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The Mark of SlaveryDisability, Race, and Gender in Antebellum America$
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Jenifer L. Barclay

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780252043727

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252043727.001.0001

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“One Hell of a Metaphor”

“One Hell of a Metaphor”

Disability and Race on the Antebellum Stage

(p.126) 5 “One Hell of a Metaphor”
The Mark of Slavery

Jenifer L. Barclay

University of Illinois Press

This chapter argues that disparaging ideas of disability amplified perceptions of racial difference in blackface minstrelsy and freak shows, which shored up fragile notions of whiteness to wide audiences. This is evident in Thomas “Daddy” Rice’s 1829 creation of Jim Crow when he witnessed an enslaved, physically disabled man dancing and singing “Jump Jim Crow” and in P. T. Barnum’s 1835 promotion of the nation’s first “freak,” Joice Heth—an elderly, disabled enslaved woman who was supposedly an astonishing 161 years old and the former nursemaid of George Washington. Thomas “Japanese Tommy” Dilward—one of only two black men to perform in blackface before the Civil War—epitomized the linkages between blackface and freak shows as a dwarf who gained fame as a cross-dressing, gender-bending fiddler.

Keywords:   blackface minstrelsy, disability, freak shows, Jim Crow, Joice Heth, Phineas T. Barnum, Thomas “Japanese Tommy” Dilward, Thomas “Daddy” Rice

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