Who is The Whipping Man?
Posted by Natalie Gilmore | 17 February 2013
"He was like the devil, the Whipping Man. Smelled of whiskey, sweat and shit, like he hadn’t bathed in years. Probably hadn’t. He’d pick up the slaves and put them in chains and take them to his shop. There were blood stains on the walls. And a large collection of bullwhips, too. He used them depending on his mood. First time I was sent there, he used a pearl-handled bullwhip. Didn't he, Caleb?"
- John in The Whipping Man
So who is this Whipping Man? What vile person would make such savagery his vocation? In Matthew Lopez's play The Whipping Man
the audience never sees him. Elements of the story concerning the Whipping Man are revealed in dialog from other characters, using the Classical Greek theater convention of violence happening offstage. The audience sees the emotional aftermath of violence, but not the actions themselves. Perhaps never meeting the Whipping Man, or seeing him in action, makes him all the more terrifying, as the audience is left to conjure him in their imaginations.
Was there a real Whipping Man? While it’s difficult to conclude that such a specific person existed, there is evidence of a similar such man in antebellum Richmond, Virginia. Robert Lumpkin
was a notorious slave trader in Richmond from the 1830s through emancipation. His large collections of cells and holding pens where he kept people he was trafficking were known as the “Devil’s Half Acre.” It has been noted that this prison contained specialized rooms, including one specifically for whipping slaves that resisted his authority.