Autograph Letter Signed. 3pp.+integral address leaf. To his friend Colin Stokes, Lunenberg [County], Virginia
By 1858, Betts was formally advertising as a Richmond slave-auctioneer, first in partnership with A.C.Pulliam, then with E.J.Gregory. But this letter shows that even before he sold his 50-acre farm outside Richmond in 1854, he had a hand in the trade.
“Negroes are rather in the decline here, the good Negroes still sell very well… the last I heard from Harris he had 4 on hand, he has done very well this season only we ought to have sold twice as many negroes as we have.” But the bulk of the letter is about his political misgiving since he had come to Richmond in the late 1830s as a Southern Democrat of the old school, when “you might go to a Publick meeting and if the speaker did not speak egactly to please every body still he was permitted to go on, but now sit there is a party here that attend all purlick meetings and the very first word that is said that they don’t like he is hissed and… they mock him down…We have not improved any in the last hundred years only in Low flung rowdyism…” He despised the “Locofoco” reform Legislature, a “set of “simbler headed suckers” But the US Congress was no better, having “done nothing in the world but quarrel about this slavery question”, being just as “rowdy” and “unmanageable as a pen of hogs.” Having “stolen Texas” and “nearly the whole of Mexico”, the US was now saddled with a vast territory that raised anew the contentious slavery issue, which was not at all settled by congressional Compromise.
By the eve of the Civil War, Betts had moved from Richmond to the far southwest of the state and his Richmond slave-auction business was on the verge of financial collapse, but his firm’s printed and handwritten “price list” of Blacks for sale, showing the current “Negro market”, based on the “height” of the children being auctioned has gone down in American documentary history as the obnoxious last hurrah of a despicable commerce.