Long before the colonial administrative system for slave registration was introduced, there was quite an elaborate information network for the employment of excess slave labour, as well as, reporting absentee or runaway slaves.
If one owned slaves, say in New Providence, and there was a need for labour, say in Long Island or Watlings Island, or even Jamaica, a slave owner would simply strike an economic bargain with an employer. Slaves would be sent under a type of work order. Wages would be paid to the slave master, and depending on the slave and master relationship, the slave may or may not receive some of these wages.
So when a mulatto slave of Dr. John Coakley, in New Providence, ran away from a Watlings Island plantation owned by Burton Williams, the matter was not too long reported in the newspapers.
What was interesting about this particular runaway slave, Damon, was that he was branded on his chest with the initials I. C.
Branding of slaves
Branding slaves, convicts or those who ran afoul of custom or religious rules, had been going on for centuries, long before negro slavery from Africa began.
From antiquity, we learn that the ancient Greeks branded their slaves with a delta (Δ), for doulos (“slave”). In Roman times, those convicted of robbery and runaway slaves were marked by the Romans with the letter “F” (fur, “thief”; fugitivus, “fugitive”). Those meant for fodder in the stadiums, during the great period of gladiators, were branded on the forehead, so that their dismal lot could be clearly seen.
During negro slavery, branding – the burning of a slaveowners initials – on the bodies of blacks was a brutal, painful and common practice. What was equally common, was its use in singling out those who had committed some sort of crime or worse, tried to runaway.
Dr. John Coakley’s mulatto slave was branded with I.C. It is unclear what this might have meant.
Given that Damon was mulatto or mixed race, and only 19 or 20 years old, I.C. may have been branded on his chest for any number of reasons. He could have been branded with his current or previous owner’s initials or equally, I. C. denoted him as a previous runaway.
Bits and pieces of the life of Dr. John Coakley
Dr. Benjamin Tynes joined Dr. John Coakley in general medical practice in New Providence in August 1807. Both were slaveowners as was customary at the time.
Dr. Benjamin Tynes, in 1808, around the same time as one of Dr. John Coakley’s slave ran away, also had a runaway slave named John McHardy.
Dr. John Coakley wife dies April 1808
Dr. John Coakley’s daughter dies October 1815
Dr. John Coakley’s estates and chattels are sold after he dies
Dr. John Coakley (1748 – 31st December 1823 estimated).
Coakley owned 715 acres on Andros, 340 acres on Pine Key, near Andros, two tracts, consisting of 240 acres on Flamingo Key near Great Exuma, and a large house and lot on Cumberland Street near Bay Street.