I heard that slaves were taken from ships through underground tunnels to slave "holding pens" before auction. I took a tour in New Orleans a few years back, and this is what the tour guide said. Can I read about this?
I'm afraid you can't read about slaves being transported through tunnels in New Orleans in between 1718 and the Civil War, because it didn't happen. Digging tunnels wouldn't have been feasible, because they would fill with water. Furthermore, bringing slaves into the Port of New Orleans was legal, so there was no need to dig a tunnel.
President Thomas Jefferson closed the foreign slave trade in Louisiana in 1804, and Congress ended it nationwide in 1808. That didn't stop smugglers from bringing thousands of Africans to Louisiana — with many of the smugglers coming through Barataria Bay and Galveston, Texas during the 1820s and '30s. The holding pens you mentioned did exist; they were also called "jails" or "yards."
During the 10 years preceding the Civil War, New Orleans was the largest slave trading center in the South. New Orleans newspapers — of which there were many — were filled with advertisements for the sale of slaves. Interstate slave trade flourished during the antebellum period, particularly between Virginia, Maryland and Louisiana. Dealers purchased slaves from the upper South and brought them into New Orleans by sea, riverboat, or overland in coffles, the term for a group of slaves chained together in a line. The slaves from Louisiana who spoke French were classified as "Creole Negro" and often commanded a higher price; those from the upper South were advertised as "Virginia Negro" or "American Negro." The humans were sold by the slave dealers or by auctioneers who received a commission on the sale.
In the city, slaves were kept in open compounds with living quarters attached. Prospective buyers could stop by to inspect the slaves whenever they chose. Sales were made at the yards as well as at two of New Orleans' most luxurious hotels: the St. Charles Hotel and the St. Louis Hotel. Within a half-mile of these hotels, there were about 25 slave compounds, mostly on Magazine, Gravier and Baronne Streets and Esplanade. Slave auctioneers were bilingual, and many were leaders in the community.
To make sure they got the highest price, dealers were careful to present slaves in the best light. When the slaves came up for sale, they were dressed well and appeared healthy. The women wore colorful dresses and silk bandanas, and men were dressed in suits, ties, white shirts, shined shoes and hats.
The prices of slaves varied. A healthy male field hand might sell for $1,000, but traders and purchasers valued slave women at about $200 less than men of the same age. If a slave had a special skill, he or she could command a higher price, and a young, light-skinned woman could fetch $2,000 from a buyer looking for a mistress.