Manumission and Exile in the Luso-Brazilian Atlantic World

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 2:30 PM
Adams Room (Palmer House Hilton)
John Marquez, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Enslaved peoples’ struggles for manumission in colonial Brazil and other parts of the Americas were met with steep challenges and sometimes insurmountable impasses. Slaveholders sought to control the manumission process by imposing stipulations on legal freedom, such as the conferral of conditional freedom in exchange for continued service and labor. These conditions bounded freed people to their former masters and their residences in intimate and spatial ways, and reflected bonds of dependency between former slave and master. In this paper, I argue that slave owners exercised their power spatially and imposed limits on slaves and former slaves’ freedom, but not only in ways that preserved proximity and extracted labor. This paper examines instances in which manumission struggles between slaves and slave owners resulted in geographical displacement, exile, and banishment to various parts of the Atlantic world. Some slave owners in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries used the transits of the slave trade, and empire more broadly, to facilitate the geographical displacement of enslaved individuals who sought their freedom. In other instances, slave owners inserted stipulations into letters of manumission that made freedom contingent upon never returning to their city or captaincy. Slaves and freed people responded to their displacement, or the threat of it, by directly petitioning the Portuguese crown for an “act of grace” that could order their return and restore the manumission process. Using petitions, notarial records, and colonial correspondence between Brazil, Portugal, and Angola, I trace the paths and experiences of slaves and freed people as they moved throughout the Atlantic world, separated from kin and community, and pursued legal and extralegal strategies for their return. The examples discussed in this presentation push us to understand freedom and its limits as shaped by power exercised spatially at local and Atlantic scales.
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