advertisements for runaway slaves -- 3/19/18

Today's selection -- from American Notes for General Circulation by Charles Dickens. In 1842, 30-year-old Charles Dickens, already flush with the success of such books as Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers, made a tour of the United States, and published his observations in a book titled American Notes for General Circulation. On that tour, he encountered the pervasive and brutal realities of slavery, including advertisements for slaves published routinely in local papers and discussed casually by the citizenry. He wrote a fervent condemnation of slavery in his book, and included a list of some of the ads he encountered during his tour:

"'Cash for negroes,' 'cash for negroes,' 'cash for negroes,' is the heading of advertisements in great capitals down the long columns of the crowded journals. Woodcuts of a runaway negro with manacled hands, crouching beneath a bluff pursuer in top boots, who, having caught him, grasps him by the throat, agreeably diversify the pleasant text. The leading article protests against 'that abominable and hellish doctrine of abolition, which is repugnant alike to every law of God and nature.' The delicate mamma, who smiles her acquiescence in this sprightly writing as she reads the paper in her cool piazza, quiets her youngest child who clings about her skirts, by promising the boy 'a whip to beat the little niggers with.' ...

"The following are a few specimens of the advertisements in the public papers. It is only four years since the oldest among them appeared; and others of the same nature continue to be published every day, in shoals.

"'Ran away, Negress Caroline. Had on a collar with one prong turned down.' ...

"'Ran away, the negro Manuel. Much marked with irons.'

"'Ran away, the negress Fanny. Had on an iron band about her neck.'

"'Ran away, a negro boy about twelve years old. Had round his neck a chain dog-collar with 'De Lampert' engraved on it.'

"'Ran away, the negro Hown. Has a ring of iron on his left foot. Also, Grise, his wife, having a ring and chain on the left leg.'

"'Ran away, a negro boy named James. Said boy was ironed when he left me.' 'Committed to jail, a man who calls his name John. He has a clog of iron on his right foot which will weigh four or five pounds.' ...

"'Ran away, a negro woman and two children. A few days before she went off, I burnt her with a hot iron, on the left side of her face. I tried to make the letter M.'

"'Ran away, a negro man named Henry; his left eye out, some scars from a dirk on and under his left arm, and much scarred with the whip.'

"'One hundred dollars reward, for a negro fellow, Pompey, 40 years old. He is branded on the left jaw.'

"'Committed to jail, a negro man. Has no toes on the left foot.'

"'Ran away, a negro woman named Rachel. Has lost all her toes except the large one.'"

"'Ran away, Sam. He was shot a short time since through the hand, and has several shots in his left arm and side.'

"'Ran away, my negro man Dennis. Said negro has been shot in the left arm between the shoulder and elbow, which has paralysed the left hand.'

"'Ran away, my negro man named Simon. He has been shot badly, in his back and right arm.'

"'Ran away, a negro named Arthur. Has a considerable scar across his breast and each arm, made by a knife; loves to talk much of the goodness of God.' 'Twenty-five dollars reward for my man Isaac. He has a scar on his forehead, caused by a blow; and one on his back, made by a shot from a pistol.'

"'Ran away, a negro girl called Mary. Has a small scar over her eye, a good many teeth missing, the letter A is branded on her cheek and forehead.'

"'Ran away, negro Ben. Has a scar on his right hand; his thumb and forefinger being injured by being shot last fall. A part of the bone came out. He has also one or two large scars on his back and hips.'

"'Detained at the jail, a mulatto, named Tom. Has a scar on the right cheek, and appears to have been burned with powder on the face.'

'Ran away, a negro man named Ned. Three of his fingers are drawn into the palm of his hand by a cut. Has a scar on the back of his neck, nearly half round, done by a knife.'

"'Was committed to jail, a negro man. Says his name is Josiah. His back very much scarred by the whip; and branded on the thigh and hips in three or four places, thus (J M). The rim of his right ear has been bit or cut off.'...

"'Ran away, from the plantation of James Surgette, the following negroes:
Randal, has one ear cropped; Bob, has lost one eye; Kentucky Tom, has one jaw broken.'

"'Ran away, Anthony. One of his ears cut off, and his left hand cut with an axe.' 'Fifty dollars reward for the negro Jim Blake. Has a piece cut out of each ear, and the middle finger of the left hand cut off to the second joint.'...

"I should say, perhaps, in explanation of this latter piece of description, that among the other blessings which public opinion secures to the negroes, is the common practice of violently punching out their teeth. To make them wear iron collars by day and night, and to worry them with dogs, are practices almost too ordinary to deserve mention.

"'Ran away, my man Fountain. Has holes in his ears, a scar on the right side of his forehead, has been shot in the hind part of his legs, and is marked on the back with the whip.'

"'Two hundred and fifty dollars reward for my negro man Jim. He is much marked with shot in his right thigh. The shot entered on the outside, halfway between the hip and knee joints.'...

"'Ran away, a black girl, named Mary. Has a scar on her cheek, and the end of one of her toes cut off.'

"'Ran away, my Mulatto woman, Judy. She has had her right arm broke.'

"'Ran away, my negro man, Levi. His left hand has been burnt, and I think the end of his forefinger is off.'...

"'Twenty-five dollars reward for my man John. The tip of his nose is bit off.' 'Twenty-five dollars reward for the negro slave, Sally. Walks as though crippled in the back.'

"'Ran away, Joe Dennis. Has a small notch in one of his ears.' ...

"While upon the subject of ears, I may observe that a distinguished abolitionist in New York once received a negro's ear, which had been cut off close to the head, in a general post letter. It was forwarded by the free and independent gentleman who had caused it to be amputated, with a polite request that he would place the specimen in his 'collection.'

"I could enlarge this catalogue with broken arms, and broken legs, and gashed flesh, and missing teeth, and lacerated backs, and bites of dogs, and brands of red-hot irons innumerable."



Charles Dickens


American Notes for General Circulation


Penguin Classics


Published in Penguin Classics 2000


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