Women in Bondage: Local and Transnational Histories, Part 1: Journeys to Freedom: Enslaved Women in the North and South Atlantic Worlds

AHA Session 75
Friday, January 3, 2014: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Ana Lucia Araujo, Howard University
Walter W. Hawthorne, Michigan State University

Session Abstract

This panel explores the various challenges faced by enslaved women in the transition from slavery to freedom in the South and the North Atlantic worlds. The three papers examine and compare the elements that helped enslaved women to achieve freedom during the nineteenth century in southeastern Brazil, New Jersey in the United States, and Angola. The papers also discuss the obstacles that prevented these women to acquire full freedom and the problems faced by freedwomen in societies that heavily relied on slave labor. Maria Helena Machado's paper explains the difficulties faced by enslaved women in Brazil during the transition from slavery to freedom at the end of the nineteenth century. By examining particular biographies of enslaved women the paper discusses the social identities of enslaved and freedwomen and their mobility during this period. Machado also shows how the lives of these women were affected by the rise of sanitation policies and the emergence of racialized medical discourses. Moving from Brazil to the United States, James Gigantino explores the impacts of the New Jersey gradual abolition on enslaved women. By focusing on the free womb law of 1804, Gigantino shows that bodies of enslaved women whose children were now declared "free" became the instruments through which slaveholders perpetuated slavery. At the same time, the paper underscores that enslaved women increased their power of negotiation. Likewise, Mariana Candido’s paper shows the strategies employed by enslaved women in Angola in order to achieve freedom. By focusing on enslaved women agency, the paper explains how they used sexuality, motherhood, and concubinage as instruments to obtain freedom. By examining three different slave societies, the three papers shows that on both sides of the Atlantic world enslaved women who were fighting to get their freedom faced similar challenges.