Battered Bodies, Enfeebled Minds: Mapping the Role of the Middle Passage within the Landscape of Enslaved Resistance

Sunday, January 10, 2010: 8:30 AM
Columbia 2 (Marriott)
Sowande' M. Mustakeem , Washington University in St. Louis
The range of resistance bondpeople waged during the era of slavery differed across geographical and temporal boundaries.  While studies of plantation slavery continue to undergo considerable shifts within current historiography, little attention has been paid to the phenomena of ‘slavery at sea’ as exemplified through the slave ship experience.  In fact, it is only within the past few years that a subfield of Middle Passage studies has begun to burgeon.  A central question this paper attempts to address is: where does the enslavement of captives transported from Africa to the fit within broader conversations on Atlantic slave resistance?  Recognizing therein that slave ships often served as mobile icons effectively bridging people, ports, and revolutionary ideas across the, this paper turns significant attention towards the lives of bondpeople.  Closely examining how they attempted to cope with the shock of enslavement and forced migration, the primary goal of this paper is to situate the place of gender, resistance, and corporal punishment within evolving narratives of slave insurgency.

Employing a gendered and comparative methodology, this paper highlights the array of creative means by which bondmen and bondwomen fought for their freedom aboard 18th century slave vessels. While this paper interrogates the frequent clash of violence that ensued at sea, I also closely explore the degree to which resistance waged aboard slave ships set the tone for later acts of insurgency enslaved populations carried out once ‘imported’ into New World slave societies.  Drawing upon merchant’s letters, colonial newspapers, government testimony, seamen’s diaries, and ship logs; throughout its examination, this paper bridges further conversations regarding gender, slavery, resistance, and migration within the Atlantic World.

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