that homosexual human beings shouldn’t have the same white as heterosexual humans. Seriously, how is this any different?

    I hope my grandchildren can look back on the early 21st century and shake their heads and wonder how we could possibly justify our primitive views.

    1. Lulu says:

      I agree with your sentiment, but we never ended slavery – at ALL. We simply moved it off shore where we don’t have to think about it every day, We enslave children as well as adults to make our children’s toys, our computers, our clothes, etc etc. It is NOT other countries doing it, it is US.

      I shake my head every day and wonder how we can be so primitive. And so stupid. We have forgotten that the greatest source of joy is being of service to others ( not grabbing all we can get from others, as the Republicans will have us believe). We have forgotten that if we don’t want to end up enslaved by someone ourselves, we need to be well educated. We have forgotten that if we don’t check our population growth and we don’t be good stewards of our planet and environs, we aren’t so much as an inch beyond the “barbarianism of our past” Indeed, we may be worse. At least those so called ‘barbarians’ had the presence of mind to put food out for wildlife as winter arrived, (the origin of the Christmas tree was this practise) and to build communities where people looked out for each other. We’re busily breaking that down now.

      1. Snarky says:

        Do you really shake your head everyday? And do all Republican’s really believe they should grab all they can get from others? And last but not least how should we check our population growth? I need to be educated on these matters.

        1. Lulu says:

          Did I say “all” republicans? Of course not. Anytime someone replies to a post with nothing but a sarcastic misquote of the post, like that, they’ve got nothing to say.

          1. Carr says:

            You don’t have to say “all” if you simply state the group. If you say humans are bipeds, it can reasonably be assumed you meant humans as a general rule are bipeds. The fact stands that it was a generalization.

            And to add to that point, by pointing out the singular group, you are in effect dismissing other groups in general. I would wager that many Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, and flat-out non-political people hold to “grabbing all we can get from others” as a source of joy. We have a cultural sickness at the base of our morays, not confined to one cheer-leading group over another.

            Not to mention that making that one snarky remark in the middle of your post completely distracts readers from your point. If you want to make a better point and thereby make a difference, you should stick to logical rather than categorical character arguments.

          2. jorn says:

            Lulu, I think the thing Snarky was trying to help you to see was your reflection in the pool. wherein you deride placing people in groups and then discriminating against them (good for you!) and then in the next paragraph, you put people into groups and discriminate against them. (Naughty!)

      2. Lulu says:

        Carr, yes, if you’re describing a tangible physical trait (biped) then yes, the ‘all’ is implied. However, I was talking about a philosophy. I’m sure I don’t have to point out that within any group that shares a common philosophy there are a wide range of degrees of opinion and many people who don’t agree with some aspect of that philosophy at all.

        What I said, and I stand by it, is that Republicans as a group hold the philosophy that grabbing all the wealth they can is not only the route to happiness and success, but is their right and duty. This fact is relevant to the discussion because this belief denies basic human rights – including American fundamentals like liberty for all and the pursuit of happiness. Democrat believe human rights come before corporate rights. Republicans believe the opposite. Don’t believe this? Just try to get a law passed to ensure American corporations don’t use slave labor here or overseas and see who flies into action to block it.

        1. Black Star Ranch says:

          “What I said, and I stand by it, is that Republicans as a group hold the philosophy that grabbing all the wealth they can is not only the route to happiness and success, but is their right and duty.”

          And you madam, continue in reminding me with every comment how pathetic and distasteful bigotry is – regardless a person’s side of the aisle.

    2. Tofu says:

      Arguing about what we should call “marriage” is not within a billion freakin’ light years of slavery. Please, for the love of God, gain some perspective.

      1. Megan says:

        You select a group of people based purely on a genetic difference which you don’t like then deny them equal rights. Different degrees of repression, granted. But hardly light years apart.

          1. Scott says:

            Evilown it should not matter if it is genetic or not, treating one class of people differently than another when it comes rights and protections provided by the law should never be a choice.

          2. PaulN says:


            That’s just the first handful of results on Google. I know that facts get in the way of people’s disdain and discrimination, but there you go.

            You can add to it the _millions_ of gay people that swear they knew they were gay since childhood, but that’s probably just one of the many lies we concocted at our last gay agenda meeting to overthrow society.

    3. sarcaustic says:

      Really. How is homosexuality different from being kidnapped from your country, kept for months in sewage filled ships, auctioned off like cattle, used to breed more workers, have no legal protection from being beaten or killed, where family members could be sold at any time? What a pathetic comparison.

  2. Carole says:

    The amazing part of this photo (remember, we are commenting on a photo, guys?)
    is that the mere mark of “SS” on a man’s hand had immense implications. In order to do business, you needed to “seal the deal” with a handshake – hence revealing his “shame” to middle to upper society (who profited from the slave trade). This man could have lost business partnerships, have his family dismissed from all social settings (daughters unmarried and sons unemployed), unable to gain credit or mortgages, and more! He would most likely be shunned from churches as unfit to me there, having the “right hand” marred.

    1. Katie says:

      Thank you, Carole. I appreciate your interesting and topical comment. That is sobering to think what this man must have dealt with noting 1845 was 20 years away from 1865.

  3. lhaolpa says:

    Many blame the southerners for slavery,but ignore the bankers and cotton brokers in the north,who controlled the trade and the price of “king cotton”.If anyone wants to know the truth about it,the Democrats fought tooth and nail against any legislation limiting slavery and against laws giving sanctuary to slaves who reached the north on their own. Abraham Lincoln[the first Republican President]freed the slaves in 1863,when the north was loosing the war,and only then to punish and remove their labor force. If the war was about slavery,the emancipation proclamation would have been issued in 1861. I do think the man whose hand was branded was a brave and good hearted man,who lived by his convictions. There were many whites who risked their lives to secure freedom for others. Both John Adams and his son,John Quincey Adams were shunned and disgraced for their anti-slavery beliefs. lha

    1. ZQ says:

      Um…cite your sources? I think you are twisting a lot of history to fit into your political comfort zone. I would say there were some Democrats who opposed ending slavery, but more as a method of capitulating to the South for the sake of maintaining the Union. Lincoln did take some time to issue the Proclamation, likely because it was a risky move, politically and didn’t have a lot of support because many people claimed that slaves would become violent against their former masters if freed. Also, I dispute your assertion that the slaves were only freed to cripple the Southern economy. This was part of the reason given, but only to try to appease those opposed to abolition, and in all other writings and communications, Lincoln was pretty clear in his preference for personal rights superseding property rights and his wish that all men be free. Finally, the Emancipation Proclamation was just one step in a long process involved in freeing the slaves. If it was merely the means to bring the Confederacy to its knees, the effort would have stalled from disinterest after that goal had been met, don’t you think?

  4. Jason says:

    how about you all just put your whiny comments aside and have some joy knowing this man helped others live. take some of that energy you are using to make yourself look good and actually do something to encourage someone today. Geesh. Shut up already.

  5. Dom says:

    I wonder what a palmist would read in the hand in the photograph? It would be interesting to show them the photo, ask them to disregard the brand, and say what they thought the man’s character was like? Would they recognise a courageous sense of ethics in action, say, or would they see the brand and assume he was a criminal or evena slave?

  6. Ian says:

    The troubles it might have given him in the world were I’m sure great, but I’m pretty sure when he got to the afterlife, it was seen there as the badge of honor it really is. Good man.

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