NEWS: Heywood and Thornton Dispute Obama’s Slave-Ancestors Report

“As stated in the Times piece, genealogists from said they have evidence that “strongly suggests” that through his white mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, President Obama had an enslaved ancestor in the 17th century named John Punch: “In 1640, Mr. Punch, then an indentured servant, escaped from Virginia and went to Maryland. He was captured there and, along with two white servants who had also escaped, was put on trial. His punishment — servitude for life — was harsher than what the white servants received, and it has led some historians to regard him as the first African to be legally sanctioned as a slave, years before Virginia adopted laws allowing slavery.

We should immediately note, though, that the word “slave” was rarely used in documents generated in Virginia in 1640 — at least, not in the legal sense of a condition of constant and inheritable servitude. Africans were, however, usually identified in documents as “negroes.” In fact, this was by far the most common term for people of African descent in Virginia records…..

…When John Punch was captured as a runaway with two white servants, the court extended his term of service to lifelong. In this case, the court made a definitive decision only about his length of service, but the other Africans may well have had to serve for life before him, lacking the contract needed to be guaranteed freedom. In their cases, the terms were irregular and determined by their masters….”

(Read the rest at The Root: Obama: Slave-Ancestors Report Misses the Mark)

Slavery and Slave Heritage in Kongo and South Africa

(Click above for image credits)

HEYWOOD, LINDA M. “Slavery and Its Transformation in the Kingdom of Kongo: 1491?1800.” The Journal of African History 50, no. 01 (2009): 1-22.


Studies of slavery in Africa during the period of the Atlantic slave trade have largely ignored questions of how political processes affected enslavement during the period and also the extent to which notions of who could be enslaved were modified. Documentation for the kingdom of Kongo during the 1500s to 1800 allows us to explore how the trade was sustained and the social and political dynamics behind it. In a state that consistently exported large numbers of slaves throughout the period of the trade, kings of Kongo at first observed quite a pronounced distinction between foreign-born captives subject to enslavement and sale in the Atlantic trade and freeborn Kongos who were largely proctected from enslavement and sale overseas. In time, however, the distinctions that separated foreign-born and Kongos fell apart as later political authorities and others disregarded such distinctions and all Kongos became subject to enslavement and sale overseas. This was a product of internal Kongo conflicts, which witnessed the collapse of institutions and the redefinition of polity, what it meant to be a citizen or freeborn, and who could be enslaved.

WORDEN, NIGEL. “The Changing Politics of Slave Heritage in the Western Cape, South Africa.” The Journal of African History 50, no. 01 (2009): 23-40.


Changes that have taken place in the ways in which the slave past has been remembered and commemorated in the Western Cape region of South Africa provide insight into the politics of identity in this locality. During most of the twentieth century, public awareness of slave heritage was well buried, but the ending of apartheid provided a new impetus to acknowledge and memorialize the slave past. This engagement in public history has been a vexed process, reflecting contested concepts of knowledge and the use of heritage as both a resource and a weapon in contemporary South African identity struggles.

Full Text available via Cambridge Journals (sub only) or your local library

September 2008 African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter is Up

From the site:

In September’s newsletter, we feature: articles and essays by E. Kofi Agorsah, Thomas Butler, Jane Eva Baxter, John D. Burton, John Ringquist, Marty Wild, and Zacharys Anger Gundu; a compiled list of recent dissertations in African diaspora archaeology and history; news reports and announcements; and book reviews by James G. Gibb, Christopher Espenshade, John Roby, and B. R. Fortenberry.

The African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter is published quarterly and edited by Christopher C. Fennell, Assistant Professor of Archaeology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  It is free and available online.  Below is the TOC:

Articles, Essays, and Reports

News and Announcements

Conferences and Calls for Papers

Book ReviewsReview of “Subfloor Pits and the
Archaeology of Slavery in Colonial Virginia”
by James G. Gibb

Review of “The Potters of Buur Heybe, Somalia”
by Christopher Espenshade

Review of “Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles,
and the Foundation of the Americas, 1585-1660″
by John Roby

Review of “The Atlantic World: A History, 1400-1888”
by B. R. Fortenberry