- To "excite the curiosity, and gratify the beholder": Displaying Dappled Skin and Crafting Racial Identity in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic
- Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 18, Number 1, Winter 2018
- pp. 180-212
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Public displays, visual likenesses, and textual accounts of Black people with whitening skin brought the peripheral peoples who inhabited Atlantic World empires within the reach of White metropolitan audiences in the eighteenth century. John Bobey, the "Wonderful Spotted Indian" born to slaves in Kingston, Jamaica, made the rounds at London's Bartholomew Fair, while the infant George Alexander Gratton left his native St. Vincent for England, where he appeared in sideshows and at private residences. Portraits of Maria Sabina, a young girl with dappled skin who hailed from Cartagena, circulated around the Atlantic World. Meanwhile, a wealthy Boston merchant presented a wax likeness of Magdeleine of Martinique, another young girl with a similar condition, to Harvard's Medical School. Their visual and textual depictions both captivated and instructed White metropolitan audiences on matters related to racial difference. This article examines how the display and depiction of these Caribbean persons underscored their racial designation as Black. Examinations of their bodies by physicians and lay accounts that accompanied their display reveal that their bodies were used to amplify the differences between Black and White. Moreover, the back-stories embedded in the accounts describing these individuals emphasized their provenance from places were slavery dominated. Rather than being racially liminal, these individuals were staged, read, and categorized as fully Black.