Sunday, April 20, 2014

Slave Barber and Family for Sale

As one might expect, finding information on enslaved barbers here in Kentucky has been much more difficult than finding out about free men of color barbers. Due to obvious restrictions placed upon them traditional sources such letters, journals, and diaries are just plain rare if not nonexistent. However, some information has come to light though searching more unconventional source materials.

A while back I shared a captured runaway notice that advertised Jo Scott, who claimed to be a barber and had been caught in Trimble County, Kentucky. That ad also stated that Scott played the violin. Enslaved men who possessed additional skills were obviously more marketable than those that were unskilled.

The advertisement pictured above ran in the February 14, 1855, edition of the Lexington Observer and Reporter. The notice offered a five member family for sale. The father was listed as a good carriage driver, house servant, and barber. By noting all of the possible jobs that this man could hold, the seller naturally appealed to a broader audience of potential buyers. The purchaser could use this man as his personal driver or house slave, or could possibly hire him out to a local free man of color barber; the owner keeping part of the enslaved man's earned wages.

Along with the father of the family, the mother also possessed desirable experience in washing, ironing, and cooking. The oldest daughter (10 years old), too, was an experienced house servant. The other two children, were too young yet for much labor, but were potentially productive workers.

Sometimes ads such as these included language to the effect that the offered family was not to be broken up. Obviously, that was not the case here. If buyers desired only the skilled father, he could be separated from his wife and children. Or, if a trader preferred to purchase the children and not the parents, there was nothing that could be done to prevent their parting.

This harsh reality is one that resonated with abolitionists in an age of romanticism and one they capitalized on in both works of fiction, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, and fact, such as narratives like Henry Bibb's.  

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