The Little Contraband

The Little Contraband

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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.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Object Type
Date made
Bufford, John Henry
place made
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
ink (overall material)
image: 12 in x 9 1/4 in; 30.48 cm x 23.495 cm
ID Number
catalog number
Credit Line
Harry T. Peters "America on Stone" Lithography Collection
Chronology: 1860-1869
Uniforms, Military
Civil War
Civil War
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Domestic Life
Domestic Furnishings
American Civil War Prints
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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