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‘Sold to the Subscriber’
A Fraudulent Sale of a Man Sheds Light on White Slave Dealings in Plantation America

‘July 19, 1770

The Pennsylvania Gazette


WHEREAS a certain James Moore, on the 7th day of July instant, sold to the subscriber, at his house, a servant, whom he called William Welsh, who entered into an indenture to serve his father James Moore, in the Kingdom of Ireland, and was brought over to America to him the said James Moore, and landed, on the 20th of June last, at New Castle, and brought to him by one Small (who came over in the same vessel) as a present [1] from his said father, as the said James Moore, at the time of the said sale, informed the subscriber;

and whereas the said person, so sold as a servant, immediately after the said sale run away, and the subscriber upon the last enquiry he can make into the matter, has reason to believe that he has been most egregiously imposed upon, as no such person as William Welsh came over a servant in the said vessel with the said Small, nor was delivered to the said James Moore, by the said Small; [2]

and it is supposed that a certain William Barrett (who absconded about that time) signed the said indenture by the name of William Welsh;

the said William Barnett resembling the man so sold as a servant, and immediately absconded as aforesaid. The said William Welsh, alias Barnett, is about 24 years of age, 5 feet 8 or 9 inches high, of a fair complexion, short dark hair;

had on, when he went away, an old felt hat, good shirt and trowsers, of this country made linen, old shoes, with one brass, the other a street buckle, and may appear in other clothes, as he purchased, since he run away, a mixed light coloured cloth coat, with double gilt Brass buttons, a diaper wrought linen jacket, the chain brown, and filling white, a pair of buckskin breeches, almost new, and sundry other clothes.

Whoever shall take up the said William Welsh, alias Barnett, and bring him home, or secures him, so that the subscriber, living at Deer Creek, Baltimore county, in Maryland, may get him again, shall have the above reward, paid by JOHN [ 3]


1. It seems from this that purchasing a servant and giving him as a gift to a loved one was an unremarkable event.

2. Solomon Northup, author of 12 years a slave is charged by some to have been involved in his own sale, which was to be a similar scam but resulted in his being double-crossed by his sellers. His disappearance years after gaining his freedom suggests revenge by either his first or last owner, for having charged the first man with a crime or having duped the man he eventually arranged his release from.

3. It is of interest that there is no mention of pursuing the conman going as James Moore but only the accomplice who posed as Moore’s servant under false pretenses.

A Bright Shining Lie at Dusk

A Partial Exhumation of the American Dream

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