"To Be Sold:" The Commodification of Black Bodies and the Dehumanization of Enslaved Africans in Jamaican Slave Sale Advertisements, 1780-1800
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The dehumanization and commodification of enslaved Africans was predicated on eighteenth century constructions of Africans as categorically different and naturally inferior. By the closing decades of the eighteenth century, the racialized language developed by natural historians to explain human variation was embedded in, and helped support, the expansion of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The success of the slave trade in Africans, and the concomitant development of the British West Indies, was thus explained and justified by those that had a stake in the trade in slaves through characterizations of enslaved Africans as immoral, uncivil and primitive. British abolitionists challenged these justifications for the continuation of the slave trade over the course of the 1780s. The Privy Council’s 1788 inquiry into the ramifications of ending the slave trade represents a key moment of change through which to analyse how human differences were constructed and reproduced in the British Empire. In Jamaica, the impacts of explanations of the human differences and hierarchies converged with the rapid development of large integrated plantations dependent on the continuous supply of enslaved African labour. The use of phrases such as “To Be Sold,” “Prime,” and the use of imagery in slave sale advertisements published in The Royal Gazette from 1780-1783, and from 1793-1794, represent the ways in which constructions of human difference, commoditizing language and the dreadful economic success of slave-made goods played a crucial role in the dehumanization and racialization of enslaved Africans.