Humanizing to Dehumanize

While looking for an archival image I came across multiple runaway slave advertisements. Many of these ads are similarly constructed, but two ads caught my eye. The first is an ad placed by Thomas Jefferson and the other is placed by F. M. Bowie. In these ads, both slave owners remind me of schoolteacher in Toni Morrisons Beloved and emphasizes the perversity of slave owners during American slavery.

The first ad was placed by Thomas Jefferson in September 14th, 1769. His ad is placed for a 35 year old runaway slave called Sandy. Jefferson refers to Sandy as a “Mulantto slave” which is a term used on a person who is born from a white parent and black parent. Like other ads Jefferson gives a description of Sandy’s appearance, saying he is short, fat and light skinned. Normally in other ads the slave owner would give detail on what the slave has after what they look like. But Jefferson go into lengthy detail on Sandys personality and skill. He tells the reader that Sandy is a shoemaker, uses he left hand, and can do carpenter work. Jefferson tells us that Sandy is an alcoholic, and when drunk is disorderly, swears, and “his behaviour is artful and knavish”. Then Jefferson gets into what Sandy may be in possession of, a white horse which he will most likely get rid of, and shoemakers tools. Jefferson adds that Sandy will most likely try to find work with these tools. Then like the majority of other ads Jefferson end with payment.

Trading Your People as Slaves

This image depicts an African Tribe in Ghana holding a ceremony for one of the soldiers who is becoming a general. They are doing this in front of some Dutch traders who have come for goods from the land. You can see in the image that there are Africans making a large circle around those performing the ceremony whereas the Dutch are seated inside the circle. Another interesting this about this image is that, where the title of the piece is “Danish Traders with Akwamu King,” the King is actually in the circle with the rest of his tribesmen, seen in the lower right-hand side of the picture. This begs the question as to why they would title the piece to suggest that the King was with the Dutch Traders when really he was with his people and Dutch were separated from him. But this seems to be something that happens a lot when the Europeans are in charge of how the story is told. Aphra Behn seems to fudge a lot of the “truth” that she is telling in her story of Oroonoko. Though it is not explicitly said in the book, we as the readers can imagine that Oroonoko often has gathering like the one depicted in this image when the Europeans first arrive. He would have these ceremonies to show how important his culture is to him because at this moment the Europeans are only interested in him because he can speak French and English. Oroonoko thinks the Europeans are interested this kind of life and culture when the Europeans are really interested in is gathering slaves and resources to go back to England with. In this image, the King is still in the crowd with the rest of his people whereas the Dutch are sitting in the center. I find this to be more accurate of a depiction than what Behn says which is that Oroonoko would sit or be with the Europeans. Though they found him to a spectacle to be watched and examined, I do not think that they would want him any closer to them than is necessary, especially during an event such as the one depicted here or one that Oroonoko would’ve had in his village. Take for example when Behn is discussing Oroonoko and his demeanor early in the novel. She says, “He had an extreme good and graceful mien, and all the civility of a well-bred great man. He had nothing of barbarity in his nature, but in all points.


Welcome to the CUNY Academic Commons site for Gabrielle Kappes’s English 302: English Literature II: Restoration through the Revolutions (1660-1815) and Aaron Botwick’s English 303: Romantic through Modern (1815-1940) taught at Lehman College in Fall 2018.