Blurring the Lines of Race and Freedom: Mulattoes in English Colonial North America and the Early United States Republic

Posted in Dissertations, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2019-10-26 01:11Z by Steven

Blurring the Lines of Race and Freedom: Mulattoes in English Colonial North America and the Early United States Republic

University of California at Berkeley
Spring 2013
183 pages

Aaron B. Wilkinson

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History

This project investigates people of mixed African, European, and sometimes Native American ancestry, commonly referred to as mulattoes, in English colonial North America and the early United States republic. This research deconstructs nascent African American stratification by examining various types of privilege that allowed people of mixed heritage to experience upward social mobility, with a special focus on access to freedom from slavery and servitude in the colonies and states of the southeast Atlantic Coast. Additionally, this work provides a framework for understanding U.S. mixed-race ideologies by following the trajectory of how people of mixed descent and their families viewed themselves and how they were perceived by the broader societies in which they lived. This study contributes to historiographical and contemporary discussions associated with mixed-heritage peoples, ideas of racial mixture, “whiteness,” and African American identity.

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Forthcoming Media, History, Monographs, Slavery, Women on 2019-10-16 00:46Z by Steven

Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic

University Alabama Press
2020-01-28
184 pages
5 B&W figures / 7 tables
6 x 60 x 9 inches
Trade Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8173-2036-2
EBook ISBN: 978-0-8173-9265-9

Erika Denise Edwards, Associate Professor of History
University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Details how African-descended women’s societal, marital, and sexual decisions forever reshaped the racial makeup of Argentina

Argentina values the perception that it is only a country of European immigrants, making it an exception to other Latin American countries, which can embrace a more mixed—African, Indian, European—heritage. Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic traces the origins of what some white Argentines mischaracterize as a “black disappearance” by delving into the intimate lives of black women and explaining how they contributed to the making of a “white” Argentina. Erika Denise Edwards has produced the first comprehensive study in English of the history of African descendants outside of Buenos Aires in the late colonial and early republican periods, with a focus on how these women sought whiteness to better their lives and those of their children.

Edwards argues that attempts by black women to escape the stigma of blackness by recategorizing themselves and their descendants as white began as early as the late eighteenth century, challenging scholars who assert that the black population drastically declined at the end of the nineteenth century because of the whitening or modernization process. She further contends that in CĂłrdoba, Argentina, women of African descent (such as wives, mothers, daughters, and concubines) were instrumental in shaping their own racial reclassifications and destinies.

This volume makes use of a wealth of sources to relate these women’s choices. The sources consulted include city censuses and notarial and probate records that deal with free and enslaved African descendants; criminal, ecclesiastical, and civil court cases; marriages and baptisms records and newsletters. These varied sources provide information about the day-to-day activities of cordobĂ©s society and how women of African descent lived, formed relationships, thrived, and partook in the transformation of racial identities in Argentina.

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Complexities of Complexion

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2019-09-29 02:36Z by Steven

Complexities of Complexion

Reviews in American History
Volume 47, Number 3, September 2019
pages 327-332

Martha Hodes, Professor of History
New York University

Sharon Block. Colonial Complexions: Race and Bodies in Eighteenth-Century America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018. 217 pp. Appendices, notes, and index. $45.00.

This is a book about the endeavor of racial classification in the service of racism. The word complexion held expansive meaning in the eighteenth century. Rather than simply a sign by which others presumed to determine a person’s racial classification, complexion signified sickness and health, conduct and comportment, emotional disposition and indisposition. In Colonial Complexions: Race and Bodies in Eighteenth-Century America, Sharon Block investigates appearance as a “commonplace tool of race-making” (p. 5) and the ways in which that process both reflected and determined dominant ideas about race in early America. Given the capacious meaning of the word, Colonial Complexions explores far more than skin color—in fact only a single chapter is devoted to that aspect of human bodies.

Opening with a learned essay on European ideas about human complexion and human bodies, Block enlightens her readers about the contours of early modern humoralism: beliefs about the ways in which appearance reflected a person’s condition and character. From there, Block takes her readers to British North America, on a journey through the meaning and significance of an array of descriptive categories. Her analysis is based on a meticulous and rigorous reading of newspaper advertisements for runaway slaves and servants. These thousands of documents become, as Block writes, “cultural transformations of individual lives into print” (p. 36). Her interpretations of these seemingly mundane, repetitive sources are razor-sharp, often dazzling.

Block has assembled more than 4000 missing-person advertisements in over two dozen newspapers from eight colonies between 1750 and 1775, a historical moment, she points out, “before skin color became increasingly equivalent to race” (p. 2). Because advertisements for runaway laborers were voluminous and widely consumed by colonists, no other sort of document from colonial America—not legal records, not military records, not prison records—”offers an opportunity to aggregate thousands of parallel descriptions of physical appearance of enslaved and free people” (p. 145). The owners and employers who wrote these advertisements made choices about which descriptive categories to include and which to exclude, and Block treats each choice as significant, as she weighs, compares, and explicates. How much information did the writer believe would be enough for strangers to identify a particular fugitive? What vocabulary should be invoked to best portray not only skin color but also body size, hair texture, clothing, and voice timbre? How best concisely to convey a runaway’s behavior and personality? In selecting the details and composing succinct narratives, owners and employers of slaves and servants participated in “making race in daily life” (p. 141).

Block’s sample is not random; instead, she sought temporal and geographical variety, and sought in particular to include harder-to-find advertisements for fugitive girls and women. Because colonial advertisements for runaways included only a small number of people of Native American descent, Block turned to travel accounts to find descriptions of Native men and women. Then, to clarify all facets of her analysis with a sharper sense of meanings and usages, Block supplemented her data with many more kinds of documents: dictionaries, almanacs, plantation records, medical treatises, and natural histories, as well as more lyrical sources such as diaries and letters, poetry, sermons, literature, and in one instance a treatise on vampires (in order to make sense of descriptions of ruddiness).

Block allows many of her questions to arise from the evidence, and findings across categories are consistent. Owners and employers commodified people of African descent by describing them in generalized terms. British colonists described people of European descent, by contrast, far more often as particular individuals. Take the supposedly objective factors of age and height. Whereas advertisers described people of African descent as young or old, short or tall, they more often gave people of European descent specific ages and measurements. When advertisers noted indicators of ill health, they tended to write about the external features of people of African descent (bloodshot eyes, for example, or stooped posture), as compared to identifying “individual underlying causes or experiences…

Read or purchase the review here.

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The General’s Cook, A Novel

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Novels, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2019-09-16 00:52Z by Steven

The General’s Cook, A Novel

Arcade Publishing
2018-11-06
336 pages
Trim Size: 6in x 9in
Hardcover ISBN: 9781628729771

Ramin Ganeshram

The General

Philadelphia 1793. Hercules, President George Washington’s chef, is a fixture on the Philadelphia scene. He is famous for both his culinary prowess and for ruling his kitchen like a commanding general. He has his run of the city and earns twice the salary of an average American workingman. He wears beautiful clothes and attends the theater. But while valued by the Washingtons for his prowess in the kitchen and rewarded far over and above even white servants, Hercules is enslaved in a city where most black Americans are free. Even while he masterfully manages his kitchen and the lives of those in and around it, Hercules harbors secrets—including the fact that he is learning to read and that he is involved in a dangerous affair with Thelma, a mixed-race woman, who, passing as white, works as a companion to the daughter of one of Philadelphia’s most prestigious families. Eventually Hercules’ carefully crafted intrigues fall apart and he finds himself trapped by his circumstance and the will of George Washington. Based on actual historical events and people, The General’s Cook, will thrill fans of The Hamilton Affair, as they follow Hercules’ precarious and terrifying bid for freedom.

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How Slavery Changed the DNA of African Americans

Posted in Articles, Economics, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2019-08-26 01:08Z by Steven

How Slavery Changed the DNA of African Americans

Pacific Standard
2016-07-19

Michael White, Assistant Professor of Genetics
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri


(Photo: John-christopher-bowers/Flickr)

Widespread sexual exploitation before the Civil War strongly influenced the genetic make-up of essentially all African Americans alive today.

Our genetic make-up is the result of history. Historical events that influenced the patterns of migration and mating among our ancestors are reflected in our DNA — in our genetic relationships with each other and in our genetic risks for disease. This means that, to understand how genes affect our biology, geneticists often find it important to tease out how historical drivers of demographic change shaped present-day genetics.

Understanding the connection between history and DNA is especially important for African Americans, because slavery and discrimination caused profound and relatively rapid demographic change. A new study now offers a very broad look at African-American genetic history and shows how the DNA of present-day African Americans reflects their troubled history…

Read the entire article here.

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Producer Phillip Rodriguez Acquires Rights To ‘The Strange Career of William Ellis’

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2019-08-21 23:02Z by Steven

Producer Phillip Rodriguez Acquires Rights To ‘The Strange Career of William Ellis’

Deadline: Breaking Hollywood News Since 2006
2019-08-21

Dino-Ray Ramos, Associate Editor/Reporter

EXCLUSIVE: Producer and indie filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez has optioned the film and TV rights to Karl Jacoby’s book The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire. Rodriguez is set to develop and produce the narrative-based project

Jacoby’s prize-winning book tells the true story of William Ellis, a larger-than-life figure who was born on the U.S.-Mexico border in the twilight of slavery and inhabited a world divided along ambiguous racial lines. Adopting the name Guillermo Eliseo, he passed as Mexican, transcending racial lines to become fabulously wealthy as a Wall Street banker, diplomat, and owner of scores of mines and haciendas south of the border. In The Strange Career of William Ellis, Columbia University historian Jacoby weaves an astonishing tale of cunning, scandal, self-invention and the abiding riddle of race in America

Read the entire article here.

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In 1870, Henrietta Wood Sued for Reparations—and Won

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2019-08-20 13:39Z by Steven

In 1870, Henrietta Wood Sued for Reparations—and Won

Smithsonian Magazine
September 2019

W. Caleb McDaniel, Associate Professor of History
Rice University, Houston, Texas

Verdict slip collage
No image of Henrietta Wood survives today, but her story is recorded in court filings, including the verdict slip above. (Illustration by Cliff Alejandro; Source material: W. Caleb McDaniel; New York Public Library (3))

The $2,500 verdict, the largest ever of its kind, offers evidence of the generational impact such awards can have

On April 17, 1878, twelve white jurors entered a federal courtroom in Cincinnati, Ohio, to deliver the verdict in a now-forgotten lawsuit about American slavery. The plaintiff was Henrietta Wood, described by a reporter at the time as “a spectacled negro woman, apparently sixty years old.” The defendant was Zebulon Ward, a white man who had enslaved Wood 25 years before. She was suing him for $20,000 in reparations.

Two days earlier, the jury had watched as Wood took the stand; her son, Arthur, who lived in Chicago, was in the courtroom. Born into bondage in Kentucky, Wood testified, she had been granted her freedom in Cincinnati in 1848, but five years later she was kidnapped by Ward, who sold her, and she ended up enslaved on a Texas plantation until after the Civil War. She finally returned to Cincinnati in 1869, a free woman. She had not forgotten Ward and sued him the following year.

The trial began only after eight years of litigation, leaving Wood to wonder if she would ever get justice. Now, she watched nervously as the 12 jurors returned to their seats. Finally, they announced a verdict that few expected: “We, the Jury in the above entitled cause, do find for the plaintiff and assess her damages in the premises at Two thousand five hundred dollars.”

Though a fraction of what Wood had asked for, the amount would be worth nearly $65,000 today. It remains the largest known sum ever granted by a U.S. court in restitution for slavery…

But Wood’s name never made it into the history books. When she died in 1912, her suit was already forgotten by all except her son. Today, it remains virtually unknown, even as reparations for slavery are once again in the headlines.

I first learned of Wood from two interviews she gave to reporters in the 1870s. They led me to archives in nine states in search of her story, which I tell in full for the first time in my new book, Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America

Read the entire article here.

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Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Women on 2019-08-06 20:51Z by Steven

Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America

Oxford University Press
2019-08-05
288 Pages
28 b/w images, 2 maps
6-1/8 x 9Πinches
Hardcover ISBN: 9780190846992

W. Caleb McDaniel, Associate Professor of History
Rice University, Houston, Texas

  • The epic, unique, and haunting story an enslaved woman and her quest for justice
  • Incorporates recent scholarship on slavery, reparations, and the ongoing connection between slavery and incarceration of black Americans
  • McDaniel received a Public Scholar fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities that enabled him to write this book

Born into slavery, Henrietta Wood was taken to Cincinnati and legally freed in 1848. In 1853, a Kentucky deputy sheriff named Zebulon Ward colluded with Wood’s employer, abducted her, and sold her back into bondage. She remained enslaved throughout the Civil War, giving birth to a son in Mississippi and never forgetting who had put her in this position.

By 1869, Wood had obtained her freedom for a second time and returned to Cincinnati, where she sued Ward for damages in 1870. Astonishingly, after eight years of litigation, Wood won her case: in 1878, a Federal jury awarded her $2,500. The decision stuck on appeal. More important than the amount, though the largest ever awarded by an American court in restitution for slavery, was the fact that any money was awarded at all. By the time the case was decided, Ward had become a wealthy businessman and a pioneer of convict leasing in the South. Wood’s son later became a prominent Chicago lawyer, and she went on to live until 1912.

McDaniel’s book is an epic tale of a black woman who survived slavery twice and who achieved more than merely a moral victory over one of her oppressors. Above all, A Sweet Taste of Liberty is a portrait of an extraordinary individual as well as a searing reminder of the lessons of her story, which establish beyond question the connections between slavery and the prison system that rose in its place.

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Band of Angels, A Novel

Posted in Books, Louisiana, Media Archive, Novels, Slavery, United States, Women on 2019-07-28 22:50Z by Steven

Band of Angels, A Novel

Louisiana State University Press
August 1994 (originally published in 1955)
375 pages
5.50 x 8.50 inches
no illustrations
Paperback ISBN: 9780807119464

Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989)

Amantha Starr, born and raised by a doting father on a Kentucky plantation in the years before the Civil War, is the heroine of this powerfully dramatic novel. At her father’s death Amantha learns that her mother was a slave and that she, too, is to be sold into servitude. What follows is a vast panorama of one of the most turbulent periods of American History as seen through the eyes of star-crossed young woman. Amantha soon finds herself in New Orleans, where she spends the war years with Hamish Bond, a slave trader. At war’s end, she marries Tobias Sears, a Union officer and Emersonian idealist. Despite sporadic periods of contentment, Amantha finds life with Tobias trying, and she is haunted still by her tangled past. “Oh, who am I?” she asks at the beginning of the novel. Only after many years, after achieving a hard-won wisdom and maturity, does she begin to understand that question.

Band of Angels puts on ready display Robert Penn Warren’s prodigious gifts. First published in 1955, it is one of the most searing and vivid fictional accounts of the Civil War era ever written.

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Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Law, Louisiana, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2019-07-22 23:50Z by Steven

Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana

Cambridge University Press
January 2020
320 pages
17 b/w illus. 6 maps 2 tables
228 x 152 mm
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1108480642

Alejandro de la Fuente, Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics; Professor of African and African American Studies
Harvard University

Ariela J. Gross, John B. and Alice R. Sharp Professor of Law and History
University of Southern California

Highlights

  • Examines the development of the legal regimes of slavery and race in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana from the sixteenth century to the dawn of the Civil War
  • Demonstrates that the law of freedom, not slavery, determined the way race developed over time
  • Draws on a variety of primary sources, including local court records, original trial records of freedom suits, legislative case, and petition

How did Africans become ‘blacks’ in the Americas? Becoming Free, Becoming Black tells the story of enslaved and free people of color who used the law to claim freedom and citizenship for themselves and their loved ones. Their communities challenged slaveholders’ efforts to make blackness synonymous with slavery. Looking closely at three slave societies—Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana—Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela J. Gross demonstrate that the law of freedom—not slavery—established the meaning of blackness in law. Contests over freedom determined whether and how it was possible to move from slave to free status, and whether claims to citizenship would be tied to racial identity. Laws regulating the lives and institutions of free people of color created the boundaries between black and white, the rights reserved to white people, and the degradations imposed only on black people.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • 1. ‘A Negro and by consequence an alien’: local regulations and the making of race, 1500s–1700s
  • 2. The ‘inconvenience” of black freedom: manumission, 1500s–1700s
  • 3. ‘The natural right of all mankind’: claiming freedom in the age of revolution, 1760s–1830
  • 4. ‘Rules 
 for their expulsion’: foreclosing freedom, 1830s–1860
  • 5. ‘Not of the same blood’: policing racial boundaries, 1830s–1860
  • Conclusion: ‘Home-born citizens: the significance of free people of color.
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