Africans in Colonial Mississippi: Mastering the Atlantic World in Spanish Natchez

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 12:10 PM
Belmont Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Christian Pinnen, University of Southern Mississippi
The tide of the Atlantic world dragged thousands of Africans into slavery. Before cotton became the dominant staple crop in Natchez, Mississippi around the turn of the eighteenth century, a small number of African slaves washed up in that tiny outpost on the Mississippi River. From 1775 to 1795, Natchez had undergone three imperial changes, corresponding with events in the larger Atlantic world. During the American Revolution, Spain conquered the village held by the British, and thanks to new slave imports and the Bourbon reforms, Natchez began to blossom in 1781. In 1795, Spain reluctantly ceded the Natchez district to the expanding United States. Throughout these tumultuous decades, slaves and free people of color constantly had to adapt to new laws and regulations stemming from the regime changes. This paper will highlight the role of two slave families in the Natchez district. It will argue that slavery quickly became central to the developing outpost of empire, and show how entangled Natchez’s society had become with slavery and the events of the Atlantic world, despite the fact that the district existed on the periphery of empire. The families of African descent fought for their freedom, the right of their children to stay free, and to keep families in slavery together. While attempting this task, they had to consider the changes taking place in Natchez and avoid to getting caught up in the ebb and flow of the Atlantic world.
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