showing the slave's scarred back.
[Library reference: Adv.Ms.50.4.1, f.6]
This photograph of 'Gordon', an escaped slave, was taken during medical examination for acceptance into the Union Army.
The small albumen print was made using the popular carte-de-visite method, which was new at the time.
The image was widely circulated during the American Civil War to promote the abolition of slavery.
'Gordon' and abolitionist propaganda
The picture of Gordon, his scarred back exposed, was effective abolitionist propaganda — it made its way to lecture halls, political rallies, newspapers and magazines.
In 1863, 'Harper's Weekly' magazine ran a story about the slave in the photograph, naming him 'Gordon'. The article told the tale of his escape from slavery and his heroic actions as a Union volunteer soldier.
However, recent research suggests Gordon's story may be a collection of tropes from fugitive slave accounts, sewn together to garner support for the abolition of slavery.
The Library's copy
The National Library of Scotland's copy of this famous carte-de-visite was collected by Scottish scholar John F Campbell of Islay who was travelling through the United States during the 1864 presidential election. Campbell pasted the card into his scrapbook and noted that he had bought this 'pro-Lincoln political photograph' in Boston.
On the reverse of the card is printed a note from the military doctor JW Mercer. Gordon was one of 400 'contrabands' (escaped slaves) Mercer inspected, and one of 200,000 black men who later served in the Union Army.
This carte-de-visite also featured in the Library's American Civil War display, 'Yankee cries and Rebel yells'.