Africa, Africans, and Slavery in Latin America

The November 2007 issue of the Hispanic American Historical Review features three articles on Africans, slavery and conceptions of Africa in three Latin American countries: Buenos Aires, Cuba, and Uruguay.
This issue (87:4) was the last issue published while the journal was headquartered at the University of Maryland-College Park, an institution well known for pioneering the study of slavery and emancipation in the United States through the Freedmen and Southern Society Project.
Lyman L. Johnson. “‘A Lack of Legitimate Obedience and Respect’: Slaves and Their Masters in the Courts of Late Colonial Buenos Aires.” pp. 631-657
Alejandro de la Fuente. “Slaves and the Creation of Legal Rights in Cuba: Coartaci’on and Papel.” pp. 659-692
George Reid Andrews. “Remembering Africa, Inventing Uruguay: Sociedades de Negros in the Montevideo Carnival, 1865-1930.” pp. 693-726
Alejandro de la Fuente’s article on how people of color exploit the law to secure manumission and secure certain rights is interesting to consider in cross-diaspora, intra-Atlantic context alongside “The Atlantic World and the Road to Plessy v. Ferguson,” by Rebecca Scott. Published in December 2007 in the Journal of American History (94:3), Scott considers the construction and exercise of “public rights” by free people of color (and their descendants) in nineteenth century Louisiana.
Image and caption from New Orleans Public Library Website (NUTRIAS): Henriette Delille (1813-1862), a daughter of one of the oldest families of free people of color in New Orleans, founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, the second oldest Catholic religious order for women of color. Photo originally published in Robert R. Macdonald, John R. Kemp, and Edward F. Haas, eds. Louisiana’s Black Heritage, pub. 1979
The HAHR and the Journal of American History are available at your local college/university library.

New Podcast: Africa Past & Present

The Africa Past & Present podcast is hosted by Michigan State University historians Peter Alegi and Peter Limb and is produced by MATRIX – The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online at MSU. Listen and subscribe to the fortnightly “Africa Past and Present” podcast at:

A new episode of Africa Past & Present – the podcast about history, culture, and politics in Africa – is now available at: In this episodes first segment, Peter Alegi reports on the exciting conclusion of the 2008 African Nations Cup in Ghana.

In the second segment, South African media scholar Sean Jacobs (University of Michigan) discusses his blog Leo Africanus (, and shares his insights on the relationship between media and democracy in Africa.

(Courtesy: H-Africa @

Guardians of the Slave Trade

Stephanie E. Smallwood, “African Guardians, European Slave Ships, and the Changing Dynamics of Power in the Early Modern Atlantic,” William & Mary Quarterly 64, no. 4 (October 2007): 679-716.

First Paragraph Steal:

“POWER was nowhere more precariously held in the early modern Atlantic than aboard a slave ship. Because their cargoes were unwilling travelers, slave ships were distinguished by the unmitigated contest between African captives and the European seamen charged to transport them to American markets: between slaves with superior strength in numbers and sailors desperate to prevent rebellious uprising by any means necessary. Though it is true that “perhaps no more than one slave voyage in ten experienced an actual outbreak” of revolt, scholars accept as axiomatic Michael Craton’s further suggestion that “few voyages were ever completed without the discovery or threat of slave conspiracy, and no slaving captain throughout the history of the Atlantic trade ever sailed without a whole armory of guns and chains plus as many white crewmen as he could recruit and keep alive to act as seaborne jailers.” David Eltis’s characterization of the slave ship as a place where “naked physical force determined who would be in control” and where “any relaxation of vigilance or reduction in the amount of force available would mean rebellion” seems squarely on the mark.1 Yet slave ships were more complex than the reliance on naked physical force suggests. The dynamics of power aboard ship could also be affected by the use of African “guardians”: slaves appointed to police fellow captives during the Atlantic crossing.”

Available online (not for free) at History Cooperative and at your local college/university library.

Smallwood’s book, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora was published by Harvard University Press in February 2007.

Photo: Cape Coast Castle, present-day, from the Cape Coast Archive: Exploring and Perserving Cape Coast Ghana (Credit: Michael L. Tuite, Jr.)

Women of Color and Slavery in the United States

In the summer of 2007, the Journal of Women’s History (19:2) published a roundtable on “The History of Women and Slavery: Considering the Impact of Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South on the Twentieth Anniversary of Its Publication.”

According to the “Introduction” by Jennifer L. Morgan, the roundtable was originally a series of papers presented in June 2005 at the 13th Berkshire Conference on the History of Women at Scripps College in Claremont, California. The 7 essays consider Deborah Gray White’s landmark work, Ar’n’t I A Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South (originally published in 1985) and the state of scholarship on women of color during the period of slavery, including strides made by enterprising women in the field. The article received the 2007 Letitia Woods Brown Article Prize from the Association of Black Women Historians.


Journal of Women’s History (19:2), Summer 2007

Roundtable: “The History of Women and Slavery: Considering the Impact of Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South on the Twentieth Anniversary of Its Publication.”

Jennifer Morgan, “Introduction.”

Daina Ramey Berry, “Teaching Ar’n’t I a Woman?”

Stephanie M. H. Camp, “Ar’n’t I a Woman? in the Vanguard of the History of Race and Sex in the United States.”

Leslie M. Harris, “Ar’n’t I a Woman?, Gender, and Slavery Studies.”

Barbara Krauthamer, “Ar’n’t I a Woman? Native Americans, Gender, and Slavery”

Jessica Millward, “More History Than Myth: African American Women’s History Since the Publication of Ar’n’t I a Woman?”

Deborah Gray White, “Afterword: A Response.”

Debating Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano Vincent Carretta and Paul Lovejoy debate Olaudah Equiano’s origins in the December 2006 and April 2007 issues of Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post Slave Studies.

The debate surrounds Vincent Carretta’s argument that there is convincing evidence that Equiano was not an African, as he claimed, but was born as a slave in South Carolina. In his biography of Equiano, Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self Made Man (University of Georgia Press, 2005), Carretta claims that Equiano fashioned an identity for himself as “the African,” partly as a rhetorical strategy to sway readers towards abolitionism.

In, “Autobiography and Memory: Gustavus Vassa, alias Olaudah Equiano, the Africa,” in the December 2006 issue of Slavery & Abolition, Paul Lovejoy disagrees:

Recent scholarship has raised doubts about whether or not abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, who was known in his own lifetime as Gustavus Vassa, was born in Africa. While baptismal and naval documents indicate that he was born in South Carolina, it is argued here that his autobiographical account is nonetheless accurate, although allowing for reflection and information that was learned later in life. Information on facial markings (ichi) and other cultural features that are recounted in Vassa’s account indicate that he had first hand experience of his Igbo homeland and that he was about the age he thought he was at the time of his forced departure from the Bight of Biafra on a slave ship in 1754. (Abstract from S&A website)

Vincent Carretta’s “Response” and Paul Lovejoy’s return, “Issues of Motivation: Vassa/Equiano and Carretta’s Critique of the Evidence” can both be found in the April 2007 issue.

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database Online

From the website:

Over 34,000 individual slaving expeditions between 1527 and 1866 that have been identified and verified to have actually occurred make up the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. Records of the voyages have been found in multiple archival sources which are listed in a variable in the dataset. These records provide details about vessels, enslaved peoples, slave traders and owners, and trading routes. The database enables users to search for information about a particular voyage or group of voyages and it provides full interactive capability to analyze the data and report results in the form of statistical tables, graphs, maps, or on a timeline. In addition to information in the database itself, specific voyages are linked to images and to copies of primary sources in the “Resources” section, and “Educational materials” like lesson-plans are linked in turn to relevant voyages in the main database. Users are encouraged to compare findings from the main database with “Estimates” in the first section. The latter are somewhat higher because they represent an attempt to take into account the number of slaves on voyages for which information is lacking or not yet included in the main database.

The the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database is an invaluable resource for anyone doing research on the Atlantic African diaspora.

The website is still incomplete. There are empty links where crucial pages on methodology, authors, and lesson plans will be. There also don’t appear to be any author credits available yet. The Cambridge version for the CD-ROM is only a touch better, describing the CD-ROM “a data set compiled by respected historians and draws on the archival work of Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, English, and French scholars” without mentioning a single one anywhere on their site. To actually know that this is phenomenal work of David Eltis, David Richardson, Stephen Behrendt and Herbert Klein (and many research assistants) or that the project was sponsored by the W. E. B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University, requires some Google searching.

All that said, that this extensive database is now accessible online, not just on CD-ROM, is very exciting.

Visit the website (hopefully completed soon) here.

[Update:  The site should be completed and open to the public; the above link is working fine.  Thank you for the emails and comments of concern!]

Bernie D. Jones on Southern Free Women of Color Legal History

Bernie D. Jones, “Southern Free Women of Color in the Antebellum North: Race, Class, and a ‘New Women’s Legal History” in Akron Law Review (forthcoming)


This article explores the possibilities of a “new women’s legal history” as indicated by the intersections of race, gender and class as experienced by Southern enslaved women newly freed in the antebellum North, such as Nancy Wells of Mississippi and Amy Willis of South Carolina. Women such as these had been the enslaved partners and biological daughters of white slaveholding men in the South. They were brought north to Ohio for the purpose of being manumitted and identified as family members eligible to receive inheritances in their home states. The article considers too, the significance of John Jolliffe, a Cincinnati abolitionist lawyer, in developing legal strategies and representing the men and women. These private law cases, involving manumission, inheritance rights and family matters, further contribute to an understanding of abolitionist law practice. Cases such as these also enabled the practice that gave him notoriety: his pro bono work representing clients like Margaret Garner, who fought repatriation to slavery under the fugitive slave acts.

The first section contextualizes the development of theoretical perspectives on race, gender and class in American legal history. The second explains the social and legal status of African-American women in the antebellum United States, enslaved and free. It demonstrates the significance of legal institutions in northern states like Ohio that affected the fortunes of newly freed women of color and influenced their abilities to gain inheritances in their homes states in the South. John Jolliffe is discussed in section three, and the article concludes in section four with a discussion of the relationship between the different types of cases Jolliffe handled: the manumission and inheritance cases discussed in the previous sections and the fugitive slave cases as demonstrated in the case of Margaret Garner.

Available for download here (not free). (Courtesy)

Eltis, Morgan and Richardson on the African Contribution to Rice Cultivation in the Americas

David Eltis, Philip D. Morgan, and David Richardson, “Agency and Diaspora in Atlantic History: Reassessing the African Contribution to Rice Cultivation in the Americas,” American Historical Review 112, no. 5 (December 2007): 1329-1358.

First Paragraph Steal:

Broadly speaking, two contrasting models dominate interpretations of Atlantic history. One draws on Old World influences to explain the nature of societies and cultures in the Americas, while the other assigns primacy to the New World environment. One stresses continuities, the other change. The polar extremes are persistence and transience, inheritance and experience. An emphasis on inheritance prioritizes the cultural baggage that migrants brought with them, whereas a focus on experience highlights the physical and social environments, such as climate, natural resources, and settlement processes, that they encountered. In modern parlance, one approach focuses on folkways, the other on factor endowments.

Available (not for free) History Cooperative and at your local college/university library.

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