Few historical events have had such tragic, widespread, and lingering consequences as the exportation of slaves from Africa. While the abolition of western Africa’s transatlantic slave trade is well documented, the events and legal framework that led to the abolition of the slave trade in East Africa remain practically untold. There, an unlikely hero championed abolition: Missionary and explorer Dr. David Livingstone. His method: an ambitious publicity stunt to dramatically change international law.
This article will illustrate how explorer David Livingstone’s advocacy profoundly affected the legal landscape to restrict the slave trade in East Africa, and eventually dealt the deathblow abolishing it forever. Further, this article will illustrate how a lack of enforcement of the law and a policy of incremental restrictions on the slave trade, in lieu of outright abolition, was destructive to East and Central Africa, intensifying the slave trade with ramifications that can still be felt today. Finally, it will demonstrate, by modern analog, how strict enforcement of the rule of law is necessary in the developing world today.
Colin Dayan recently received a Vanderbilt University Chancellor’s Award for her research and book The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons (Princeton University Press, 2011), which was selected by Choice as one of top 25 books for 2011…
Description (excerpt): Moving seamlessly across genres and disciplines, Dayan considers legal practices and spiritual beliefs from medieval England, the North American colonies, and the Caribbean that have survived in our legal discourse, and she explores the civil deaths of felons and slaves through lawful repression. Tracing the legacy of slavery in the United States in the structures of the contemporary American prison system and in the administrative detention of ghostly supermax facilities, she also demonstrates how contemporary jurisprudence regarding cruel and unusual punishment prepared the way for abuses in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.
In response to Tacky’s Rebellion in 1760 in Jamaica, the colony’s House of Assembly passed a law naming a new crime, “obeah.” This important statute led the way in establishing obeah as a phenomenon understood by colonial authorities as a singular and dangerous problem. Investigating the Jamaica assembly’s decision within a wider Caribbean and Atlantic context and alongside the near-contemporaneous “Makandal conspiracy” in Saint Domingue, which was interpreted by French planters as a mass outbreak of poisoning, shows how similar practices came to be interpreted and constructed in different ways in different colonial cultures. The practices used by Tacky’s “obeah man” and Makandal’s followers were conceptually and practically similar, deriving from African understandings of medicine in which substances could be imbued with spiritual power. Why, then, did the French colonists emphasize poison while the British emphasized obeah (which they glossed with the term “witchcraft”)? In addition to the differences between developments in the colonies, an important context for understanding this distinction was the European experience of the decriminalization of witchcraft. In France decriminalization led to heightened anxiety about poison, while in England witchcraft decriminalization was not connected to poison but made the term and legal category of witchcraft a difficult one for planters to invoke.
On November 29, 1781, Captain Collingwood of the British ship Zong commanded his crew to throw overboard one-third of his cargo: a shipment of Africans bound for slavery in America. The captain believed his ship was off course, and he feared there was not enough drinking water to last until landfall. This book is the first to examine in detail the deplorable killings on the Zong, the lawsuit that ensued, how the murder of 132 slaves affected debates about slavery, and the way we remember the infamous Zongtoday.Historian James Walvin explores all aspects of the Zong’s voyage and the subsequent trial—a case brought to court not for the murder of the slaves but as a suit against the insurers who denied the owners’ claim that their “cargo” had been necessarily jettisoned. The scandalous case prompted wide debate and fueled Britain’s awakening abolition movement. Without the episode of the Zong, Walvin contends, the process of ending the slave trade would have taken an entirely different moral and political trajectory. He concludes with a fascinating discussion of how the case of the Zong, though unique in the history of slave ships, has come to be understood as typical of life on all such ships.
Jessica Millward,. “‘That All Her Increase Shall Be Free’: Enslaved Women’s Bodies and the Maryland 1809 Law of Manumission.” Women’s History Review 21, no. 3 (2012): 363–378.
This article investigates the relationship between manumission laws and enslaved women’s bodies in Maryland, USA. The point of departure is the 1809 ‘Act to Ascertain and Declare the Condition of Such Issue as may hereafter be born of Negro or Mulatto Female Slaves,’ which minimized age requirements for freeing enslaved children. If the status of living or future children was not established at the time the manumission document for the mother was presented in court, then any such children were to remain in bondage. As this article argues, the 1809 law represented what lawmakers, slaveholders, and bondpeople already knew—that freedom, like enslavement, was tied to a bondwoman’s womb. By investigating apprenticeship records, legal statutes, manumission documents, and African American petitions for freedom, this article argues that the deployment of black women’s bodies within the law challenged, extended, and defined definitions of freedom in the decades leading up to the Civil War.