Slavery, Mobility, and the Law in the Americas

AHA Session 39
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
State Ballroom (Palmer House Hilton, Fourth Floor)
Gregory E. O'Malley, University of California, Santa Cruz
Gregory E. O'Malley, University of California, Santa Cruz

Session Abstract

Historians of slavery have increasingly addressed how legislation affected enslaved people's forced, fugitive, and free movements in the Americas and how enslaved people availed themselves of legal knowledge to obtain social mobility. Likewise, scholars have increasingly questioned enslaved people's understandings of freedom and unfreedom. This panel brings together scholars of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Caribbean, South American, and North American slavery for a trans-regional discussion about how the law affected enslaved people's physical and social mobility in the Americas. These scholars reveal how legislation and court systems shaped the parameters of freedom and unfreedom for the enslaved. Together the panelists traverse the history of how enslaved people shaped legal systems in the Americas and their experiences within these systems.

The scholars on this panel will address enslaved people's legal knowledge, the development of legal practices designed to control and curtail enslaved people's mobility, and how the law and medical practice intersected to affect the lives of enslaved people. Michael Becker's paper is a quantitative and qualitative study of extant Jamaican slave court records that will address enslaved people who were tried for marronage during the nineteenth century. His paper traces the influence of abolitionism on enslaved people's acts of marronage and how the courts assessed enslaved people's guilt and innocence. Alisha J. Hines' paper considers enslaved litigants in the Mississippi valley who used local courts for their own ends. Her paper reveals black men's and women's contributions to legal knowledge in the antebellum south and their understandings of freedom. Elise A. Mitchell's paper will address how quarantine laws shaped enslaved people's arrivals in the Greater Caribbean during the eighteenth century. Her paper explores how quarantine laws made the slave trade more sustainable for Europeans while creating spaces of extreme suffering and loss for the enslaved. Brandi Waters' paper will explore enslaved people's experiences with illness and disability impacted their pursuit of legal freedom in late colonial New Granada (Colombia). Through her study of records from the departments of Bolívar and Antioquia in present-day Colombia, she reveals the role that medical practitioners played in the legal manumission process. By conversing across the normative geographic, imperial, national, and temporal divisions among scholars of slavery, this panel will add breadth to our understanding of how enslaved people challenged and endured legal systems that operated in the Americas.

See more of: AHA Sessions