The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Seminar on New York and American Material Culture: Charmaine A. Nelson, “‘Of a Remarkably Down-Cast Countenance, and a Black and Copper Coloured Mixt Complexion’: Fugitive Slave Advertisements and/as Portraiture in Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Canada.”

September 10, 2019 6:00 pm

38 W. 86th St. New York NY

Charmaine A. Nelson will present at the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Seminar on New York and American Material Culture on Tuesday, September 10, at 6 pm. Her talk is entitled “‘Of a Remarkably Down-Cast Countenance, and a Black and Copper Coloured Mixt Complexion’: Fugitive Slave Advertisements and/as Portraiture in Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Canada.”

Found throughout the Transatlantic World, fugitive slave advertisements demonstrate the ubiquity of African resistance to slavery. While such newspaper notices have been exhaustively studied since the 1970s in the Caribbean, South America, and in the USA on a state-by-state basis, scholars of Canadian slavery have mainly studied the fugitive slave archive for other ends. In this talk, Nelson proposes the study of Canadian (Nova Scotia and Quebec) and Jamaican fugitive slave advertisements, alongside portraiture and genre studies as a means of comparing the visual dimensions of creolization in slave minority and slave majority sites of the British Atlantic world. Produced by white slave owners seeking to recapture their runaway “property,” standardized icons of enslaved males and females became a staple of such print advertisements. However, the more complex textual descriptions were also fundamentally visual and arguably comprise an archive of very dubious, unauthorized “portraits” that have sadly come to stand as “the most detailed descriptions of the bodies of enslaved African Americans available.” (Graham White and Shane White, 1995, p. 49*). Besides noting things like names, speech, accents, language, and skills, fugitive slave notices frequently recounted the dress (hairstyles, adornment, clothing, etc.), branding, scarification, mannerisms, physical habits, and even the gestures and expressions of runaways. This talk seeks to analyze the differences and similarities between “high” art representations of enslaved Africans and the textual descriptions of enslaved people’s bodies which became a staple of fugitive advertisements. Recalling fugitive slave advertisements as a form of visual culture, this talk positions them as one part of the colonial infrastructure and network (including slave owners, printers, and jailers) that sustained the racialized distinction between free and unfree population

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