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Husband-selling was the historical practice of: a wife selling a husband, generally to a new wife; a slave-master or master's estate selling the husband in an enslaved family, generally to a new slave-master; court-sentenced sales of fathers' services for a number of years, described as sales of fathers (one apparently a husband); sales of a husband as directed by a religious authority.


Sales by wives

Intermaritally, no more than five or six cases of husbands having been sold by their wives are known in English and English diasporan history, [1] in comparison to approximately 400 reportable cases of wives having been sold by their husbands in the English custom. [2] [3] The known sales of husbands by wives occurred in the 19th century. [4]

Wife selling (English custom) 17th–?19th-Cent custom for publicly ending an unsatisfactory marriage

Wife selling in England was a way of ending an unsatisfactory marriage by mutual agreement that probably began in the late 17th century, when divorce was a practical impossibility for all but the very wealthiest. After parading his wife with a halter around her neck, arm, or waist, a husband would publicly auction her to the highest bidder. Wife selling provides the backdrop for Thomas Hardy's novel The Mayor of Casterbridge, in which the central character sells his wife at the beginning of the story, an act that haunts him for the rest of his life, and ultimately destroys him.

In the intermarital context, the practice was somewhat but not entirely parallel to wife selling in the same nation. On the one hand, in both practices, the person was sold by the current spouse to a new spouse, the sale causing a divorce with the seller and creating a new marriage with the buyer. Sales were sometimes by means of a contract but never ritualistically, as far as is known. It is possible that the law, and the response of courts to cases, was the same regardless of gender. [5] [6]

In the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), Tuân Sắc in 1969 "argued, '[t]here are ... even women who sell their husbands for a little spending money (it's all in the newspapers)'" [7] and posited that such people are not, or are no longer, Vietnamese. [7]

South Vietnam Former country in southeast Asia

South Vietnam, officially the Republic of Vietnam, was a country that existed from 1955 to 1975, the period when the southern portion of Vietnam was a member of the Western Bloc during part of the Cold War. It received international recognition in 1949 as the "State of Vietnam", which was a constitutional monarchy (1949–1955). This became the "Republic of Vietnam" in 1955. Its capital was Saigon. South Vietnam was bordered by North Vietnam to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, Thailand across the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest, and the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia across the South China Sea to the east and southeast.

Sales by slave-masters and their estates

In the slave-mastery context, in Philadelphia, in ca. the 18th century, sales often occurred not only by or at the direction of living slave-masters but also at the direction of testators. [8] Testators were not known to direct that slave couples be kept together. [9] "Philadelphia newspaper advertisements ... provide evidence that many [slave] owners sold husbands away from wives ...; most indicated no concern about the consequences for the slaves." [8] Some sales of slave husbands without their wives were followed by the masters requiring the wives to take new husbands. [10]

Slavery System under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work

Slavery is any system in which principles of property law are applied to people, allowing individuals to own, buy and sell other individuals, as a de jure form of property. A slave is unable to withdraw unilaterally from such an arrangement and works without remuneration. Many scholars now use the term chattel slavery to refer to this specific sense of legalized, de jure slavery. In a broader sense, however, the word slavery may also refer to any situation in which an individual is de facto forced to work against their own will. Scholars also use the more generic terms such as unfree labour or forced labour to refer to such situations. However, and especially under slavery in broader senses of the word, slaves may have some rights and protections according to laws or customs.

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2018 census-estimated population of 1,584,138. Since 1854, the city has had the same geographic boundaries as Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

A woman slave, according to Daniel Meaders, "married [a slave] ..., but soon after the marriage, the 'husband was sold and sent away. I never saw him afterwards.'". [11]

In Virginia, in 1772–1773, a Baptist church considered a complaint against an individual that the selling of a slave husband, causing separation from his wife, was un-Christian, a matter which the county judiciary would not decide. [12]

Virginia U.S. state in the United States

Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2018 is over 8.5 million.

Baptists Denomination of Protestant Christianity

Baptists form a major branch of Protestant Christianity distinguished by baptizing professing believers only, and doing so by complete immersion. Baptist churches also generally subscribe to the doctrines of soul competency, sola fide, sola scriptura and congregationalist church government. Baptists generally recognize two ordinances: baptism and communion.

One case in Massachusetts was alleged in 1799 against a political candidate but denied by the candidate. [13]

In Haiti, when it was St. Domingue, a law of 1685 on slavery forbade "selling a [slave] husband or wife separately." [14]

In Colombia under Spanish colonial rule, [15] particularly in 1750–1826, [16] according to David L. Chandler, Spanish law "allowed slaves to marry and establish a family even against the master's wishes ... and prohibited ... [the family's] separation through sale.... [S]eparation of the slave family was not very common." [17] If a slave couple was broken up by the sale of one spouse out of an area, Chandler wrote, the other spouse, even after 10 years, could petition a court to allow the latter slave to find a buyer so the couple could reunite; [18] such cases, in which the wife was sold first and the husband second, were litigated in 1802 and 1806. [18] In 1808, reported Chandler, a master had sold a slave husband to another master; the slave objected to a breakup of his family and a court ordered visitations; after a subsequent dispute between the slaves and the selling master, the master who sold the husband "brought suit against the new owner ... to force her either to sell him out of the area or to sell him back to ... [the first master] so he could properly discipline and control" the slave-husband [18] but was ordered by a court to sell the slave's wife to the other master as well, so the slave family would be able to live together and not merely have visits; and the court order was complied with. [18]

Sales for child support defaults

Fathers were sometimes sold, and in some cases sales of the fathers' full-time services for terms of years were described as sales of fathers; one said he was a husband and the result of his case did not necessarily require disputing that. According to Richard B. Morris, "in prosecuting for bastardy it was customary throughout ... [South Carolina] to sell into servitude for a period of four years the putative father upon his defaulting on ... maintenance of the ... child". [19] [lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 2] Morris described the "appropriation of the white worker's time" due to the sale as "complete". [20] The maximum term was four years and less was sometimes imposed, but, according to Morris, one court sentenced one man to a sale for 10 years. [21] These fathers were, according to Morris, "indiscreet poor whites". [22] One defendant stated that he was a husband and that someone else caused the out-of-wedlock birth, but he was convicted anyway. [23] These sales were authorized by a statute enacted in 1839 [lower-alpha 3] and repealed in 1847, replaced by handling as misdemeanors. [22]

Sales at religious direction

Hatred of a wife was a ground for forcing a sale of the husband into slavery. In the medieval Christian Church, [24] according to Frederik Pijper in 1909, "if anyone abandoned his wife, and refusing to come to terms with her, permitted himself to be put into prison for debtors, he became a slave forever on the ground of his hatred for his wife. And should he be seen at any time enjoying liberty, he must again be sold." [25]

In the same Church, [24] according to Pijper, "one way [to "become a slave"] was by selling oneself because of poverty. It might so happen that a married pair sank into such need that the husband was compelled to sell himself, and did so with his wife's consent. In this way he secured sustenance for himself, and with the purchase-money he was in a position to keep his wife from starving.... A synod at Paris early in the seventh century ordained that freemen who had sold ... themselves should if they repaid the money at once be restored to their former status. To demand back a greater sum than what had been paid for them, was not allowed." [26]

A church decision at Vermeria in the 8th century, according to Pijper, specified that if a slave husband was sold both spouses should be discouraged from remarrying; "if through sale a slave be separated from his wife, also a slave, each should be urged to remain thus (i. e., not to marry again) in case we cannot reunite them." [27]

If a married slave's freedom was not bought, i.e., the married slave was not sold into freedom, the slave's already-freed spouse could remarry, under permission of the medieval Church, if the former couple had been wed by one master; according to Pijper, "if ... two slaves were joined in wedlock by their common master, and one of them was thereafter freed, that one was permitted to marry again, if the freedom of the other could not be bought." [28]

In popular culture, a wife's sale of her husband to a widow is depicted in 1960 in a play by François Billetdoux, Le Comportement des époux Bredburry (sic), [29] and the playwright claimed to have seen such an advertisement in "an American paper". [29] Indigenous Sufi folk-poetry told of "the foolish queen Lila who, for the sake of a fabulous necklace, 'sold' her husband to her maid for a night", [30] thereby requiring purification for the Queen. [30]

See also


  1. South Carolina, a U.S. state which sold a man into servitude
  2. Child support or financial maintenance of a child
  3. Whether an earlier act or other law also permitted such sales is unknown from Morris, Richard B., White Bondage in Ante-Bellum South Carolina, in The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, vol. 49, no. 4 (October, 1948) (in JStor), p. 200 & n. 45, but n. 45 lists cases from earlier.

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Islamic views on slavery represent a complex and multifaceted body of Islamic thought, with various Islamic groups or thinkers espousing views on the matter which have been radically different throughout history. Slavery was a mainstay of life in pre-Islamic Arabia and surrounding lands. The Quran and the hadith address slavery extensively, assuming its existence as part of society but viewing it as an exceptional condition and restricting its scope. Early Islamic dogma forbade enslavement of free members of Islamic society, including non-Muslims (dhimmis), and set out to regulate and improve the conditions of human bondage. The sharīʿah regarded as legal slaves only those non-Muslims who were imprisoned or bought beyond the borders of Islamic rule, or the sons and daughters of slaves already in captivity. In later classical Islamic law, the topic of slavery is covered at great length. Slaves, be they Muslim or those of any other religion, were equal to their fellow practitioners in religious issues.

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  1. Thompson, Edward Palmer, Customs in Common (N.Y.: New Press, 1st American ed. 1993 ( ISBN   1-56584-074-7)), p. 459 & n. 3 (author historian & social critic).
  2. Thompson, Edward Palmer, Customs in Common, op. cit., p. 408.
  3. Rarity in general: Thompson, E. P., Folklore, Anthropology, and Social History, in The Indian Historical Review, vol. III, no. 2, p. 253, January, 1977 (author apparently historian).
  4. Menefee, Samuel Pyeatt, Wives for Sale: An Ethnographic Study of British Popular Divorce (N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1981 ( ISBN   0-312-88629-2)), pp. 160–163 & nn. 16–18 & p. 249 case 294 & p. 255 case 353 (appx. (Wife-Sale Cases and References)) (author anthropologist).
  5. Menefee, Samuel Pyeatt, Wives for Sale, op. cit., pp. 160–163 & nn. 16–18.
  6. Thompson, Edward Palmer, Customs in Common, op. cit., p. 459 n. 3.
  7. 1 2 Tran, Nu-Anh, South Vietnamese Identity, American Intervention, and the Newspaper Chính Luận[Political Discussion], 1965–1969, in Journal of Vietnamese Studies, vol. 1, no. 1–2 (February/August, 2006), as accessed October 28, 2012, 1:05 p.m., p. 190 & n. 96 (n. omitted) (DOI 10.1525/vs.2006.1.1-2.169) (author PhD student, history dep't, Univ. of Calif., Berkeley) (Tuân Sắc's qualifications & sourcing unspecified, thus Tuân Sắc's statement probably tertiary as a source for Wikipedia) (in JStor (database) (subscription may be required)).
  8. 1 2 Soderlund, Jean R., Black Women in Colonial Pennsylvania, in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 107, no. 1 (January, 1983), p. 56.
  9. Soderlund, Jean R., Black Women in Colonial Pennsylvania, op. cit., p. 56 & n. 20.
  10. Bardolph, Richard, Social Origins of Distinguished Negroes, 1770–1865, in The Journal of Negro History, vol. 40, no. 3 (July, 1955), p. 214 n. 4 (author was of Woman's Coll., Univ. of N. Car.).
  11. Meaders, Daniel, Kidnapping Blacks in Philadelphia: Isaac Hopper's Tales of Oppression, in The Journal of Negro History, vol. 80, no. 2 (Spring, 1995), as accessed June 13, 2012, 10:47 a.m., p. 52 & n. 24 (n. omitted) (author asst. prof. history, Coll. of Wm. Patterson, Wayne, N.J.) (in JStor (database) (subscription may be required)), quoting Hopper, Isaac, Patriarchal System (Tale No. LXVII), in Tales of Oppression (column) (1840–), in National Anti-Slavery Standard, December 27, 1842, p. 118.
  12. Beeman, Richard R., Social Change and Cultural Conflict in Virginia: Lunenburg County, 1746 to 1774, in The William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., vol. 35, no. 3 (July, 1978), p. 470 & nn. 40–41 (author was of history dep't, Univ. of Penna.).
  13. Anderson, Frank Maloy, Contemporary Opinion of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, in The American Historical Review, vol. 5, no. 2 (December, 1899), p. 229 & n. 1 & possibly n. 2.
  14. Code Noir (short name), article 47, as cited in Stein, Robert, Revolution, Land Reform, and Plantation Discipline in Saint Domingue, in Revista de Historia de America, no. 96 (July–December, 1983), p. 175 and passim. Slavery ended in 1793–1794. Stein, Robert, Revolution, Land Reform, and Plantation Discipline in Saint Domingue, op. cit., pp. 179–180 and see p. 173 (abstract).
  15. Chandler, David L., Family Bonds and the Bondsman: The Slave Family in Colonial Colombia, in Latin American Research Review, vol. 16, no. 2 (1981) ([§]Research Reports and Notes)), as accessed June 13, 2012, 11:01 a.m., p. 107 (author Chandler of Brigham Young Univ.) (in JStor (database) (subscription may be required)).
  16. Chandler, David L., Family Bonds and the Bondsman, op. cit., p. 110.
  17. Chandler, David L., Family Bonds and the Bondsman, op. cit., p. 122.
  18. 1 2 3 4 Chandler, David L., Family Bonds and the Bondsman, op. cit., p. 126.
  19. Morris, Richard B., White Bondage in Ante-Bellum South Carolina, op. cit., p. 200 & n. 45 (n. omitted) and see pp. 201–202 & nn. 50–51.
  20. Morris, Richard B., White Bondage in Ante-Bellum South Carolina, op. cit., p. 202.
  21. Morris, Richard B., White Bondage in Ante-Bellum South Carolina, op. cit., p. 200 & nn. 46–49 (nn. omitted).
  22. 1 2 Morris, Richard B., White Bondage in Ante-Bellum South Carolina, op. cit., p. 201.
  23. Morris, Richard B., White Bondage in Ante-Bellum South Carolina, op. cit., p. 201 & n. 52 (n. omitted).
  24. 1 2 Pijper, Frederik, The Christian Church and Slavery in the Middle Ages, in The American Historical Review, vol. XIV, no. 4 (July, 1909), as accessed October 28, 2012, 12:38 p.m., p. 676 & passim (author Pijper of Univ. of Leyden) (article read in 1908, per p. 675 n. 1) (in JStor (database) (subscription may be required)).
  25. Pijper, Frederik, The Christian Church and Slavery in the Middle Ages, op. cit. (1909), p. 691 & n. 112 (n. omitted).
  26. Pijper, Frederik, The Christian Church and Slavery in the Middle Ages, op. cit. (1909), p. 679 & nn. 20–21 (nn. omitted) (line break in "one-"/"self") (Pijper also wrote at the same page, "in such cases the marriage was usually dissolved; to be sure the Church opposed this, but could not prevent and therefore yielded to it", but it is not clear whether Pijper meant only when wives sold themselves into slavery or when either spouse did so).
  27. Pijper, Frederik, The Christian Church and Slavery in the Middle Ages, op. cit. (1909), p. 695 & n. 155 (n. omitted) (Pijper quoting (after presumably translating) source).
  28. Pijper, Frederik, The Christian Church and Slavery in the Middle Ages, op. cit. (1909), p. 695 & n. 157 (n. omitted).
  29. 1 2 Mankin, Paul, Blue Note from Billetdoux, in Yale French Studies, no. 29 (issue The New Dramatists) (1962), p. 123.
    See also Lamont, Rosette C., The Nouvelle Vague in French Theatre, in The Massachusetts Review, vol. 5, no. 2 (Winter, 1964), p. 392.
  30. 1 2 Asani, Alan S., Sufi Poetry in the Folk Tradition of Indo-Pakistan, in Religion & Literature, vol. 20, no. 1 (issue The Literature of Islam) (Spring, 1988), p. 87 (author was of Harvard Univ.).