"Slave Names & Naming in Barbados"

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"Slave Names & Naming in Barbados"

Postby bimjim » Mon Dec 31, 2012 12:51 pm

WILLIAM AND MARY QUARTERLY, Vol 53 (1996) pps 685-728 - "Slave Names & Naming in Barbados", by Jerome S. Handler & JoAnn Jacoby. [Extracts]

How slaves adopted or were assigned surnames is another issue.

Writing in the early nineteenth century about the growth of the freedman population (free blacks and mulattoes) in Barbados, J. W. Orderson, a white Creole, reported that most slaves who purchased their freedom were already baptized; when they were manumitted, they added "to their Christian name that of their owner's family." Illustrations of Orderson's observation can be found in the Newton plantation records.

Several manumitted or about to be manumitted slaves seem to have adopted the names of Newton owners, though the records are unclear as to whether these names were legally recognized or informally acknowledged by plantation authorities. For example, Dolly refers to herself as Dolly Newton in an 1807 letter to Thomas Lane who, with his brother John, owned Newton and Seawell, requesting that her manumission be "executed."

Elizabeth Ann, a manumitted Newton slave, appears with two surnames (Miler and Newton) in another document. Another woman is referred to as "Jenny Lane, a slave," in a document prior to her manumission and calls herself Jane Lane in a letter to John and Thomas Lane; she is referred to as "Jenny, a free black woman" in the deed by which the Lane brothers sold to Jenny her two sons, whom she hoped to manumit herself. Such examples apart, it must be emphasized that only a minute fraction of Barbadian slaves were manumitted-far below 1 percent of the total slave population-and an even smaller percentage gained freedom through self-purchase.

There was no clear tendency for slaves with surnames to bear the names of their owners or other slave masters. For example, at Newton and Seawell during 1796, some fourteen slaves had second names that may have been surnames, e.g. Banton, Knight, Spencer, Rogers, Straker, Scott, and Saer, none of which was the name of an owner or a known manager. George Saer carried his white father's names, and, although his father may have been connected to Newton, he had not been an owner; none of the other possibly surnamed slaves had the same name as any of the plantations' seventeenth- or eighteenth- century owners. Moreover, all of these slaves had been born at either Newton or Seawell. Likewise, the 1791 Seawell list contains some six slaves with possible surnames (e.g., Williams, Thomas, Sergeant), but none of these names could be associated with any of Seawell's owners or managers.

We sought data on slave surnames by sampling hundreds (out of thousands) of slave baptism registrations for five parishes from the mid-182os to 1834. The registers give the names of the stave, the mother, the plantation, and the slave-owner. Most of the slaves had single names, but double names-e.g., Sarah Kitty, John Thomas, Mary Patience, Betty Frances, Mary Ann-were not uncommon. Some of these double names were possibly or probably surnames, but rarely were these the nme of the slave's owner. Very typical examples include: Henry Barrow was owned by Samuel Ramsey, James Lewis was owned by Alice Squires, Samuel Livingston by David Hall, John Alleyne by Benjamin Hinds, and Charlotte Holder by John Higginson. Only Elizabeth Cobham bore the surname of her owner, Catherine Cobham; Hester Cadogan was baptized as an infant, and her mother's owner was Ward Cadogan. The registers undoubtedly contain more cases of this kind, but the sample indicates that slaves generally had surnames that differed from those of their owners.

Scores of runaway ads in several newspapers during the late 1700s and early 1800s yield similar results. Most of the slaves mentioned were known only by a single Christian or Anglo-European name and less often by a double name, and rarely is the second of these double names identifiable as a surname; in such cases, the name is always different from that of the owner who is advertising for the runaway. Thus, as with the parish registers, the newspaper ads offer no evidence that surnames were taken from the names of the masters who owned the slaves in question.

The adoption of surnames increased toward the end of the slave period and accelerated after emancipation, when the ex-slaves required surnames for such legal purposes as land titles, marriages, and death certificates. Ex-slaves took the Anglo-European names available on the island, including those of slave-owners, plantation overseers, or other whites. We have no systematically collected data to establish the frequency of this practice or the criteria employed in selecting surnames. In all, there seems to have been no marked tendency for Barbadian slaves to bear their owners' surnames, but the criteria used in adopting or assigning surnames remain beyond the ability of our data to resolve.

Footnote: It is possible that slaves sometimes adopted the names of poor or other classes of whites, such as plantation militia tenants, hucksters, tradesmen, town dwellers, or even British military or naval officers or men with whom they were in contact. Females may have adopted the names of white men with whom they had continuing sexual relations-a practice not uncommon on plantations with lower-echelon whites as well as the slave masters themselves and in the towns. Rachael Pringle-Polgreen, a legendary late 18th-century tavern owner who had been born a slave, rejected the name of her biological white father, who her when she was a child and who mistreated her, and took the last names of two white benefactors-lovers, one of whom had been a British naval officer.
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