Conch Shell

Image of conch shell slave call.
Souvenir of a wicked time

This queen conch shell’s tip was cut off to turn it into a horn.  It was used to call slaves in from the fields of a plantation outside Memphis, Tennessee. Private James H. Williams, of Petersburg, Illinois, acquired this shell at the close of the Civil War when he was serving in Company A of the 152nd Illinois Infantry. Williams brought the shell home to his family as a wartime souvenir.

Austin Steward wrote in his 1857 memoir Twenty-Two Years a Slave: “It was the rule for the slaves to rise and be ready for their task by sun-rise, on the blowing of a horn or conch-shell; and woe be to the unfortunate, who was not in the field at the time appointed, which was in thirty minutes from the first sounding of the horn.”

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