The Response of the Slaves

Slavery would seem to be the epitome of domination by an all-powerful master over a passive, subservient dependent. But is this the whole picture, wonders Gad Heuman.

To be Sold: A Black Man, a native of St Kitts, a good postilion, groom, butler and taylor; sober and healthy. He is averse to living in the country , but might do for a single person, or a family residing in or near town. He had absconded some time from his present owner, and for this reason is offered for sale. (my italics)

To be sold at private sale: A Barbadian Lad, about 18 years old; a good butler, and careful servant to attend a horse; he has been some time at the Cabinet Maker's business, and is a tolerable good workman, but prefers being either a butler, or carpenter, to that trade , which is the occasion of his being offered for sale. He will suit any person inclined to carry him from the Island, as he has no objection to travelling . (my italics)
Advertisements in the Barbados Mercury, June 7th and 21st, 1806

These slave advertisements may come as a surprise to many who equate slavery in the New World with oppression, cruelty and torture. Nor would it be possible to deny that slavery in the Americas was a brutal system in which Europeans exploited Africans and that life for many slaves was indeed 'nasty, brutish and short'. Yet the advertisements also suggest that there was another aspect to slavery which is often ignored. Slavery was not just a matter of masters dominating slaves; it was also a case of slaves having a significant impact on their masters.

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