Branding an Enslaved Woman, 19th cent.

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This record was last updated on 10 Feb 2017

Image Reference

Brantz Mayer, Captain Canot; or, Twenty years an African slaver....(New York, 1854), facing p. 102.

Caption, "Branding a Negress"; shows two European men and a black woman, one of former is branding the latter on the back. It is unclear if this illustration is intended to depict an activity on the African coast or in the New World; in any case, it appears to be incorporated into a larger image, with additional figures added, published in William O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade (Columbus, Ohio, 1857; facing p. 97; see image Blake1 on this website). With respect to branding, Canot/Conneau wrote in 1827: " A few days before the embarkation takes place the head of every male and female are shaven. They are then marked . . . with a hot pipe sufficiently heated to blister the skin. Some [purchasers] use their initials made of silver wire. . . . . this disagreeable operation is done only when several persons ship slaves in one vessel . . . . [The branding] is done as lightly as possible, and just enough for the mark to remain only six months; when and if well done, it leaves the skin as smooth as ever. This scorching sign is generally made on the fleshy part of the arm to adults, to children on the posterior" (Theophilus Conneau, A Slaver's Logbook or 20 Years' Residence in Africa [Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1976), pp. 81-82; for another version of this, see Henry Howe (ed.), Life and Death on the Ocean [Cincinnati, 1856], p.526). The British military officer, John Duncan, describes branding of enslaved captives in Dahomey in the mid-1840s. The people were led onto the beach, before being placed aboard canoes that would take them to the waiting slave ships, "and the gang on each [coffle] chain is in succession marched close to a fire previously kindled on the beach. Here marking-irons are heated, and when an iron is sufficiently hot, it is quickly dipped in palm-oil, in order to prevent its sticking to the flesh. It is then applied to the ribs or hip, and sometimes even to the breast. Each slave-dealer uses his own mark, so that when the vessel arrives at her destination, it is easily ascertained to whom those who died belonged" (Travels in Western Africa in 1845 & 1846 [London, 1847; reprinted London, 1968], vol. I, p. 143). Another version of this image is shown on the website of the Mary Evans Picture Library (London), with an attribution to The Pictorial Times (London), 9 August 1845.