The Lost Museum Archive
Joice Heth Contract
In this contract, R.W. Lindsay of Kentucky agreed to sell, transfer, and deliver to Barnum the possession of Joice Heth and the sole right of exhibiting her for the remainder of the twelve months for which Lindsay had the right to exhibit Heth. Barnum, in effect, leased Heth for ten months and became her master for that time period, if not her legal owner. In later years, Barnum made contradictory claims about his status as the master of the enslaved Joice Heth to distance himself from his earlier support of slavery. In 1854 he claimed to be "the proprietor of the negress," while in 1869 he wrote that his payment only made him "proprietor of this novel exhibition." The distinction is critical since slavery was illegal in the North where Barnum exhibited Heth in 1835. William P. Saunders, an apparent partner of Barnum, pulled out of the agreement and his name is crossed out in the contract.
Whereas, by Articles of Agreement dated June 10th; A.D. 1835. John D. Bowling, the owner of an African woman called Joice Heth and R. W. Lindsay of Jefferson County, Commonwealth of Kentucky covenanted and agreed for the term of twelve months to equally participate in the gains and losses in exhibiting the African woman Joice Heth in and amongst the Cities of the United States. And whereas, R.W. Lindsay, says that John S. Bowling transferred all his right, title interest, and claim arising out of said agreement to Coley Bartram and whereas, the said Coley Bartram by a writing dated at Philadelphia July 24th a.b. 1835 did transfer to R. W. Lindsay all of his Interest in the coloured woman Joice Heth aged 161 years: sold to him by John S. Bowling of Kentucky dated June 15 A.D. 1835. now know all men by these Presents: That if the said R. W. Lindsay for and in consideration of the sum of one thousand dollars to me in hand paid by Phineas T. Barnum (and William P. Saunders) at or before the sealing of these Presents, the Receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged have bargained, sold, transferred and delivered and by these Presents do bargain, sell, transfer and deliver unto the said Phineas T. Barnum, (and William P. Saunders) their executors, administrators, or assigned the possessions of the person of the African woman, Joice Heth and the sole right of exhibiting her during the unexpired time of the twelve months mentioned in the agreement dated June 10 a.b. 1835 in and amongst the cities of the United States and all my right, title, interest or claim whatsoever to the possession of the said Joice Heth and to the right of exhibiting her aforesaid. And I do hereby for myself, my heirs, executors and Administrators covenant, promise, and agree to and with the said Phieas T. Barnum (and William P. Saunders) jointly and severally, their several and respective heirs and assigns by these Presents. That I the said R. W. Lindsay and my heirs have and do enjoy the just and legal possessions of the said Joice Heth and the sole right of exhibition of her and amongst the cities of the United States during the unexpired time of the twelve months commencing Juine 10 A.D. 1835. And I do further covenant, promise and agree that the possession of Joice Heth and the right of exhibiting her as aforesaid and all my Title and Interest in Joice Heth hereby transferred and delivered unto the said Phineas T. Barnum (and William P. Saunders) their heirs and assigns against me, R. W. Lindsay and my heirs and against Coley Bartram and against John S. Bowling and his heirs and against all and every other person and persons whatsoever lawfully claiming or to claim by, from, or under him, them, or any of them shall and will warrant and forever defend by these Presents.
Provided always, such claims shall be made previous to the tenth day of June A.D. 1836. I hold myself clear of all covenants and agreements for the possessions of the person of Joice Heth or the right of exhibiting her after the Tenth day of June A.D. 1836.
In Witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this sixth day of August, Anno Domini one thousand, eight hundred and thirty five.
Sealed and delivered in
Sam H. Traquain
Received August 6, 1835 from Phineas T. Barnum (and William P. Saunders), one thousand dollars being the full consideration of the within conveyance and of the covenants and agreements contained therein.
R. W. Lindsay