Mar 28, 2019 - Sale 2503

Sale 2503 - Lot 14

Price Realized: $ 2,750
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 600 - $ 900
(SLAVERY AND ABOLITION.) Agreement to sell an enslaved man named Peter, with an unusual oath of good behavior sworn by Peter. Document Signed by two parties, 2 pages, 12 1/2 x 8 inches; partial separation at middle fold. [Jefferson County, WV?], 18 May 1832

Additional Details

In this unusual document, one Francis Gardner attempted to sell a slave named Peter who had apparently been on a five-day bender, and was required to provide a $500 bond for good behavior to the new owner. Supporting this agreement was Peter's own sworn promise to refrain from drinking or bad behavior. The document gives no location, but all three of the white signatories seem to have been residents of Jefferson County, VA in the 1830s; the county later became the eastern tip of West Virginia, including Harper's Ferry.
The first part of the document reads in part: "Francis Gordon has a slave Peter to misbehave within the last five days exceedingly, and he having determined to sell the sd slave to the highest bidder is by the sd [James M.] Brown prevailed upon to desist upon the sd Brown's binding himself . . . for the good behaviour of sd Peter for and during the term of five years." It is followed by a remarkable oath sworn by Peter: "I do most solemnly swear upon the holy evangelist of Almighty God that I will entirely and altogether abstain from the use of ardent spirits, unless I should be sick and the said be prescribed by a physician, and I also agree not to leave my master's plantation without his or the approbation of his wife or children, not to associate neither at home nor elsewhere with drunkards or disorderly persons, particularly mean white men, but in all respects to behave myself and conduct myself like a good and trusty servant, so help me God, for 5 years from the date hereof. Sworn to by the said Peter," as witnessed by John S. Gallagher. On verso is Gardner's signed release. The legal, moral and practical questions around asking an enslaved person to take an oath are numerous. We can guess that Peter wanted an exit from the Gardner household, and shared an interest in completing the transaction.