Friday, August 13, 2010
This is a first, and not in a good way. But I have certainly never seen an ad like this before.
A young gentleman, about 25 years of age, regarded good looking, of a liberal education, of moral habits, possessing a plantation and quite a number of negroes, sufficient to support a family in luxury, takes this occasion to publish his desires in a matrimonial line, and to acquaint some distressed damsel of his whereabouts, condition, and expectations. He is fastidious in taste, neat in dress, of a social disposition, and feels deeply the necessity of wedding his fortune with some young lady, kind, modest, forgiving. She must be between sixteen and twenty years of age, of medium size, well formed, of a kind heart, and "lively as a cricket." Any young lady who meets this description, and is desirous of forming an alliance with a warm hearted Southerner, full of hope and promise, is requested to address box 61 Forsyth, Georgia, care of Julius Morgan.
Where to begin! The issues that this raises are so many and varied that I can't decide which ones to address!
First, wtf is a Southern slaveowner doing advertising for a wife in a New York City paper only two years before the Civil War broke out? Obviously he didn't know for sure that there was going to be a war (though a lot of people were anticipating one by this point), but most New Yorkers at this point were already pro-Union. There was a lot of acrimony between the North and South, to put it mildly, and a lot (though certainly not all) of New Yorkers were abolitionists, or at the very least found slavery morally reprehensive. So it just seems like this guy is barking up the wrong tree.
Second, ugh! (Maybe that should have been first.) Ugh!! He possesses "a plantation and quite a number of negroes, sufficient to support a family in luxury"! How revolting! "Hey ladies, I have so many slaves working for me that you can live in idleness while they do all the work! Let's get married!" AND he says he's "of moral habits." Julius, if that is your name, there is nothing more immoral than owning slaves. It's amazing (and yet, I'll admit it, it's also fascinating) that anyone could call themselves moral and admit to owning "quite a number of negroes" in the same sentence. It does go to show you what kind of a light Southerners saw themselves in: that (a) they were actually good people, and (b) they could say they owned a plantation and people in the same breath without being aware of how absurd and horrible that is. You are not warm-hearted, Julius. If you were, you wouldn't talk about how owning people makes it possible for you to provide a luxurious lifestyle.
Third, interesting that he says he wants to meet a "distressed damsel." Says a lot about the Southern attitude about women at this time - which was that they were fragile, delicate creatures who needed protection from evil. I think he meant this to be romantic - like, he's the white knight in shining armor come to rescue the princess - but I wonder how many Northern women took this literally. You know all those "strangers in the city" in "reduced circumstances" who wanted to get married because they desperately needed someone to support them. He may have gotten of letters from a lot of women who thought he really wanted to help, which I doubt was what he had in mind.
All I can add is this: any woman who married him only got to enjoy this life of luxury for a few years, because once the war broke out, conditions in the South went downhill pretty fast. Within a few years of this ad, all Julius' slaves would be gone, and even if he was still alive himself, and actually still got to hold onto his land, it would be a long time before he was able to support a family in luxury again - if ever. And to that I say: serves her right. Anyone who was okay with marrying a slaveowner deserved whatever terrible fate she suffered.
©2010 Pam Epstein