[Convicts in Line at Swannanoa]. [Series title:] Views of Western North Carolina: The Land and the Sky. Thomas H. Lindsey, photographer.
[Convicts in Line at Swannanoa]. [Series title:] Views of Western North Carolina: The Land and the Sky.

[Convicts in Line at Swannanoa]. [Series title:] Views of Western North Carolina: The Land and the Sky.

Asheville, N.C.: Lindsey & Brown, [ca. 1880s];. Albumen print cabinet card, 4.25” x 7”, plus mount. Printed text at verso.

A striking image of an African American chain gang at work in Swannanoa Cut on the Western North Carolina Railroad, near Round Knob in Buncombe County. Twenty-three convicts in stripes stand in line by the tracks with sheer cliffs behind them, and two armed guards looming in the background. The men hold lunch pails, tin dishes, and shovels—their clothing and shoes shredded from hard labor.

In the 1800s, Western North Carolina Railroad routinely leased prisoners from the state to construct railroad tunnels. A famous tragedy occurred in 1892 near Dillsboro, N.C. where nineteen shackled convicts drowned crossing the Tuckaseggee River en route to dig the Cowee Tunnel. This image has often been used to represent that history.

A variant issue of this photograph is known, with a different series title on the mount reading Round Knob and Vicinity, and captioned in the image “Convicts in Line at Swannanoa.”

REFERENCES: Tabler, Dave, All of the passengers were cast into the icy waters, where they struggled in vain at appalachianhistory.net

CONDITION: Very good, toning of paperboard, slight warp.

Item #5923

Price: $1,250.00

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