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  • Maria Ryan

Raphael the Barber and Charles the Printer (1783)

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

An advert for two runaway slaves (Raphael, a barber, and Charles, a printer) who are thought to be in Barbados. Printed in Barbados Mercury, May 17, 1783
Barbados Mercury, May 17, 1783, p. 2, column 3.

Image Text: Runaway from the island of Martinico, two negro men, RAPHAEL, a barber by trade, about 22 years of age, about five feet high, has a flat large nose, marked with the small pox, commonly wears an ear-ring had on when he ranaway, long trowzes, white shirt and waistcoat. CHARLES, a printer by trade, about 23 years of age, and five feet three inches high, has a lowering ugly look, his nose is much sunk and flattened, his shape is very well made, speaks both French and English; it is to be thought these negroes has changed their names. Whoever will apprehend the said negroes or either of the, and deliver them to the keeper of the cage, shall be paid by him four Moidores for each negro. May 17, 1783.

The Barbados Mercury, May 17, 1783, p. 2, column 3. Image from the Digital Library of the Caribbean.

Perhaps Charles laughed when he saw the notice. “A lowering ugly look” his “nose much sunk and flattened” ... hardly a flattering portrait. But, not all was lost, as they got the cut of him, “his shape is very well made.” Yes, all five foot three of him, though he wondered where that figure had come from. Maybe someone measured him up in his sleep, adding the number to some tally. He was pleased they wrote he spoke both French and English though, more than most of the buckra in Bridgetown. He spoke other languages too, of course, so did Raphael, but this meant nothing to the people who had claimed him. They wouldn’t know what to call those languages anyway, they never bothered to learn beyond a smattering of commands and cusses. He supposed there was no chance of him getting a printing job at the Mercury now, and chuckled again. No matter, Barbados is only a stopping place. It is too small here, flat and full of gossip. He read out loud to Raphael, who was less amused. Better take that earring out, he thought. Too recognizable here. And were those two leaning figures supposed to be them? He hadn’t been seen that naked since he couldn’t yet walk, before he answered to Raphael, before he was separated from… well, there’s other things to dwell on now. Are the tools still sharp? And will we ever hear ourselves called Raphael or Charles again? – We have new names for this place, and secret names known only to those we left behind.

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