Sarah Payne

Transcription and research conducted by Laura Beltran-Rubio, Ravynn Stringfield, and Rebekah Planto during the workshop in May 2019.

Barbados Mercury Gazette, October 10, 1783

TRANSCRIPTION: Absented from the subscriber, a yellow-skin Ebo negro wench, named SARAH PAYNE, about five feet high, speaks tolerable good English, and was formerly the property of Mr. John Lamb, of the parish of St. Philip. Whoever will apprehend and deliver her to the subscriber, living on the estate of Benjamin Alleyne Cox, Esq; known by the name of Foster Hall, shall receive two moidores reward; and whoever harbours or employs the said negro, may depend on being prosecuted with the utmost rigor of the law, by

MATSON BARROW. St. Joseph, October 11, 1p.

Sarah Payne was an enslaved woman “absented” from Foster Hall, the estate of Benjamin Alleyne Cox in Saint Joseph in 1783. 


What we are most curious about Payne is her surname. While many enslaved people were given the surnames from their enslavers, Payne’s surname does not match that of anyone else on the estate records that she ran from, nor that of her  former enslaver, John Lamb of Saint Philip. Payne is a common surname and location title across Barbados, the rest of the Caribbean, and the UK, but we do not know how she was given the surname. 

* Benjamin Alleyne Cox Esq. (b. 1728) was a British attorney from UK who owned three estates across Barbados. He was born in Bath, and returned there shortly before his death, in 1802. 

Payne’s Origins: While the ad mentions her Ebo heritage, the people from modern Nigeria (also known as Igbo), it is not certain that Payne herself was actually from that region. The term “Ebo” was used to describe many enslaved and free Blacks of the time, but it does not necessarily definitely indicate her heritage. The ad describes her as “yellow skinned,” which means she could of been of Caribbean Creole heritage or she could have been one of the mixed race people who were colonized in Ebo territory in Africa. Either way, her “tolerable good English” suggests that she likely had spent most of her lifetime, if not all,  enslaved and in constant communication with the colonizer’s language. 

Reward: There is a two moidores reward offered for Payne. While rewards were not entirely uncommon, this is one of few ads in that offers moidore, a Portuguese gold coin, a currency equivalent to 27 British shillings. A reward indicates that the enslaved person was of value for their skilled labor, or that the overseer and estate heads were otherwise desperate to get the enslaved person back for whatever reason. The threat to persecute the person keeping her also indicates that there could have been some further complications. 

Estate: Foster Hall
Previously known as as Forster Hall until it’s sale to Benjamin Alleyne Cox in 1781, it was a plantation located in Bathsheba at the center of Saint Joseph’s Parish, located on the mid-east side of Barbados. The plantation produced mainly sugar, like many other Caribbean plantations. After Cox’s uncertain death in 1802, he bequeathed this estate and two others— Grove and Cottage  both in St. George to his nephew, Thomas Yard of the Isle of Wright in the UK.

Other Mentions(?): In the August 28th, 1787 edition of the Barbados Mercury there is a posting “List of Letters in the Post Office, For the inhabitants of the Island, August 27th” there is a single letter addressed to a Sarah Payne. While Sarah and Payne are common first and surnames, one could imagine that this letter was intended for the same Sarah Payne in the ad. If it were the same Sarah Payne, one must wonder, what could the letter have said? Who was writing to her? This is a place for speculation and critical imagination. A further dive in to documents and archives might help us put the pieces together, but with poesis we can interpret a new history for Payne. 

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