“My wife desires to buy your Negro woman”

Slavery, for the Edwards, was a family affair.

George Marsden, in his biography of Jonathan Edwards, notes that his wife Sarah was herself active in perpetuating their slaveholding: “During the 1750s, Sarah Edwards was actively seeking to purchase a slave and had Jonathan ask both Joseph Bellamy… and their daughter Esther Edwards Burr… about the availability of one of theirs.” (Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 555 n. 5).

Ken Minkema describes it like this: “Sarah, who as regulator of the domestic sphere was probably more directly concerned in the daily oversight of the family slaves than Jonathan, aggressively searched out potential slaves, which shows that
women could take an active hand in the slave market.” (“Jonathan Edwards’s Defense of Slavery,” 43)

Here are the letters that document this:

Letter to Joseph Bellamy, Letter 186, Stockbridge, February 28, 1754 (available on the Yale site)

Edwards main reason for writing regards “the affair of your going to New York,” as the minister of the church. He needs more information (“I wish you had been a little more particular in your information. I desire you would write to me again as soon as possible.”) in order to help. Bellamy himself was a slaveowner, and Edwards offhandedly asks at the end, that if Bellamy indeed moved to New York, could Edwards buy his slave?

If it should finally so come to pass that you should remove to New York, my wife desires to buy your Negro woman, as she supposes she will do better for the country than the city. She will probably come along through your place some time in April, when she will talk with you about it.

 

Letter to Esther Edwards Burr, Letter 231, Stockbridge, November 20, 1757 (available on the Yale site

After thanking God for sustaining her faith after the death of her husband, Edwards writes about his pending move to Princeton. Wrapping up the letter, he talks about seeing his granddaughter, Lucy, and then offhandedly:

If you think of selling Harry, your mother desires you not to sell him, without letting her know it.

(Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash)

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