Hope Hall Slatter, after working in the slave trade in Georgia for a number of years, moved to Baltimore in 1835 and started building up a business of selling enslaved workers to the Southern market. At this time, cotton was vital to the nation’s economy. It was just a few years before he gained enough capital to open his own slave jail at 224 W. Pratt Street in 1838. His house was located at one end of the property, while at the other end there was a two-story brick building to house the enslaved. The yard was about 40’ x 75’, containing some benches, a water nozzle, wash tubs, clothes lines, a brick fireplace, and, of course, an auction block. In addition to housing people to be sold, the jail was used as a kind of rooming house with bars on the windows. Slave traders or enslavers would stay at a hotel or inn while travelling, but they would keep their captives at a jail, such as this, overnight for a fee of 25 cents. Slatter was one of the leading traders in the area, having sold over two thousand people in less than 14 years of trading in Baltimore.
One of his last transactions, before selling his business to Bernard Campbell, was the purchase of about thirty of the seventy+ people who attempted to escape from Washington, D.C., on the schooner Pearl. Slatter and Moore managed to acquire the slaves in order to sell them in Baltimore. A number of traders then sold most of the escapees south. Two of the escapees, however, were sold north due to the intervention of their father, Paul Edmondson, who was a free man. He managed to contact abolitionists in NY, who raised the money to buy two of his children, Emily and Mary. They were sent to NY, where they attended school and were cared for by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Rev. Henry W. Beecher.
Bernard Moore Campbell and his brother Lewis purchased the jail in 1848, when Slatter moved to Alabama. The brothers previously had a modest operation located on Conway Street. Here they expanded considerably, partially owing to the use of the Slatter name.
Between the start of the Civil War in 1861 and the emancipation of slaves in the District of Columbia in 1862, more and more local enslavers began using the slave jails to keep potential runaways. By this time, housing the enslaved became the prime source of income for local slave traders. As the Campbell jail was filled with people, tensions mounted to the point of insurrection. Police were called as fighting erupted May 31, 1862. The inmates did manage to fight courageously with whatever they could get their hands on, but it wasn’t long before they were subdued. In any case, they did make their mark. Some days later, Campbell was scheduled to testify in D.C. concerning compensation for people being freed in the District of Columbia. When he appeared before the committee, it was noted that he had a welt across his forehead and a swollen, black eye.
It was a year later that slave jails were finally closed in Baltimore on July 24, 1863, shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg. It was then that Union troops marched up to the Slatter/Campbell jail and Colonel William Birney presented to the gatekeeper special order #202, “an action by the government giving him the authority to free the slaves held in the traders’ pens throughout the city.” The colonel and his men found 26 men, 1 boy, 29 women, and 3 infants held in the jail. Sixteen of the men had been shackled together. After they were all set free, the men enlisted in the United States Colored Troops. A large crowd of family, friends, and well-wishers greeted the prisoners as they left the jail.