The Four Snow-White Albino Boys. Born of Negro Parents! As they appear in their unrivaled musical entertainments…
Rare broadside advertising this African-American albino quartet, shown performing in a minstrel array, playing the bones, the fiddle, the banjo and the tambourine. The quartet was one of the earliest such traveling attractions in America, though years later P.T. Barnum would make the exhibition of Black albino families, both real and fake, a standard item on the American sideshow bill-of-fare.
The broadside illustrates the “tradition” of African-Americans being presented to the American public simultaneously as performers and peculiarities. (A similar example being the conjoined twins Millie-Christine, the singers known as “The Two-Head Nightingale.”)
Harriet A. Washington in Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentations on Black Americans… (2008) notes: “as was usual with such ‘white negro’ attractions [the] subjects were not of mixed race but anomalies born of black parents.” Charles D. Martin in The White African American Body… (2002) speaks further to the boys’ representation as “medical curiosities.”
There are three endorsements from Nathaniel B. Shurtlieff, M.D., S.I. Abbot, and Dr. J.V.C. Smith. The endorsements emphasize the fact that the boys are of “true negro parentage and [possess] in an eminent degree all the characteristics of the Leucoethiopes (white negroes), viz: a pearly white skin, white hair, and pink pupils of the eyes, together with all the features of full-blooded negroes…not to be mistaken for or confounded with mulattoes.”
These endorsements were not inconsequential. Shurtlieff would serve as Boston’s 20th mayor in the 1860s. Samuel Leonard Abbot (1818-1904) graduated from Harvard medical school and was an important player in the early years of Massachusetts General Hospital. Smith served as Boston’s mayor, too, but he was also the editor of the Medical Intelligencer and had received his M.D. from Williams College and studied surgery under Dr. William Ingalls of Boston.
OCLC returns AAS. Examples are also found at Schomburg (NYPL), Harvard (Houghton) and LOC.
Description: The Four Snow-White Albino Boys. Born of Negro Parents! As they appear in their unrivaled musical entertainments…
Boston: B.W. Thayer & Co. [c.1844]. Broadside. Approx. 20¾ x 16 inches. Conserved and mended (treatment report available).