The Forgotten Supervillain of Antebellum Tennessee
In a brutal business defined by cruelty, Isaac Franklin was perhaps the worst slave trader in all of cotton country. Yet today his heinous crimes are long forgotten.
Illustrations by Guy Wagner
The people of Nashville hear slave trader Isaac Franklin’s great annual parade of misery long before they see it. The rhythmic thud of 400 trudging feet carries quite a way. Then comes the sound of men singing, “Cut him down, cut him down, catch him if you can.”
There’s a river and a field and a few scattered houses between Nashville and Franklin’s coffle coming down Gallatin Pike, but once it crests the hill at what will one day be known as Eastland Avenue, everyone up on the bluff can see it. A great centipede of 200 men chained together at the waist, their hands locked behind their backs, marching toward Nashville. A hundred women and children follow behind in wagons, destined for sale. A man with a fiddle walks alongside the chained men, playing to keep them moving at the same speed.
The time is late August 1833. Nashville is a village of 5,500 people living near the crumbling remains of Fort Nashborough. Log cabins are finally giving way to wood-framed bu…
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