Monday, May 6, 2013

Jake and Bill and Violence

Many of the slave runaway advertisements that I have located include detailed physical descriptions of those that absconded. Of those descriptions a large number mention scars or other deformations. In most cases it is impossible to determine how these markings were inflicted. But one might suspect-knowing the uneven power dynamic that existed between slaves and masters/owners/overseers-that a great percentage were made by those ultimately in control of their charges and the "ruinous influence of arbitrary power," as one former slave called it.

In the above advertisement both enslaved young men mentioned, Jake and Bill, had distinguishing marks.  Jake had "a dent on the side of his head, made by a stroke from a hatchet." Bill had "a large scar on his neck."

When we think of slavery we most often correctly associate violence with the institution. These runaway advertisements vividly remind us of this fact.      

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