Black Female Networks of Property and Commerce in the French Atlantic World

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 9:00 AM
Manchester Ballroom F (Hyatt)
Jessica Marie Johnson , University of Maryland at College Park
Free women of color on both sides of the Atlantic were, first and foremost, businesswomen. In part, this was the result of economic opportunities available in the interstices of the French Atlantic slave society. However, there are similarities between the occupations and motivations of free women of color in Senegal, Louisiana and Saint-Domingue that suggest that ideas of black women's work may have traveled back and forth across the ocean. Free women of color disproportionately occupied all levels of commerce in Senegal, Louisiana and Siant-Domingue, and skills, like hairdressing, were also shared. Free women of color also used kinship and religion to support their economic endeavors. Their dependents were often their employees, their lovers were also their business partners. Conversion to Islam and Catholicism was crucial to entering certain trade relationships on the West African coast and in the Americas. Relationships between women of color and white men, while often coercive, could also come with manumission, dowry and gifts, inheritances, and patronage. Free businesswomen of color in each locale actualized their freedom by cultivating networks of property and female kin that attracted more wealth and protected them from re-enslavement.
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