A Valuable Negro Woman

Max Smith
Max Smith
Aug 26 · 5 min read
Mother and Child on Slave Auction Block — Courtesy NY Public Library Digital Collections Public Domain
Little Lewis Sold, Slave Auction — Courtesy NY Public Library Digital Collections Public Domain
Hasty’s Grief — Courtesy NY Public Library Digital Collections Public Domain

Negroes for Sale, Miscellaneous Lots

The sign on yellow wood broadcasts
A valuable Negro woman,
A very valuable Blacksmith, wife and daughters,
A likely yellow girl,


For sale all.

….a good plain cook,
and excellent dairy maid,
washes and irons.
….has four children, one
a girl about 13 years of age, another
7, a boy about 5, and an infant
11 months old. 2
children will be
sold with the mother,
the others separately,
if it best suits
the purchaser.

Sound
as a dollar. Sold
for no fault.

..man 30 to 33 years
old….His wife, a likely
wench of 25 or 30
….their two children, girls
of 12 and 4 or 5.

…. bright mulattoes, of mild
tractable dispositions,
unassuming manners,
and of genteel appearance
and well worthy the notice
of a gentleman of fortune
needing such.

Black Friday Special

Negro wenches from
16 to 25…..capable of
doing a good day’s….

Conditions: ‘1/2 cash,
balance by bond,
bearing interest
from date of sale.
Payable in one to two
years to be secured by a
mortgage of the Negroes, and
appraised personal security.
Auctioneer will pay for
the papers.

Cash and carry
1800s America, the norm

The common goods
can be paid for outright,

‘You buy ’em, you own ‘em’

Just like that

The uncommon,
but everyday transaction offered,
more manageable terms

The Negroes could be secured
by mortgage or collateral provisos

Picture that

When buying a Negro,
Johnny O’wner could offer up cash,
or,
if hard pressed, tender or propose
indemnity,
like backing the purchase with a ring
or a horse,

But if Johnny O’
would rather not be
Negro rich
and cash poor,

he could take out a mortgage
on the Negro of choice,
and wind up in debt
for his child’s wet nurse,

with interest accrued
from lip to tit
or tit to purse

Like milk on glass,
the image obscured

Picture this

Walk to a shop
Turn the handle on the door,
hear it release the catch

Step in and browse the racks

Goods for sale, some with warranty,
others lack

The ‘As is’ stockade has a few scars

A boy missing an eye,
another an arm

You fiddle and faddle,
sift through the stock

You pinch, you poke,
lift up its frock

All to confirm
just what you’ve got

Push a stick in a rib
Pry open a mouth

Yank the teeth forward,
lift and twist the tongue

It winces, it groans
You sniff and move on

See a wench, big, stout, strong
with gourds resembling
your prize hog’s
and teats as succulent as
Clara the cow’s

Good for nursing, or
sucking on

You slap the ass, pluck
and release the flesh

Palm the haunches,
squeeze the breast

Not a precise measure, but
it will suffice

The negro’s eyes host malice but
its flesh lacks lice

Ah, at long last, a
good one you spot

Now, go to the owner and
shell out some cash,

Or off to the bank to
take out a loan

Place a mortgage on
the negro
You’ll now own
his groans

Yes, ‘that Negro,’ standing
right there. The broad backed
buck. The one that will hoe plant
sew and stud

Feel your whip serrate
his flesh
create steak-like ribbons
that look like mesh

Or that sable-hued Negress
in the corner might do

The one whose skin
looks like muck, she’s good for
cooking and for
a fuck

Better yet, you spy a
lithe yellow wench
12 or 13, more
or less,

a worthy play-
thing for your favorite boy
Every man worth his salt
should have his own toy

Go ahead, go on and sign
Take out a mortgage on
the whole swarming lot

Or perhaps just the one
you’re standing next to

Midnight blue
hung, handsome and sullen
he looks built for you

Graze your whip cross
his backside,
blood and bruises designed,
more than likely
he’s good for
a ride

Like buying a house,
Then or now

A horse, some cattle,
a big black sow

What is a mortgage?
What does it do?

The lexicon of finance
translates math into words

‘A legal agreement
that conveys the
conditional right
of ownership on
an asset or property by
its owner (the mortgagor)
to a lender (the mortgagee) as
security for a loan. …

The Cambridge dictionary touts,

‘An agreement that allows you
to borrow money from a bank
or similar organization by offering
something of value,

especially in order to buy a house
or apartment
or the amount of money itself.’

Negroes mortgaged as property
Sold on and off the auction block

So a negro was like a house.

And consisted of value (despite
what we’ve been told)
so say the good books,
the ones we can trust

In this case, A Valuable
Negro Woman, accustomed
to all kinds of work.


Bickell’s, West Indies ‘As They Are’ — Courtesy NY Public Library Digital Collection Public Domain
Ad for Public Sale of Negroes — NY Public Library Digital Collections, Public Domain
Narrative of the Life & Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, Written by himself — NY Public Library Digital Collections, Public Domain

The italicized descriptions of the enslaved and terms specified for their purchase were taken from a newspaper ad: Public Sale of Negroes by Richard Clagett in Charleston, SC, 1833.

Ck out the NYTimes — 1619 — series on the wide-ranging impact of enslaved Africans on virtually every aspect of American life.

Max Smith

Written by

Max Smith

Motivated by social justice, equality, humanity. Using words to shed light, build bridges & narrow gaps. EthnicWriter.com | maxsandrox@gmail.com

Resistance Poetry

Verse as Commentary

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade