The Little Contraband


Before Emancipation, the term “contraband” was used to refer to former slaves who had escaped and made their way to Union lines. This 1862 print depicts a young, previously-enslaved girl who has been intercepted by Federal troops. She smiles as the Union officer on the right lifts her onto a gun carriage. A caption below the illustration explains, “And her little limbs had, perhaps, become strengthened by some vague dream of liberty, to be lost or won, in that hurried night march.” To the right of these lines, the print contains the facsimile signature of Nathaniel P. Banks, the officer depicted on horseback who points towards the girl. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Lincoln selected Banks as one of the first major generals of volunteers. Before the war, he had served as Speaker of the House of Representatives and then as the Governor of Massachusetts. He lacked prior military experience, however, and many of his military engagements resulted in defeat. Despite these failures, this print focuses on the general’s continuing commitment to the abolitionist cause.

This print was published by the lithographer John Henry Bufford. The son of a sign painter and gilder, Bufford trained with Pendleton's Lithography in Boston, 1829-1831. He worked in New York with George Endicott and Nathaniel Currier (1835-1839) before returning to Boston where he had a good reputation for printing and publishing popular framing prints, commercial work, labels, and trade cards. The company went through several iterations and name changes until about 1865. He became the chief artist for Benjamin Thayer until buying out the firm to found J. H. Bufford & Co. (1844-1851). He continued to work in the lithography and publishing business for the remainder of his life. In 1865, his sons Frank and Henry John became partners in Bufford & Sons or J.H. Bufford’s Sons Litho. Co. After his death they continued the family business as Bufford Brothers and as Bufford Sons Engraving & Lithographing Company until 1911.

Date Made: 1862

Maker: Bufford, John Henry

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: Massachusetts, Boston

Subject: BlacksChildrenChronology: 1860-1869Depicted: Uniforms, MilitaryCivil War: Civil WarSubject: SlaveryRelated Event: Civil War


See more items in: Home and Community Life: Domestic Life, American Civil War Prints, Art, Domestic Furnishings


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Harry T. Peters "America on Stone" Lithography Collection

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: DL.60.3319Catalog Number: 60.3319

Object Name: LithographObject Type: Lithograph

Physical Description: paper (overall material)ink (overall material)Measurements: image: 12 in x 9 1/4 in; 30.48 cm x 23.495 cm


Record Id: nmah_325546

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