Hiding out in the Marigny: Mapping as Storytelling about Fugitives from Urban Slavery
Thursday, January 7, 2016: 2:00 PM
Regency Ballroom VI (Hyatt Regency Atlanta)
The Freedom on the Move (FOTM) database now under development endeavors to collect all extant runaway slave advertisements for North America. As a collected whole, the ads tell broad stories about voluntary and involuntary migrations of enslaved people in the South. But FOTM will also create a compendium of hundreds of thousands of biographies of enslaved people. Both owners looking for runaways and jailers who captured fugitives mid-flight printed information to assist in the recovery of escapees: the name, height, build, appearance, clothing, scars and identifying marks, literacy level, skills, linguistic ability, personal and family history, and even speculation about where the fugitive might be headed and why. While it is difficult to know the outcome of these escapes—some runaways succeeded, but many more were recaptured, as evidenced by the large number of jailer ads—we know who ran, and in many cases how often they did so. This presentation will address the relatively unique challenges of tracking runaways in the dense urban context of antebellum New Orleans, the Deep South’s largest city. By the mid-nineteenth century, New Orleans was also the site of the country’s largest slave market. The forced migration of enslaved people into the city, however, was countered by the daily unwillingness of many to remain in bondage. Situated at the mouth of the Mississippi River and the top of the Gulf of Mexico, the port of New Orleans was a literal hive of ships gathering and depositing people and commodities onto its docks. This maritime setting represented for fugitives the possibility of escape aboard a vessel rather than overland. Yet the city itself was a space of both invisibility and surveillance for those seeking freedom.
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