Slavery - Tanning a Boy

Slavery - Tanning a Boy Nineteenth Century Life Civil Rights Visual Arts


Abolitionists who wanted children to better understand America’s system of chattel slavery would write children’s books to communicate their message. This image appears in such a book: A Picture of Slavery, for Youth, by Jonathan Walker.

The image, called "Tanning a Boy," appears at page 145 in A Picture of Slavery for Youth. Walker, the book's author, tells us what "tanning" means in this context. The victim, in this picture, is a white person whom someone is trying to turn-into a black person:

Some years since, a white boy, about seven years old, was stolen from his parents. He was tattooed, painted and tanned. Every other method was also adopted which wickedness could devise, to change the exterior appearance of the unfortunate creature into one uniform dark tinge. In this wretched and forlorn condition, he grew up to maturity; driven, starved and scourged...

When the boy's parents finally learned what had happened to their disappeared son, the boy's "owner" used the law to seek compensation for losing his property.

Media Credits

Online via the Library of Congress.


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"Slavery - Tanning a Boy" AwesomeStories.com. Apr 30, 2015. Jul 20, 2018.
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