Recently, I subscribed to Accessible Archives, an online, full text searchable database of 18th and 19th century publications. The database has a collection of eight African American newspapers and several other antislavery newspapers and publications. For the presentation I chose an article from The Colored American, an African American newspaper in circulation from 1837-1841. I have included an image of the newspaper from January 20, 1838. Of interest to my research and for the presentation is the section called “Read and Ponder,” located on the bottom right of the page, and a regular feature in the publication. The article tells the story of a New Hampshire man who traveled South to settle his brother’s estate and bring his three nieces home with him. He is shocked to learn the three girls are considered slaves and are of considerable worth because of their light complexions. The girls are sold and each bring a high rate again due to their “perfectly white” appearances. There are several other references in the article to their whiteness including: “no perceptible mulatto tinge” and “white slaves.” The story gives us details of a slave family being torn apart, which was a typical strategy among abolitionists.
The article shows the use of whiteness as a strategy of antislavery publications. The use of “white slaves” in conjunction with tales of family separation, sexual desire of Southern slave owners, and religious rhetoric establishes whiteness as an abolitionist tactic. While not explicitly said, the story of white girls being sold as “first rate articles” was told to illicit an emotional response in the newspapers readers, some of whom may have white daughters close in age to the slaves in the story. It is also interesting that this story of white slaves was printed in an African American newspaper. Presumably the paper would have white readers sympathetic to the antislavery movement but I think this is something I should look into further. It may also be interesting to compare the instances of whiteness in African American publications versus other abolitionist publications. This also the earliest example of such a strategy as I have been able to find at this point in my research. Based on my previous findings I thought this strategy was used closer to the Civil War, but finding an 1838 publication increases both the time-frame of my topic and the potential number of sources.