Manuscripts and Printed Books: Book History and Race

Brandi K. Adams and Carissa M. Harris

[Print edition page number: 3]

How can scholars see the intersections between race and gender in premodern manuscripts and printed books in ways that are “rooted in an ethical commitment to undoing gendered domination,” to use Imani Perry’s evocative charge?[1] Our coauthored essay explores the nexus between book history and premodern critical race studies in two objects from the Newberry Library’s collection. Brandi K. Adams analyzes Henry Rainolds’s and Henry King’s manuscript poems entitled “A Black-moor Maid wooing a fair Boy” (1630s–1650s) and “The Boy’s Answer to the Blackmoor” (1630s–1650s) (Figure 1.1) and she reveals that these poems, which eventually appeared in print without authorial consent, mirror the act of writing and distributing poems about Black women and their personhood without their consent. Carissa M. Harris examines A Letter from a Merchant at Jamaica (1709) (Figure 1.2), a mass-produced anonymous London pamphlet that features explicit scenes of Englishmen abusing enslaved Black women in the British West Indies. Together focusing on representations of Black women in premodern English textual culture, we show how material choices by book owners, copyists, and typesetters helped readers visualize race on the page. In the printed pamphlet, this visualization of race takes the form of gendered racial[4] slurs rendered with typographical conventions that emphasize and reenact their intersectional violence, demonstrating how typography’s visual dimensions can give us new ways of seeing race in book history that often have a genesis in the handwritten material forms of manuscript publication. Meanwhile, examinations and visualizations of race in manuscripts have a history that both precedes and provides an analog to print. Through a display of early English handwriting, it is possible to visualize the ways that white English writers constructed and shared their conceptions of race to particular communities.


An early 18th century manuscript of the poem "A Blackamore Maid to a Fair Boy".
Figure 1.1
A collection of serious, humorous and affectionate poems, early 18th century, manuscript, Newberry Library, VAULT Case MS Y 184 .18
Excerpt of an 18th century printed letter from a merchant to a member of Parliament.
Figure 1.2
A LETTER from a Merchant at JAMAICA TO A Member of Parliament in LONDON, Touching the AFRICAN TRADE. To which is added, A SPEECH made by a BLACK of Gardaloupe, at the Funeral of a Fellow-Negro, 9 London, 1709, Newberry Library, Ayer 1000.5 .J25 L65 1709

Part 1.
“We had not thus trespassed against your consent”: The Blackamoor Poems by Henry Rainolds and Henry King (1630s–1650s)

By Brandi K. Adams

Located in the Newberry Library is a presentation copy of an eighteenth-century manuscript miscellany entitled A Collection of Serious, Humorous, and Affectionate Poems (Figure 1.1).[2] The 135-page manuscript is recorded in black ink in a clear italic hand. In a subsection of the book called “A Collection of Affectionate Poems”, there is an unattributed entry of twelve-line in rhyming couplets entitled “A Blackamore Maid to a fair Boy”:

Stay, lovely boy! Why fly’st thou me?
Who languish in these flames for thee!
I’m black, ‘tis true _ why so is night;
Yet love does in it’s shades delight!
One moment close thy sparkling Eye,
The world shall seem as black as I.
Or look and see how black a shade
Is by thy own white body made
That follows thee, where’er you go:
(Ah, who allow’d would not do so!)
Oh let me then that Shadow be;
No maid shall then be blest as me! (103)

Written from the perspective of a young black woman, this poem entreats a “fair” or white young man to remain by her side and not to “fly” from her. In order to theorize her affection, the narrator constructs a symbiotic relationship between herself and “black” materials in nature: the night sky, shadows, and shades. She then implores the fair boy to become his “Shadow,” which would allow her to remain connected and “blest” ​—​ an extension of his white body. A companion to this poem entitled “The Boy’s answer,” appears on the subsequent page of the manuscript. Here, the narrator rebukes the Black maid and enumerates the reasons it remains impossible for him to accept her affection:

Black maid, complain not that I fly,
When fate commands Antipathy!
How monstrous would that union prove
Where night and day should mingled move?
And the Conjunction of our lips
Not kisses make, but an Eclipse?
In which the black shading the white
Portend more terror than delight!
Yet if my shadow thou will be,
Enjoy my shadow’s property;
Which tho’ attendant on my Eye,
Yet hasts away as I come nigh.
Else stay till death has struck me blind,
And then at will thou may’st be kind. (104)[6]

The response poem employs similar tropes of shadows and shades, yet also uses scientific discourse to emphasize the “monstrous” nature of any connection between them. For the white male speaker, only death would be the moment in which he would consent to their union. While these poems are unattributed in this particular eighteenth-century manuscript miscellany, at the time they were first recorded in this volume, they likely would have been recognized as variations of “The Blackamoor Poems,” a popular pair of verses by Henry Rainolds (1564–1632) (“A Black-moor maid wooing a fair boy”) and Henry King (1592–1669) (“The Boyes answer to the Blackmoor”), which King first published in manuscript in the 1630s.[3] The poems and their derivatives remain extant in several manuscript collections held in libraries in the United Kingdom, United States, and several countries in Europe. They vary slightly, but maintain the general form of the originals (which I cite below). The preservation and distribution of these specific poems invite both questions and speculation about the reason for their existence and their enduring popularity. What was it that was so compelling about these diptych-like portrait poems of a Black woman and her unrequited love for a white man?

The frequent inclusion of these poems in manuscript collections suggests that the verses and their subject matter remained fascinating for certain communities of mid-seventeenth century English readers of manuscript poems. After their initial scribal publication, readers continued to copy and share these poems and others with their larger social networks. New readers would then alter the poems to change words, meter, or rhyme to suit their individual style and taste. “Their passage from community to community,” Harold Love writes, “was marked by deletions and interpolations to suit the tastes of their new readerships.”[4] As these popular verses moved among even larger networks of readers, they recorded a small piece of the history and relationship between race and manuscript culture. Through the Blackamoor poems, it is also possible to see the ways that early modern readers in England employed handwritten poems to construct cultural imaginings about race and desire ​—​ ones that they might not necessarily commit to print. These poems also record the sentiment of a network of seventeenth-century English writers (who in this case were white and male) who felt compelled to write in the voice of Black women speakers or to use their bodies ​—​ as well as Black men’s bodies ​—​ as various metaphors of darkness, displacement, pseudoscientific inquiry, and absurdity within poems.

Through the “Blackamoor” poems in particular, Henry King, Henry Rainolds, and their networks of transcribers and readers have contributed to unsolicited, uninformed, and nonconsensual narratives about Black women that continue to persist. Much needed interventions by Kim F. Hall and Mary Hobbs have drawn attention to the popularity of this genre of poems and the negative tropes perpetuated by them.[5] Additional work is now needed to consider the role these poems had in constructing mid-to-late seventeenth-century English ideas about race in the community of readers in which these manuscripts were circulating freely. In what follows, I employ the work of Premodern Critical Race studies scholars to trace the history of the “Blackamoor” poems closely related to those found in the manuscript miscellany in the Newberry Library. I then demonstrate the ways in which white male early modern English poets freely[7] interpreted and envisaged the voices and bodies of early modern Black women in the “Blackamoor” manuscript poems using classical, contemporary, and burgeoning scientific sources to create a consensus on how Black women should be read and considered. Finally, I demonstrate how the pervasive acceptance of nonconsensual behavior around these poems led to their eventual printing and widespread publication against the original authors’ wishes.

It is a manifestly obvious statement that the original “Blackamoor” poems are not about historical Black women; these poems are distorted representations. Joyce Green MacDonald explains that as the Black woman’s racialized body was represented in early modern England, it was both “curiously subject to abstraction and displacement [and] it was also simultaneously endowed with a stubborn materiality.”[6] These manuscript poems exemplify MacDonald’s observations as they are textual abstractions of Black womanhood, but also real, material objects that seemingly provide answers to the types of questions scholars such as Saidiya Hartman, Imtiaz Habib, and Marisa J. Fuentes ask of other archival materials.[7] Until the elusive autobiographical poem written by a Black woman in early modern England is recovered, the “Blackmore/Blackmoor/Blackamoor” manuscript and printed poems must be read and reexamined to elicit answers to the question concerning historical Black women in England that Fuentes raises about enslaved women in the Caribbean: “How do we construct a coherent historical accounting out of that which defies coherence and representability?”[8] To this question I add: How did these manuscripts compel readers to visualize Black women in a collective manner?

For now, part of this accounting for Black women in England comes from these fictional poetic constructions in manuscript. They allow literary critics and historians to understand how white early modern writers conceived (or failed to conceive) of the personhood of Black women while also locating and historicizing modes of popular conversation encompassing Blackness and race. Rainold’s and King’s poems may be grouped with several others from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in which poets constructed portraits of Black women (and in some cases Black men) to love ​—​ or at least to admire ​—​ to ridicule, or to impersonate through versification. From encomia and blazons praising her beauty, to textual portraits in which a Black woman’s love is summarily rebuffed, there is variety and subtlety to this genre, which is part of a lineage that may have its genesis in a Latin poem about a Black woman by well-known seventeenth-century poet George Herbert.

Several works that attempt to materialize and visualize Black women, including Rainold’s, King’s and those in the Newberry Library manuscript, may have started with Herbert’s poem “Aethiopissa ambit Cestum Diversi Coloris Virum” [A Black woman desires Cestus, a man of a different color]. Herbert’s poem was composed in Latin sometime between 1612–26, and certainly before the 1630s, when Rainolds’s translated/adapted version of the poem appeared in manuscript.[9] Herbert conscripts the body and voice of a Black woman to espouse the developing rhetoric of an “Africanist presence” and “tropes of blackness” in language and culture that Kim F. Hall locates in early[8] modern England at that time and earlier.[10] “Aethiopissa” remains extant in many manuscript collections including one version (located at Yale University) which contains a Latin response much in the spirit of Henry King’s. In Herbert’s original poem, the speaker, an Ethiopian woman, asks “Quid mihi si facies nigra est? [What if my face is Black?]”[11] The speaker then continues by emphasizing that her darkness makes her a perfect shadow to a potential lover. His use of Latin implies that Herbert imagines a Classical past for Black women steeped in disappointment, which is also perhaps an allusion to Queen Persinna in Heliodorus’s Aethiopica (220–370 CE; first English translation 1569), a tale in which a Black Ethiopian queen gives birth to a pale, white daughter.[12] Herbert’s composition of the neo-Latin “Aethiopissa” may also be related to his use of Blackamoors as a metaphor for incomplete or unsatisfactory work in early poems set in his contemporary London.

John T. Gilmore also notices the relationship between Herbert’s Latin poem and the untitled one that Herbert dedicated to Francis Bacon (who at the time was Lord Chancellor of England). As Herbert’s speaker compares gifts of literary works that they have exchanged, he describes Bacon’s work a “diamond” in comparison to his own. The speaker insists that his own manuscript is a “Blackamoor,” seemingly in order to contrast both the supposedly inferior state of his work and his position as a scholar with Bacon’s. The gift-text itself, a “Blackamoor” literary production, is the polar opposite of a clear, valuable diamond, the type of “shining and sharp” work that Francis Bacon supposedly produces. Nevertheless, the speaker requests that Bacon accept this gift:

Only, most noble Lord, shut not the door
Against this mean and humble Blackamoor.
Perhaps some other subject I had tried
But that my ink was factious for this side.[13]

Despite what he categorizes as the meanness of his work, Herbert’s speaker still wishes to forward it, blaming the “Blackamoor” nature of his writing on ink that is unruly or disputative ​—​ not unlike criticism of Blackness in various printed forms.[14] The language of disparagement and false modesty is evocative of Herbert’s “Aethiopissa” poem in which she belittles her own physicality as if to ensure that, for her potential lover, her existence and desire ​—​ like the Blackamoor gift-text from Herbert’s speaker ​—​ will always remain tributary. In the poem to Francis Bacon, however, the structure suggests that there remains hope that the speaker’s gift will be accepted, whereas “Aethiopissa’s” argument is framed from a defensive position in which the speaker must immediately and continually justify her existence. Gilmore suggests that the “Aethiopissa” poem can be read within the grim realities of sugar plantations and England’s expanding colonial violence, which would have conditioned English and European readers of the poem to react to any Black woman’s perspective as “manifestly absurd.”[15] By displacing desire for Black women that Englishmen may have experienced back onto the speaker, the poem forces Aethiopissa’s actions and desires to become the focus of the verse, a reinforcement of the futility of her mistaken feelings of love. In turn, this uneven desire makes her culpable for any relationship that develops. This act of continual rejection of Aethopissa and other Black women becomes a popular trope that[9] found itself translated into English for a wider group of readers when Rainolds introduces his version of the poem in the 1630s. As a result, Herbert’s classically inspired, yet historically inaccurate, presentation of Black women and their emotions becomes codified by a larger and more influential coterie of readers, for it is Rainold’s translation of Herbert’s poem that inspires Henry King to compose what becomes a very well-read response.

It is necessary to note that what may appear as intellectual exercises in fact tell a microhistory of white English writers attempting to contextualize Blackness and delineate the worth of Black women’s bodies. While these poems are characterized by Arthur Marotti as “witty trivia,” and identified as a benign translations (with additions) of Herbert’s “Aethiopissa,” Rainolds’s poem unquestioningly translates and adapts the neo-Latin work promulgating a rather unflattering portrait of a “blackmoor maid” into a quippy rondeau prime (a twelve-line poem that usually contains seven lines (called a septet) followed by five additional lines (called a cinquain).[16] Following the historically-inspired spirit of Herbert’s “Aethiopissa” and using what he imagines as the voice of a Black maid, Rainolds’s speaker entreats the fair boy to allow her to follow him as she attempts to validate her existence:

A Black-moor Maid wooing a fair Boy:
sent to the Author by Mr. Hen. (s).
STay lovely Boy, why fly’st thou mee
That languish in these flames for thee?
I’m black ‘tis true: why so is Night,
And Love doth in dark Shades delight.
The whole World, do but close thine eye,
Will seem to thee as black as I;
Or op’t, and see what a black shade
Is by thine own fair body made,
That follows thee where e’re thou go;
(O who allow’d would not do so?)
Let me for ever dwell so nigh,
And thou shalt need no other shade than I. [17]

Mr. Hen.Rainold(s).

As she “languish[es] in these flames” of love, the speaker capitulates to the boy’s implied denial and further claims that she shares a color with Night. Like Aethiopissa, this unnamed Black woman speaker aligns her color with the evening, a time in which sexual activities can take place, to evoke and enflame the fair boy’s desire. The speaker uses her color, nature, and sexuality to invent value for the object and addressee of her affections. To further persuade him, she insists that if he only “close[s] thine eye,” night becomes a default setting for the world, a filter through which she normalizes her body and coloring, to “seem to thee as Black as I.” For the speaker, her existing proximally to the fair boy is enough; she only wishes to perform her role as a shadow, like Aethiopissa: “Hoc saltem officio fungar amore tui,” [This, at least, is a duty I can perform for you, beloved].[18] Along with this invocation of shadows is an implied servitude both in the speaker’s voice of supplication, and in the title of the poem as she and her shadow are always subordinate to the sun of the fair boy.

An analogue may be found in a recently auctioned “English School Double Portrait” (1650) (Figure 1.3) in which two women, one white and one Black, are seated together, their faces painted with astrological symbols. Although the women are seated next to one another, rather equally, the Black woman’s features fade into the darkness and shadows of the background of the painting. Her equality is diminished because of the luminescence of the white woman’s hair and skin. Peter Erickson notes that in paintings of this type that equanimity is illusory. He writes about Black servants in particular: “Inclusion of the Black servant does not[10] represent benign inclusiveness but is rather keyed to incorporation into a visual regime structured in white dominance. Artistic sophistication in no way guarantees complexity in the sense of humanly sensitive, enlightened images of black [people].”[19] Blackness in this painting replicates that which is found in the portraitlike manuscripts. It is a response to whiteness and maleness ​—​ a shadow of the primary figure. The Black woman figure in this double portrait could easily become the “Blackamoor” of Herbert’s, King’s, and Rainolds’s imaginations.

Rainolds’s (and by extension, Herbert’s) use of the trope of the “Blackamoor” is also perhaps indicative of what Ella Shohat recognizes in visual material and historical representations of this imagined people:

A figure of simultaneous Blackness and Moorishness, the Blackamoor offers an exemplum of the continuities between various Eurocentric representations, which include the racialization and Orientalization of various others. The Blackamoor can be seen as a fluid mélange of paradoxes; its Blackness is embedded in Orientalism, just as its Moorishness is embedded in the racialization of Africa.[20]

Located in the term “Blackamoor” and in the poem itself is a power dynamic that forever structures a white, English (possibly colonial) voice and discourse at the center of the speaker’s words. As other scholars have pointed out, poems such as this engage in a rhetorical blackface, which affirms white English readers’ perceptions about Black women, Blackness, and imagined relationships between Black women and white Englishmen.[21] In this narrative, the attraction can only be unidirectional, which provides an impetus for Henry King’s response in sonnet form.

The Rainolds and King poems are usually paired together, much like a diptych painting, in which King’s response serves as a rejoinder, and mimics the dynamics of power that are evident in the Rainolds poem. King offers a response in the voice of the fair boy:

The Boyes answer to the Blackmoor.
Black Maid, complain not that I fly,
When Fate commands Antipathy:
Prodigious might that union prove,
Where Night and Day together move,
And the conduction of our lips
Not kisses make, but an Eclipse;
In which the mixed Black and white[11]
Portends more terror than delight.
Yet if my shadow thou wilt be,
Enjoy thy dearest wish: But see
Thou take my shadowes property,
That hastes away when I come nigh:
Else stay till death hath blinded mee,
And then I will bequeath my self to thee[22]

In his sonnet response (in the form of rhyming couplets) to Rainold’s adaptation of Herbert’s poem, King has the fair speaker further normalize the hierarchical relationship between himself and the Black maid. By invoking Fate, the speaker simultaneously yokes timelessness and historical precedence to their incompatibility. The speaker articulates Kim F. Hall’s notion that whiteness remains in polarity to Blackness in early modern English discursive contexts.[23] For English readers ​—​ for whom this kind of relationship seemed nothing short of impossible ​—​ it provides them with assurance that this Black maid, however fictive, has no place in the Copernican universe where day and night must remain separate. The fear of the phenomenon and the terror associated with the overturn of the universe in the form of an eclipse ​—​ or the speaker’s “kiss” with the Black maid ​—​ was indeed palpable at the time. Anthony Grafton records a history of early responses to the scientific phenomenon and includes Caspar Peucer’s vivid response to the notion of eclipses in 1533: “We can see with our own eyes what vicissitudes eclipses of the sun and moon, especially that of the sun, have caused for the empire, what disturbances they have provoked, what changes and quarrels they have portended for the realm of religion.”[24] King’s speaker then invokes the terror of celestial disturbance to articulate the impossibility and the apocalyptic nature of this pairing. He reads the eclipse as many early modern Englishmen and Europeans did, “as signs of victory or disaster, portents of a future that made them tremble with joy, horror, or both.”[25] In this case, the eclipse or kiss is nothing but sheer terror.

To the speaker, the mixing of Blackness with whiteness remains the antithesis of an ordered universe. He does offer the Black maid a type of solace in which he invites her to become the shadow that she requests in the initial poem, as her skin remains in striking contrast to his. Instead, she is to embody the properties of an actual shadow, one that “hastes away,” as he approaches, keeping the Black maid and fair boy at distance from each other. His last offering to her is that of death, which will blind him to the world, and allow her to finally embrace him. This rebuff stands in stark contrast to other poems of the period including one by T. R. entitled, “In Praise of Black Women,” published in 1654 in a printed miscellany called The Harmony of the Muses.[26] Here, in the first six lines of the forty-four lined poem, the speaker inverts several of the metaphors invoked by King’s fair speaker:

IF shadows be a Pictures excellence,
And makes the shew more glorious to the sense;
If Stars in the bright day be hid from sight,
And shine more glorious in Masque of night,
Why should you think rare creature that you lack
Perfections, cause your hair and eyes be Black;[27]

Despite being called “creatures,” the Black women of T.R.’s poem are “excellent” and full of “perfections,” as the speaker constructs an extended blazon of an entire group of women. The perspective is clearly[12] that of a white, male speaker. There are, of course, moments of objectification and colonialist constructions, but to the speaker’s credit, the poem takes time to reverse tropes that make Blackness negative. The polarity is switched and if this poem is read without irony, it is a much more generous notion of Blackness for the time. This particular poem was published in print three years before Rainolds and King’s poems, so it is likely that they could all be read together to construct a spectrum of opinions regarding the position of Black women in early modern English society, although King may not have wanted to advertise his own creative work on the subject as publicly as it was in 1657.

While the “Blackamoor” poems were in circulation, they originated with the author and traveled through King’s social circles. Very much like Katherine Philips and his friend John Donne, King supervised the circulation of his works. Therefore, it is likely that most manuscript copies of his poem were circulated without hindrance from King, as he was a “scribal publisher of miscellanies, presenting his own poems intermixed with those of friends.”[28] As the son of the Bishop of London and a graduate of Christ Church, Oxford (B. A. 1611 and M. A. 1614), his social circle was substantial and included playwright Ben Jonson, along with his aforementioned fellow poet and clergyman John Donne. Mary Hobbs traces the itinerary of Henry King’s poems through scribes at Christ Church, to other colleges in Oxford, to attorneys at Inns of Court and then to groups of musicians in London.[29] As they were circulated and recirculated, the “Blackamoor” poems remained popular within these groups of readers and perhaps solidified white cultural ways of thinking about Blackness and Black women.[30] For the readers of these works, particularly as the manuscripts were read, copied, and reread, the Black Maid speakers from Rainolds’s poem as well as the Black Maid addressees from King’s may have become for them the literal voices ​—​ ironic or not ​—​ of actual Black women living in and around London. To these coteries of readers, the identity and worth of Black women may have been solidified without their knowledge and certainly without their consent. In 1657, King experienced a modicum of their experience as he had his work, which included the “Blackamoor” poems, printed and circulated outside of his control.

Somehow, King’s poems were acquired by publishers Richard Marriott and Henry Herringman, who then printed and sold them in St. Dunstans Churchyard Fleet-street, and at the New-Exchange (also called Britain’s Bourse) on the Strand. There, fashionable shoppers could purchase expensive clothing and furniture as well as books, including King’s. If King’s manuscript was indeed conscripted for publication (or sold by someone in possession of his manuscript), it suffered a somewhat similar fate to the Black woman in his poem. The poems and the words that he carefully governed in manuscript became available to a much larger reading public than those in his network of manuscript readers. At this point in his life, King had been removed from his position of Bishop of Chichester (as a part of the Interregnum) and was awaiting reinstatement ​—​ his own position unsteady and mutable, yet not as uncomfortable as the Black maid of his poem. The seizure and publication of his poetry mimics his own actions as well as those of George Herbert and Henry Rainolds as they took possession of an identity that did not belong to them. Like the women of the poems, his manuscript became a commodity that could be handled, controlled, and interpreted by people outside of familiar readers and communities. Both the Black women subjects of the poems and the poems themselves became something worth exploiting for profit, whether this revenue manifested itself as fame or as monetary capital.

Unlike Herbert, Rainolds, or even King, the publishers of King’s work attempted to justify their actions. In a highly unusual paratextual move, Marriott and[13] Herringman chose to write a prefatory letter to King (instead of the usual letter to readers) to publicly admit that they took it upon themselves to publish these poems. And to add to the injury, the publishers blame King for not committing these poems to print:

The Lord Verulam comparing ingenious Authors to those who had Orchards ill neighbored, advised them to publish their own labors, lest others might steal the fruit: Had you followed his example, or liked the advice, we had not thus trespassed against your consent, or been forced to an Apology, which cannot but imply a fault committed.[31]

The publishers assure him that they have saved him from further injury and “added violence,” because they prevented “false copies of these Poems from being pushed into the marketplace.”[32] They assure him that his “Juvenalia” is more than acceptable with several readers waiting to enjoy his words. They take the blame for the person who shared the work with them, as they are “persons at a distance,” which allows them freedom to enact this grievance without many repercussions.[33] Unlike the Black women subjects in the above poems, King at least received an apology ​—​ however disingenuous ​—​ as his work was converted from the manuscripts over which he exhibited at least some control to the wider reading public. The “added violence” of print remains the taking of a Black woman’s likeness and distributing it to the point where it was able to be read, characterized, undervalued, and likely misunderstood by so many individual readers who never encountered or comprehended her existence in England. The Rainolds and King poems, while perhaps never really about Black women, nevertheless promulgated modes of thought and textual portraits about them that continued throughout the century well into the present.

Part 2:
Misogynoir in Print: A Letter from a Merchant at Jamaica (1709)[34]

By Carissa M. Harris

A vivid account of an Englishman abusing an enslaved Black woman in colonial Jamaica unfolds in a political pamphlet advocating for slavery’s reform. While touring his plantation one Sunday, a planter discovers a Black man in bed with a woman he does not recognize: “Hussey! says the Planter, who are you? To whom do you belong?[35] Without waiting for an answer, he beats her, unleashes a barrage of racist gendered insults, and orders her to be stripped and whipped. The pamphlet’s London typesetter highlights the[14] planter’s slurs ​—​ “Hussey,” “D—’d B—ch,” “W—re” ​—​  by setting them in italics to designate them as direct speech and censoring many of them with long dashes due to their obscenity (Figure 1.2). The typesetter’s visual emphasis on these terms, which accrued powerful overlapping meanings of femininity, youth, excessive sexuality, and low social status over time, illuminates their shared structural role in what Imani Perry calls “a complicated architecture of relations of domination.”[36] The anonymous author who chose them, and the typesetter who decided how they would look on the printed page, together call attention to Black women’s dehumanization in a text that argues for their continued enslavement.

This narrative comes from A Letter from a Merchant at Jamaica, an anonymous thirty-one-page pamphlet printed in London in 1709 and held in the Newberry Library as well as Brown University’s John Carter Brown Library. The pamphlet, its price of two pence advertised on the title page, consists of two parts. The first, a thirteen-page section dated October 10, 1708, is titled “A LETTER from a Merchant at Jamaica to a Member of Parliament in London, touching the AFRICAN TRADE.” In it, an English merchant living in Jamaica addresses an unnamed MP with whom he claims “the honor” of “Acquaintance . . . whilst I was in England” (4). Stating he has “HEAR[D] from England, that there’s like to be a Struggle next Session of Parliament between the African Company and the other Traders thither” (3), the merchant purports to tell the unvarnished truth about the “Cruelty” of the slave trade in the British West Indies that neither “the Planters or Merchants, the Company or Traders” will disclose during the upcoming session (4).[37] He argues for slavery’s reform by narrating three incidents of Englishmen’s violence against enslaved African women: a planter who tries to separate a Black couple because he wishes to purchase the man but not the woman; the episode I discussed briefly above, in which a planter abuses a Black woman for her sexual choices because she “belong[s]” to someone else; and an enslaver ordering a heavily pregnant woman to be stripped naked and publicly whipped for petty theft (3–15).[38] The merchant-narrator urges that enslaved Black people “be treated with Humanity and Reason; [and] if they are ill us’d, that the Law should give them . . . Protection or Redress” (14). But his solution to slavery’s cruelty does not entail abolition. Rather, he details these graphic spectacular “scenes of subjection,” using Saidiya Hartman’s term for this phenomenon, to contend that the institution should be reformed so it can be “preserve[d] and increase[d]” (13) for the benefit of men like him.[39]

I analyze the Letter using Moya Bailey’s concept of misogynoir, a term she defines as “the uniquely co-constitutive racialized and sexist violence that befalls Black women as a result of their simultaneous and interlocking oppression at the intersection of racial and gender marginalization.”[40] Bailey focuses on the media’s central role in perpetuating misogynoir because of how it shapes popular perceptions of Black women that in turn influence law, policy, and public health outcomes. She contends that “[r]epresentations of Black women in popular culture help support and perhaps even bolster the harm they experience.”[41] We can read this mass-produced pamphlet ​—​ printed, cheap, widely available to a London audience ​—​ as a form of media misogynoir asserting the hypersexuality, animality, and, as I shall shortly show,[15] intrinsically laboring nature of Black women’s bodies to support the author’s argument for their necessary domination. The pamphlet’s misogynoir operates through its libidinally-charged descriptions of violence inflicted on Black women’s naked bodies, its gendered slurs carrying long histories of intersecting vulnerabilities and structural disempowerment, and its typesetter’s choices to censor some of these insults with dashes, enabling readers to experience the thrill of reconstructing the obscenities and rendering them more visually prominent on the page. These dashes are so powerful because they are inherently participatory, compelling readers to interact with them to supply the missing letters. The dashes’ interactivity is reinforced by the brutality of these scenes’ violence: Saidiya Hartman declares that “[w]hat interests me are the ways we are called upon to participate in such scenes,” and this pamphlet’s typographical choices call upon readers to participate in its misogynoir.[42]

Asserting slavery’s benefit to men like “Us,” the merchant writes, “It must be own’d our Plantations are of great Consequence to both Us and England. They are work’d and cultivated mostly by the hands of Negroes, and it would be hard to do it by any others” (14). Central to the Letter’s constellation of insults for enslaved Black women ​—​ ”Cow,” “ill-thriven Jade,” “Hussey,” “B—ch,” “W—re” ​—​ is their signification of exploitable feminine bodies, for they conflate female animals, lower-status women, sex workers, and Black women and insist that they are built for “Labour” in all its senses ​—​ domestic, sexual, physical, reproductive ​—​ to benefit any man who can afford their hire. Emphasized on the printed page through capitalization, italics, and dashes, the merchant’s lexicon of misogynoir affirms his argument that Black people must remain enslaved because they are “Negroes . . . by whose Labour we are enrich’d” (14). His use of the term “Labour” is significant: for centuries, the language of physical toil overlapped with the vernacular of sexual activity in words such as “swink,” “labour,” and “werk,” causing this capacious sense of “Labour” to resonate with the Letter’s misogynoirist slurs insisting on the inherent exploitability of Black women’s bodily exertion.[43] Leaving aside “whore” because its rich history lies outside the scope of this short chapter section, I trace these terms’ development in England and Scotland during the twelfth through seventeenth centuries to show how they accrued sedimented meanings of disadvantage rooted in class, race, labor, gender, and sexuality, an accretion which enabled them to function as powerful tools of misogynoir by the early eighteenth century.[44] Following Perry’s exhortation to “think of feminism as a critical reading practice in which one ‘reads through these layers’ of gendered forms of domination,” I “seek deep understanding” of how these constellated terms amassed the figurative freight to anchor the merchant’s argument for Black women’s continued enslavement.[45] I call this methodology “intersectional material philology,” and I enlist it in service of providing an account of lexical power and marginalization that continues to shape Black women’s lives today.[46]

In the Letter’s first anecdote, an English planter attempts to purchase “a stout jolly young Fellow” on a slave ship (5). The ship’s captain warns, “Sir . . . he has a Wife; if you have him, you must take the Cow too.” The planter reacts indignantly: “D—n her, says the Planter, she’s an ill-thriven Jade; I’ll not meddle with her: Prithee let me have the Fellow alone.” Here, the dashes that the typesetter uses to replace the obscene word’s core letters for propriety’s sake, as he does elsewhere with “W—re,” “d—’d B—ch,” “D—g,” and “D—l,” draw[16] visual attention to the planter’s curse. Anne Toner has traced how printers used dashes to censor objectionable content beginning in sixteenth-century dramatic texts, noting that “the dash marks the suppression of lewdness, while at the same time making it more evident.”[47] She discusses “the visual dimension of the ellipsis,” or the fact that “the associative nature of reading . . . brings punctuation’s graphic dimensions to life,” modeling ways we can read the Letter’s long horizontal dashes: as an arm stretching taut to deliver a blow, as the propulsive forward movement of a fist hurtling to meet flesh, as a body knocked prone to the ground by the words’ violent force.[48]

The enslavers use animal epithets ​—​ “Cow” and “ill-thriven Jade” ​—​ to name the woman on the slave ship, both signifying bodies whose value inheres in their capacity to benefit men with their labor.[49] The typesetter capitalizes both “Cow” and “Jade,” as he does with nearly all nouns in the pamphlet.[50] Edward Phillips’s 1696 English dictionary defines “Cow” as “A Tame Beast with Horns, a Female to a Bull, that brings forth Calves, and gives Milk. The Emblem of . . . a Lazy, Dronish, Beastly woman, who is likened to a Cow.”[51] Phillips, like the slave ship’s captain, defines the “Cow” by her status as a female “Beast” counterpart to a male animal. Phillips’s “Cow” is a reproductive body that “brings forth” offspring and “gives Milk”; when applied to women, paradoxically, it carries derogatory connotations of animality and unproductivity. The slave ship captain’s use of “Cow” casts the Black woman as a feminized body that is expected to labor both physically and reproductively, but whose labor is not sufficient for those who wish to profit from it.

Jade,” the planter’s insult for the Black woman that echoes the ship captain’s in its gendered animal connotations, originally signified a horse whose body was broken down by labor.[52] In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Prologue (1390s), the Canterbury pilgrimage’s host encourages a priest to tell a story while gently mocking his decrepit horse:

Be blithe, though thou ryde upon a jade.
What thogh thyn hors be bothe foul and lene?
If he wol serve thee, rekke nat a bene.

[Be merry, even though you ride upon a broken-down horse. Who cares if your horse is both emaciated and in poor physical condition? If he will serve you, it doesn’t matter.][53]

Harry Bailly uses “jade” to name a “hors . . . bothe foul and lene,” a work-exhausted body existing solely to “serve” the man who “ryde[s]” on it.[54] “Jade” initially designated a male or female horse, as attested by Chaucer’s use of “he” to name the animal. But it came to signify transgressive feminine sexuality by the sixteenth century, due to its connections to excessive corporeal toil. These connections transferred to women whose bodies were deemed to be worn out by prodigious amounts of sex, like overridden horses exhausted for profit by men who have hired them, in a cluster of terms​ ​—​ “nag,” “jade,” “hackney,” “mare,” “stotte”​ —​ that carried overlapping meanings of[17] excessive equine labor and feminine sexuality.[55] In the anonymous Tudor interlude The Nice Wanton (c. 1550), the epithet “jade” is hurled at an outspoken woman who scolds her neighbors: “There is one Xantippe, a curst shrew . . . Such a jade she is, and so curst a quean [whore], / She would out-scold the devil’s dame, I ween.”[56] Here the “jade” is characterized by her unruly anger and illicit sexuality, aligned with the disruptive “shrew” and the promiscuous “quean.” Xantippe’s daughter Dalila, a sex worker who dies of syphilis, is denigrated in similar terms: “Gup, whore; do ye hear this jade?” one male character shouts as she exits the stage (104).

In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain, “jade” was so offensive that women went to court to prosecute those who called them jades, as historians Laura Gowing and Kirilka Stavreva have shown.[57] In Banff on Scotland’s northern coast, a carpenter’s wife named Margaret Gray was imprisoned in 1662 for attacking Isobel Greig by “calling her Jad and queyn and offering to strik her with stones.”[58] At this point, “jad” was legally abusive speech connected to other gendered sexual slurs (“queyn”) and threats of physical violence. By the time the planter insults an enslaved African woman as “ill-thriven Jade” in an eighteenth-century pamphlet, the term bore centuries-old symbolic freight of animality, degraded femininity, and illicit sexuality. Above all, “jade” signified a body worn out and irreparably damaged from men’s extraction of its labor.[59]

In the Letter’s second “scene of subjection,” to use Hartman’s term, a planter attacks “a Stranger Black Woman” whom he finds with “one of his Black Men” on his plantation (7). After addressing her as “Hussey” and caning her, he berates the man for coupling with a woman who “belong[s]” to another plantation patriarch: “If you want a Woman, have not I Women enou’ for you? You Dog you! Sirrah, whose is she?” he shouts (7). He calls her “Hussey” again and tells his servants, “strip this W—re; tie her to yonder Tree, and let her have forty sound Lashes with the Cat-of-nine-tails” (7), cursing her as “you d—’d B—ch” (8). When she says that she is the man’s wife, the planter orders forty more lashes, then attempts to kill the man “for daring to meddle with any Women but mine” (8). His rage stems from his thwarted sense of patriarchal domination: believing he has power over the bodies he “owns” and averse to the possibility of “one of his Black Men” (7) impregnating a woman whose reproductive labor would benefit another Englishman, he has her beaten, stripped, and whipped as though she “belong[s]” to him.

In both this anecdote and the previous one, the typesetter sets the planter’s direct speech in italic type, visually differentiating it from the rest of the text in roman type. Mark Bland traces how, beginning in the sixteenth century, “the choice of italic marked the otherness of the text and the difference of voice” and thus frequently designated direct speech.[60] Here, italics both draw visual attention to the enslavers’ words by differentiating them from the narrator’s and enable the narrator to reproduce the slurs while denying ownership of them.

B[it]ch,” designated as obscene by the typesetter’s censoring dashes, named a female dog from the early Middle Ages onward and signified a limitless, indiscriminate sexual appetite. Due to these associations, “bitch” was also an insult directed at women, much like it is today. A twelfth-century gloss on one[18] of Ælfric’s Old English sermons reads “fulan horan and byccan” [foul whores and bitches], pointing to the term’s longstanding usage as a derogatory term connoting illicit feminine sexuality.[61] In Handlyng Synne (c. 1303–17), the monk Robert Mannyng compares a copulating couple to “dog and bych that men on wondre” [a dog and bitch that people stare at] (8952), a line one reader deemed so offensive that they scraped it from the parchment page in a late fourteenth-century manuscript.[62] Mannyng’s pairing of “dog and bych” to describe two people caught having illicit sex (in this case, because it occurs on church property) resonates with the planter’s use of “Dog” and “B[it]ch” to address the enslaved couple. Mannyng underscores the demeaning significance of “bycche” elsewhere by sharing “a tale of a wycche, / That leved no better than a bycche” [A witch that lived no better than a bitch] (499–500). In John Rolland’s Middle Scots translation of The Seven Sages of Rome (1560), the narrator exclaims of an adulterous empress, “Fy, bitter bitche!” and denigrates her as “this bald bittre Bitch,” linking his repetition of “bitch” to feminine sexual voracity.[63] “Bitch” was a common insult in early modern defamation cases: in 1590, Edith Parsons leaned out of her London house to shout at Sicilia Thornton, “thou art an whore, an arrant whore, a bitche, yea worse than a bitch,” and in the Welsh market town of Ruthin, Jane Lloyd was insulted as “proud bitch, lying under every bodyes breech under hedges.”[64] By the time that the planter attacks the enslaved Black woman as a “B[it]ch” and the typesetter underscores its offensiveness with a censoring ellipsis, the term’s sedimented gendered, sexual, and animal meanings enabled its racialization.[65]

In addition to insulting her as “B[it]ch” and “W[ho]re,” the planter twice addresses the Black woman as “Hussey.” “Hussy” originated as a fifteenth-century Scots abbreviation of “housewife,” defined by her gender and domestic labor, before also becoming “a derogatory term for a woman or girl: a woman of low character or of the lower orders, a wanton, a wench.”[66] The complimentary phrase “a hwsy that can hows” [a housewife who knows how to run a house], in monastic historian Andrew of Wyntoun’s Original Chronicle (c. 1420), is its earliest recorded reference in the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue.[67] But by the time Edinburgh town officials decreed expulsion for “vagabounds, young fallowis or young husis, haffand na prettik nor service to life upon” [idlers, young fellows or young hussies, having no job nor service to live upon] in 1505, “hussy” was a legally transgressive category of lower-status young woman unable to support herself materially.[68] Another Edinburgh statute in 1530 ordered all landowners and householders to expel “hussis vile personis and vagabundis that wantis housbondis to wyn thar liffing” [hussies, lowly people, and idlers who lack husbands to win their living] from their households.[69] The “hussy” is marked by her multiple disadvantages of youth, femininity, poverty, subjugation, singleness, and lower social status. She is expected to labor for property-owning patriarchs, and she is treated derisively because she[19] fails to fulfill those expectations. Like “bitch” and “jade,” “hussy” signified illicit sexuality: one 1596 history of Scotland claims that the notoriously dissolute tenth-century King Cuilén “gave him selfe to all filthines, nycht and day to banket, Jug, and drink, with the foullest slutt husies and servandis, and was sa kendlet in lust” [gave himself to all filthiness, night and day to banquet, tipple, and drink to excess with the foulest disreputable hussies and servants, and was so inflamed by lust], linking “hussy” with subservience, filth, drunkenness, and lechery.[70] “Hussy” was not as offensive as “bitch” or “jade,” as evidenced by its relative absence from slander cases, but it had a long history as an insulting term signifying lower-status women expected to perform household work and disparaged for not doing enough of it, often with connotations of excessive sexual activity. When the planter’s first word upon spying the Black woman is “Hussey,” he invokes these numerous structural vulnerabilities: to him, she is an unprofitable, sexually transgressive “Hussey” because he is not entitled to exploit her labor under the system of slavery. The term’s implications regarding patriarchal ownership and feminine servility are clear in his initial questions, “To whom do you belong?” and “Whose is she?” He is enraged because the woman is “here” “upon my Plantations” and yet does not “belong” to him (7); instead, another property-owning Englishman profits from her labors.

Intersectional material philology enables us to see how the planter’s word choices frame Black women as made for labor yet insufficiently laboring. This vocabulary thus perfectly espouses the pamphlet’s agenda to “preserve and increase” slavery by philologically centering the value of Black women’s labor to white men and implying that they need to work harder for them. By tracing these terms’ sedimented histories, we can see not only how they accrued connotations of intersectional disadvantage, physical toil, and gendered disgust but also how they frequently clustered together as part of a larger constellation of misogyny that became misogynoir in the context of Britain’s trans-Atlantic slave trade. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “constellation” as “a number of fixed stars grouped together within the outline of an imaginary figure traced on the face of the sky,” rendering it a useful metaphor for reading the Letter’s lexicon of misogynoir because it elucidates how these terms, each with its own dynamic lineage, together form “the outline of an imaginary figure” of degraded racialized femininity characterized by sexual availability and exploitable labor.[71] Whereas Henry King uses the eclipse as a misogynoiristic solar metaphor in “The Boyes answer to the Blackmoor,” as Adams shows, I turn to the sidereal metaphor of constellation to illuminate how these words operate: as “fixed stars” clustering together that accrete new matter over time as they shape the lives of those who live under their malicious light.

This constellating of the Letter’s terms for Black women, like the individual terms themselves, has a rich history that the merchant implicitly leverages in his argument for Black women’s necessary subordination due to their corporeal usefulness to “White-men” (31). The late medieval biblical drama The Woman Caught in Adultery (c. 1475) stages a group of Pharisees publicly abusing a woman apprehended in her lover’s bed as “thou hore and stynkynge bych Clowte [whore and stinking raggedy bitch]”, in a scene that resonates with the planter discovering “a Stranger Black Woman” and attacking her as “d—’d B—ch” and “W—re.[72] This clustering is most pronounced in legal defamation cases, demonstrating how frequently these terms were used together in everyday life: Laura Gowing recounts a 1638 London incident in which Frances Powell called her neighbor “base jade base whore base queane base bitch,” using three[19] of the Letter’s epithets for enslaved Black women; the neighbor responded by calling Frances a “bitch,” drawing from the same lexicon of insult.[73] In Strathbogie in northeast Scotland in 1653, Janet Mawer was allegedly drunk on the Sabbath when she called Margret Ogstoune “base whore, drunkard, thieef-faced bitch, English jade, landlooper [vagabond], queane.”[74] Margaret retaliated by calling Janet “drunken jade.” Again, “whore,” “bitch,” and “jade” appear together in a tirade of abuse, mutually reinforcing their disparaging gendered, sexual, and animal connotations.

These terms’ interconnected histories enable us to see the full misogynoirist import of their usage in this mass-produced pamphlet by an English merchant who deploys the spectacle of the brutalized Black female body to support his case for reforming the slave trade so it can continue to “make us some of the happiest People in the World” (14). The words’ layout on the printed page increases their symbolic significance and invites readers’ eyes and minds to dwell upon them: there is a libidinal thrill to conjuring the deleted letters of “D—n her,” “you d—’d B—ch,” and “strip this W—re”), all obscenities naming or directed at Black women, their italicization, capitalization, and dashes all drawing visual attention to them. Here, typographical technologies heighten the constellated terms’ misogynoir in multiple ways: the redacting dashes encourage sustained readerly interaction and mental labor to supply the letters that they hide from sight; the capitalization designates all the terms as nouns, reinforcing their constellation; and the italics, with their connection to emphasis and voice as “the typeface of privilege, as the type of quotation, of accuracy, obtrusion, assertion,” in the words of Joseph Loewenstein, encourage readers to hear and linger upon the words as they encounter them visually.[75]

The typesetter’s choices elucidate these terms’ longstanding structural relationship with one another and encourage us to see them as interconnected so that the combined weight of their derogatory intersectional connections can be leveraged to argue for the necessity of Black women’s enslavement.

Conclusion: New Directions in Book History and Visual Culture

This chapter maps out ways that we can use book history ​—​ which occupies a special place in visual culture as both constituted by its appearance on the page and inflected by philological and literary histories ​—​ to gain greater insight into how premodern copyists and printers encouraged their readers to envision the intersections between race and gender and thus laid the groundwork for the misogynoir that continues to be weaponized against Black women today. These methodologies can be employed fruitfully in analyzing other objects from the Newberry Library’s collection that lie beyond this chapter’s scope: for example, the early eighteenth-century Scottish commonplace book belonging to Jane Pigot, with its treatise on manners and civility and recipe for curing greensickness copied alongside its drawing of a naked man with his genitals vigorously dashed out, can shed light on the construction of white bourgeois femininity during this time.[76] Likewise, the manuscript titled An Account of the Indians in Virginia and of some remarkable things in that country (1689), based on an English planter’s notes about Indigenous women’s “tawny colour” (3), “Imployment” (11), and marital customs, is ripe for exploration of how its visual appearance and contents illuminate histories of racialized misogyny.[77]

  1. Imani Perry, Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), 7. 
  2. Anonymous, A Collection of serious humorous and affectionate poems, (n.p., n.d.), Case MS Y 184.18, Newberry Library, Chicago. The transcriptions are my own. Because of the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic, I was unable to see this manuscript in person. Thank you to Lia Markey and Rebecca Fall for providing me with images of the manuscript. 
  3. For a comprehensive introduction to the circulation of poems in manuscript and print in early modern England, see Arthur Marotti, Manuscript, Print, and The English Renaissance Lyric (Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1995); see also Harold Love, The Culture and Commerce of Texts: Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England, (Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 1993); for work on earlier miscellanies see Megan Heffernan, Making The Miscellany: Poetry Print, and the History of the Book in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021). 
  4. Love, Commerce of Texts, 181. 
  5. In order to see the breadth of poems of this type, see Kim F. Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995). In the index, Hall has gathered several poems by well-known and lesser-known poets from England in the Seventeenth Century on this topic. See Mary Hobbs, “An Edition of the Stoughton Manuscript (an Early Seventeenth-Century Poetry Collection in Private Hands, Connected with Henry King and Oxford) Seen in Relation to Other Contemporary Poetry and Song Collections,” (PhD thesis, London University, 1973). See also Werner Sollors, An Anthology of Interracial Literature: Black-White Contacts in the Old World and the New (New York: New York University Press, 2004). 
  6. Joyce Green MacDonald, Women and Race in Early Modern Texts (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002) 
  7. Marisa J. Fuentes, Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). See also Imtiaz Habib, Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500–1677: Imprints of the Invisible (New York: Routledge, 2020); Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 12, no. 2 (2008): 1–14.
  8. Fuentes, Dispossessed Lives, 1–12. 
  9. John T. Gilmore, “Æthiopissæ: The Classical Tradition, Neo-Latin Verse and Images of Race in George Herbert and Vincent Bourne,” Classical Receptions Journal 1, Issue 1 (2009): 73–86,; see also V. M. Braganza, “The Shadow Casts a Body: Racial Dialogue in Two Neo-Latin Lyrics Attributed to George Herbert,” Studies in Philology 117, no. 1 (2020): 108–28,; G. P. Meyer, “The Blackamoor and Her Love,” Philological Quarterly, 17 (1938): 371–76. 
  10. Hall, Things of Darkness, 6–14. 
  11. May also be translated as “What is it to me if my face is Black?” 
  12. On the popularity of Aethiopica, see Jonathan Crewe, “Drawn in Color: Aethiopika in European Painting,” Word & Image 25, no. 2 (2009): 129–42,; for insight into stage versions of Aethiopica see Noémie Ndiaye “‘Everyone Breeds in His Own Image’: Staging the Aethiopica across the Channel,” Renaissance Drama 44, no. 2 (2016): 157–86,; see also Margo J. Hendricks, Race and Romance: Coloring the Past (Tempe, AZ: ACMRS Press, 2022), 15–34. 
  13. F. E. Hutchinson, ed., The Works of George Herbert (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972, first published 1941). 
  14. See Miles Parks Grier, “Inkface: The Slave Stigma in England’s Early Imperial Imagination,” in Scripturalizing the Human: The Written as the Political, ed. Vincent L. Wimpish (New York: Routledge, 2015): 193–218. 
  15. Gilmore, “Æthiopissæ,” 74. 
  16. Marotti, Manuscript, 131. 
  17. Henry King, Poems, elegies, paradoxes, and sonnets (London, 1657), B3v. I have lightly edited each poem by standardizing the long s, but I have made no other changes to spelling or punctuation. 
  18. Line 8 translation is mine. Gilmore translates line 8 in the spirit of early modern poetry as, “To be thy shadow is mine only prayer,” and Braganza translates it as, “This office, at least, I will perform out of love for you.” 
  19. Peter Erickson, “Invisibility Speaks: Servants and Portraits in Early Modern Visual Culture.” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 9, no. 1 (2009): 23–61.
  20. Ella Shohat, “The Specter of the Blackamoor: Figuring Africa and the Orient,” The Comparatist 42, no. 1 (2018): 158–88,
  21. See Braganza, “Shadow Casts a Body,” and Gilmore, “Æthiopissæ.” 
  22. King, Poems, elegies, paradoxes, and sonnet, B4r. 
  23. Hall, Things of Darkness, 9. 
  24. Anthony Grafton, “Some Uses of Eclipses in Early Modern Chronology,” Journal of the History of Ideas 64, no. 2 (2003): 213–29, Grafton translates Caspar Peucers’s text from Latin. 
  25. Grafton, “Uses,” 214. 
  26. R.C., ed. The harmony of the muses, or, the gentlemans and ladies choisest recreation full of various, pure and transcendent wit : Containing severall excellent poems, some fancies of love, some of disdain, and all the subjects incident to the passionate affections either of men or women / heretofore written by those unimitable masters of learning and invention, dr. joh. donn, dr. hen. king, dr. W. stroad (London, 1654). 
  27. R.C., harmony of the muses, B3r–B4v. 
  28. Love, Commerce of Texts, 5–50. 
  29. Hobbs cited in Love, Commerce of Texts, 181. 
  30. Hobbs, “Stoughton Manuscript.” 
  31. King, Poems, elegies, paradoxes, and sonnet, A3r. 
  32. King, A3r 
  33. King, A4v. 
  34. I am grateful to Kinohi Nishikawa and Rebbeca Tesfai for sharing helpful feedback on earlier versions of this piece; to Becky Fall for alerting me to the existence of the Letter; to Jill Gage for her generosity in sharing typography and punctuation sources with me; to Lia Markey and Noémie Ndiaye for their editorial flexibility and understanding during Omicron January; to my foremothers Rhoda, Madinda, Jane, Eliza, and many others who survived slavery’s horrors; and to Margery the cat, who kept company with me in her dying days as I wrote this. 
  35. A LETTER from a Merchant at JAMAICA TO A Member of Parliament in LONDON, Touching the AFRICAN TRADE. To which is added, A SPEECH made by a BLACK of Gardaloupe, at the Funeral of a Fellow-Negro (London, Printed for A. Baldwin, 1709), 7; see Chicago, Newberry Library, Ayer 1000.5 .J25 L65 1709. All references are to page numbers in this edition. The pamphlet’s full text is printed in Jack P. Greene, “‘A Plain and Natural Right to Life and Liberty’: An Early Natural Rights Attack on the Excesses of the Slave System in Colonial British America,” William and Mary Quarterly 57, no. 4 (2000): 799–808,; and analyzed in Dallin Lewis, “Domesticating the Plantation: The Politics and Tragedy of Slave Kinship in the British Atlantic World,” The Eighteenth Century 60, no. 3 (2019): 311–30,
  36. Perry, Vexy Thing, 9. 
  37. This letter “appears to refer to a bill considered in the Commons in March 1710,” which did not pass; see Ruth Paley, Cristina Malcolmson, and Michael Hunter, “Parliament and Slavery, 1660–c.1710,” Slavery and Abolition 31, no. 2 (2010): 265,
  38. For more on gender, violence, and labor on British Caribbean plantations in the eighteenth century, see Nicholas Radburn, “‘[M]anaged at First as if They Were Beasts’: The Seasoning of Enslaved Africans in Eighteenth-Century Jamaica,” Journal of Global Slavery 6 (2021): 11–30,; Justin Roberts, “The Whip and the Hoe: Violence, Work and Productivity on Anglo-American Plantations,” Journal of Global Slavery 6 (2021): 108–30,; Stella Dadzie, A Kick in the Belly: Women, Slavery and Resistance (New York: Verso, 2020). 
  39. Saidiya V. Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). I am grateful to Kinohi Nishikawa for directing me to this reference. 
  40. Moya Bailey, Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance (New York: New York University Press, 2021), 1. 
  41. Bailey, Misogynoir Transformed, 13. 
  42. Hartman, Scenes of Subjection, 6. 
  43. Middle English Dictionary (hereafter MED), s.v. “labouren” (v.), 1(a): “To perform manual or physical work, work hard, toil; also copulate”; “swinken” (v.), 1(a), 2(e); “werken” (v.[1]), 5(a), 6. On enslaved Black women’s labor in all its senses, see Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004). 
  44. I use this methodology elsewhere with “wench”; see Carissa Harris, “A History of the Wench,” Electric Literature, June 3, 2019,; “Chaucer’s Wenches,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 45 (2023), forthcoming. 
  45. Perry, Vexy Thing, 9. 
  46. I am grateful to co-editor Noémie Ndiaye for helping me to arrive at this methodological terminology. 
  47. Anne Toner, Ellipsis in English Literature: Signs of Omission (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 40; for a broader discussion, see 26, 36–40. 
  48. Toner, Ellipsis, 10. 
  49. Oxford English Dictionary (hereafter OED), s.v. “cow” n1, 4b: “Applied to a coarse or degraded woman. Also, loosely, any woman, used esp. as a coarse form of address.” 
  50. For more on how typographical conventions shifted away from capitalizing all nouns to capitalizing only proper nouns during the eighteenth century, see Richard Wendorf, “Abandoning the Capital in Eighteenth-Century London,” in Reading, Society and Politics in Early Modern England, eds. Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 72–98. 
  51. Edward Phillips, The new world of words, or, A universal English dictionary (London: Printed for R. Bently, J. Phillips, H. Rhodes, and J. Taylor, 1696), s.v. “Cow.” 
  52. MED, s.v. “jade” (n.), 1(a): “A cart horse, a hack.” This is the only quotation listed under the entry. 
  53. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed., eds. Larry D. Benson et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), VII.2812–14. References are to fragments and lines in this edition. 
  54. MED, s.v. “foul” (adj.), 4(b); “lene” (adj.[1]), 1(b), 1(c). 
  55. OED, s.v. “jade” (n.), 1(a): “A contemptuous name for a horse; a horse of inferior breed, e.g., a cart- or draught-horse as opposed to a riding horse; a roadster, a hack; a sorry, ill-conditioned, wearied, or worn-out horse”; 2: “A term of reprobation applied to a woman.” OED, s.v. “nag” (n.[1]), 1, 2(b); s.v. “hackney” (n.), 1(b), 3; MED, s.v. “mere” (n.[1]), 2(a), 2(c); s.v. “stot” (n.), 1(b), 2(a). 
  56. The Nice Wanton, in The Dramatic Writings of Richard Wever and Thomas Ingelend, ed. John S. Farmer (London: Barnes and Noble, 1905), 110. Because there are no scene or line numbers in this edition, references are to page numbers. 
  57. Laura Gowing, Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 59–100; Kirilka Stavreva, Words Like Daggers: Violent Female Speech in Early Modern England (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015), 17–44. 
  58. William Cramond, ed., The Annals of Banff, 2 vols. (Aberdeen: New Spalding Club, 1891), 1:145. 
  59. Justin Roberts explores how enslaved people’s bodies in Britain’s Caribbean colonial plantations were broken down by labor in “The Whip and the Hoe,” 114–21. 
  60. Mark Bland, “The Appearance of the Text in Early Modern England,” Text 11 (1998): 99. 
  61. Dictionary of Old English: A to I online, eds. Angus Cameron, Ashley Crandell Amos, Antonette diPaolo Healey et al. (Toronto: Dictionary of Old English Project, 2018), s.v. “bicce” (n.), 2, 
  62. Robert Mannyng, Robert of Brunne’s “Handlyng Synne,” ed. Frederick J. Furnivall, 2 vols., Early English Text Society, o.s., 119, 123 (London: Early English Text Society, 1901, 1903); London, British Library, MS Harley 1701, fol. 59r. 
  63. John Rolland of Dalkeith, The Seven Sages: In Scotish Metre (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club, 1837), 82, 121. 
  64. Cited in Gowing, Domestic Dangers, 98; Stavreva, Words Like Daggers, 25–26. 
  65. Monique Allewaert’s concept of “parahumanity” in Caribbean plantation contexts is a useful way to extend my analysis of the Letter’s animal terms such as “Cow,” “ill-thriven Jade,” “Dog,” and “Bitch”: Monique Allewaert, Ariel’s Ecology: Plantations, Personhood, and Colonialism in the American Tropics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 85–113. 
  66. Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, s.v. “hussy” (n.), 1, 3. 
  67. Andrew of Wyntoun, The Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland, ed. David Laing, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1872–79), 2:36 (book 5, line 5090). 
  68. J. D. Marwick, ed., Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1403–1589, 4 vols. (Edinburgh: Colston and Son for the Scottish Burgh Records Society, 1869–82), 1:107. 
  69. Marwick, Extracts, 2:40. 
  70. Rev. Father E. G. Cody and William Murison, eds., The historie of Scotland wrytten first in Latin by the most reverend and worthy Jhone Leslie, bishop of Rosse, and translated in Scottish by Father James Dalrymple, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood and Sons for the Scottish Text Society, 1888–95), 1:290. 
  71. OED, s.v. “constellation” (n.), 3. 
  72. K. S. Block, ed., Ludus Coventriæ: or, The plaie called Corpus Christi: Cotton ms. Vespasian D. VIII, Early English Text Society, e.s. 120 (London: Oxford University Press, 1922), line 147. 
  73. Gowing, Domestic Dangers, 76. 
  74. John Stuart, ed., Extracts from the Presbytery Book of Strathbogie, 1631–54 (Aberdeen: Spalding Club, 1843), 231, 233. 
  75. Joseph F. Loewenstein, “Idem: Italics and the Genetics of Authorship,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 20, no. 2 (1990): 224. 
  76. Jane Pigot, Commonplace book, containing Rules of civility & good manners, Numeration and miscellanea, Chicago, Newberry Library, Case MS B 69 .188. 
  77. John Clayton, An Account of the Indians in Virginia and of some remarkable things in that country, Chicago, Newberry Library, Ayer MS 9.


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