Commodities, Converts, and Citizens: Conceptualizing Atlantic Slavery and Emancipation in the American North

AHA Session 78
Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Room 601 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Joyce Goodfriend, University of Denver
Emily Blanck, Rowan University
Richard J. Boles, Oklahoma State University
Jared Ross Hardesty, Western Washington University
Andrea Catharina Mosterman, University of New Orleans
Harvey Amani Whitfield, University of Vermont

Session Abstract

This panel reassesses slavery in New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions of North America. Too often scholars of slavery in New York, New England, and Pennsylvania have examined the institution parochially, when it was in fact tied to larger North American and Atlantic processes. By exploring the history of slavery in the North, this panel places it in conversation with the larger historical framework of Atlantic slavery. In doing so, it shows three important trends. First, slavery in these regions had more in common with the institution in other parts of the Atlantic than often has been acknowledged. Second, these regions were directly linked to other slave societies through the slave trade and exchanges of ideas. Finally, in some cases these northern regions influenced approaches to slavery and debates on slavery and abolition elsewhere. Therefore, slavery in these northern regions should no longer be considered marginal but instead an integral part of the conversations on slavery and abolition in the Atlantic World and American South. In essence, this panel seeks to tie the microhistories of slavery and emancipation in the American North to the larger historical scales often used to analyze Atlantic slavery.

In that vein, all four panelists examine northern slavery in a larger context. Through his research of Captain Ingraham’s slave trade into New England, Jared Hardesty’s paper shows that slavery in New England was closely connected to larger Atlantic networks of trade, cultural exchange, and exploitation. Richard Boles examines how northern churches engaged with slave populations. His paper reveals that these northern churches included many enslaved people and even became an example for southern churches on how to use religion to engage slaves. In her paper on slavery and abolition in Revolutionary Massachusetts, Emily Blanck shows how discussions about slavery and freedom that took place in Revolutionary Massachusetts played an important role in larger national and Atlantic debates.  Finally, Andrea Mosterman’s paper investigates the challenges freed people faced during the era of gradual emancipation in New York. Her paper shows that although nineteenth-century New York became known as a free state its freed population continued to struggle for full freedom, as was the case in other post-emancipation societies.

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