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  • Slaves for Sale February 17, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    Beachcombing has recently become interested in slavery, a matter that he has neglected in previous posts, with the exception of a very unpleasant beating in Colonial American and an early piece on the Barbary Coast. Beach has particularly been impressed/horrified by slave adverts and has stumbled on several remarkable examples. Let’s start off with something fairly standard from New York in 1795, but an ad that at least gives a sense of the person about to be put up for auction.

    A likely Negro Fellow, about 25 Years of Age. He is an extraordinary good Cook, and understands setting or tending a table very well, likewise all kind of House Work, such as washing, scouring, scrubbing, etc. Also, a Negro Wench, his Wife, about 17 Years old, born in the City and understands all Sorts of House Work. For farther Particulars, inquire of the Printer. New York Gazette, March 21st, 1795.

    Unusually there follows a free slave.

    A Female Negro Child (of an extraordinary good Breed) to be given away. Inquire of Edes and Gill. Boston Gazette, Feb. 25th, 1765.

    And a slave for sale in lowland Scotland in 1769.

    A handsome black boy, about thirteen years of age, very well qualified for making a household servant, serving a table well, etc, of a find constitution, enured to the climate and has had the small pox. Any person inclining to purchase him, may call at Mr William Reid’s, iron-monger opposite to the door of the city guard. This Advertisement not to be repeated.

    Beach loves the idea that to be a slave in Edinburgh you had to be ‘enured to the climate’: at least the poor child will not have picked cotton or thrashed sugar.

    Then there are the runaways. So common that many newspapers used a familiar graphic (pictured above) to signal such adverts.

    19 May 1848 Twenty-five dollars reward. Ran away on Saturday evening, 4th instant, the negress Peggy, about 34 years of age, rather thick set, speaks and walks slowly, has very bad teeth, has a sulky look, carrying with her a rosewood dressing case having in the lower drawer a diamond ring, star shaped with 5 diamonds, and other articles. The above reward will be paid for the recovery of the negress and the articles stolen, or half that sum for the negress alone, on their return to J.W.Breedlove, Nayades street, second door above Calliope.

    Or another novel plot from the same issue

    One hundred dollars reward. Ran away from the undersigned on Sunday night, the 20th February, 1848, a negro man named Stephen, about 28 years old, 5 feet 10 to six feet high, stout, well made, down cast look, talks slow, has holes in his ears and sometimes wears ear-rings. When he left he had long beard under his chin, had on white linsey pants, grey jeans roundabout, old white. Hat. His back has marks of having been severely whipped before I bought him [doth protest too much?]. He has been on the river as a boat hand and lived sometime in Memphis; I purchased him in Owensboro’, Ky., last summer. I have reason to believe that he was enticed away by white men on a flatboat. I will give for the apprehension of said boy and his delivery to me $25 if taken in this neighbourhood; 50$ if taken up out of the State and delivered to me or lodged in jail so that I obtain him; and $100 for him as above together with the thief if he has been stolen. A Wickliffe, Post Office, Worthington Point, Washington County, Miss.

    Or going back in time, to 1726, an Amerindian.

    This Day Run away from John McComb, Junier, an Indian Woman, about 17 Years of Age, Pitted in the Face, of a middle Stature, and Indifferent fatt [sic], having on her a Drugat, Wastecoat, and Kersey Petticoat, of a Light Collour. If any Person or Persons shall bring the said Girle to her said Master, shall be Rewarded for their Trouble to their Content. American Weekly Mercury, May 24th 1726.

    Or from a century later:

    $20 Reward Ran away from the subscriber, on the 1st instant, a NEGRO WOMAN, who goes by the name of JULIA GREGGS or Julia Holland, about 40 years of age, slender made; small feet, 5 feet 1 or 2 inches high, light chestnut color. Had a gathering on the left side of her jaw, her face was somewhat swollen, and acne lumps on her neck. Had on when she left home, a plaid linsey frock, with a light calico over it, and a straw bonnet. I will give the above reward if taken out of this State, or $10 if taken in this State, and secured so I can get her. Daniel Stansbury, Patapsco Neck, Baltimore County.

    There are likely worlds of pain behind that ‘so I can get her’. Incredibly the next runaway comes from Bristol in the UK and dates to 1746.

    Run away the 7th instant, from Capt Thos. Eaton of the Prince William, a NEGRO MAN, named Mingo, of a good black Complexion, smooth Face, wears a black Wig; has no two short blue Waistcoats, and brown Breeches, about 5 Foot, 5 Inches high, his Legsa little bent, his upper Teeth scagg’d and broken, has a Cut on his Right Wrist which stands up in a bunch. He speaks pretty good English, has been in and out of this City about eight Years. Whoever will deliver the said Black into the possession of his Master, Capt. Eaton afore-said, shall have a Guinea Reward. N.B. All persons are hereby forbid entertaining the said Black at their Peril. And if he will return to his Duty, he will be kindly received, and have his offences pardoned.

    Beach suspects that these last lines are more for the good folk of Bristol than for Mingo who would likely soon have several more cuts to add to his collection. What were his chances of escape in an English port city in the middle of the eighteenth century? Let’s hope he knocked on the door of a Methodist preacher.

    Any other slave adverts? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


    PP takes the time to write in with some expert knowledge. ‘Your post on slave adverts today sent me to the bookshelves for The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-bellum South by Kenneth M. Stampp (1956, Knopf), a thorough and readable treatment of what slavery was really like in the American south. Several adverts for runaways are given in Ch. III: A Troublesome Property, which begins with this interesting passage: ‘According to Dr. Cartwright, there was a second disease peculiar to Negroes which he called Drapetomania: ‘the disease causing negroes to run away.’ Cartwright believed that it was a ‘disease of the mind’ and that with ‘proper medical advice’ it could be cured. The first symptom was a ‘sulky and dissatisfied’ attitude. To forestall the full onset of the disease, the cause of discontent must be determined and removed.  If there were no ascertainable cause, then ‘whipping the devil out of them’ was the proper ‘preventive measure against absconding.’’ (p 109) This book fueled my interest in the subject, coming, as I did, from a southern-derived family some of whose members still apologize for the practice – ‘they were better off on the plantation than in Africa; all their needs were provided for; they received Christianity,’ etc. Same justifications made at the time! Stupid old lies die hard. Another excellent book is Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves by Adam Hochschild (2005, Houghton Mifflin.) Plenty of description of slavery conditions in the sugar islands is given, in the story of how an unlikely band of 12 guys schemed to bring down the economic engine of England of the time, inspiring the American abolitionists to use what we now call grassroots organizing in their efforts to do the same. I hope this feeds your interest in the topic– but be prepared for heartbreak’. Then Invisible: ‘You asked for other slave adverts. The Virginia Gazette, published at Williamsburg Virginia, is a prime source for such material It is particularly useful for information on clothing, either slave clothing or articles stolen by the runaway. The index is a bit cumbersome. Look at S, then at Slaves. There are a variety of topics including “Slaves – runaway” from a variety of Virginia counties. “Run away from the subscriber” was the usual heading of such advertisements.  Young black servants dressed in exotic livery with turbans were a popular fashion accessory in the 18th century. This article mentions their role as decoration:  There are several images of these orientalized slaves in this article, which has some other interesting images of 18th century slaves as well as information on the role Josiah (not Thomas) Wedgwood played in abolishing slavery in Britain.’  Thanks to PP and Invisible!