Did the End of the Civil War Mean the End of Slavery?

April 1865 marked the beginning of a new battle for American abolitionists. On the same morning that Abraham Lincoln died from an assassin’s bullet, noted abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was quietly gloating by the Charleston, South Carolina graveside of John C. Calhoun. Garrison, approaching his 60th birthday, had traveled down to secession’s birthplace with a[…]

Olaudah Equiano and the Eighteenth-Century Debate over Africa and the Slave Trade

Arguments made by eighteenth-century writers about the slave trade and contributions to those debates by freed slave Olaudah Equiano. Introduction Olaudah Equiano was a British citizen and former slave who, in the 1780s, became a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or[…]

Aphra Behn’s “Oroonoko”: Slavery and Race in the Atlantic World

Exploring how novel Oroonoko compares to other representations of race, slavery, and colonialism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Introduction Aphra Behn published Oroonoko in 1688, a time when the Atlantic slave trade and African slavery in the Americas were becoming consolidated as a transnational, economic system. The novel draws on popular forms of literature such as[…]

Other Americans and the American Revolution

Who identified as “American” during the Revolution? To what extent did the American Revolution serve the interests of all inhabitants of the emerging nation? By Carolyn LatshawNational Society of Daughters of the American Revolution–Chicago Chapter Introduction When we think of the Americans during the Revolutionary War, we think George Washington, John Adams, Paul Revere—the Patriots.[…]

Moldy Church Records in Latin America Document the Lives of Millions of Slaves

Now, intrepid scholars are saving those parish baptismal records from war, neglect, and rot. By Paula Wasley On Sunday, March 2, 1721, in the San Carlos Cathedral of the Cuban city of Matanzas, Father Francisco Gonsales del Alamo laid hands on a black slave named Francisco, to mark his entry into the Catholic Church. Though[…]

On Looking: Slaves on Display in New Haven Green

Amistad captives were kept in a jail on the New Haven Green. For twelve-and-a-half cents, residents of the city could come look at them. But you are here for the story… So it is a lost story but we will be imagining it, anyway.  —Rita Dove, “Prologue of the Rambling Sort” Many things are true at once. —Elizabeth[…]

How the Forced Removal of the Southeast’s Indians Turned Native Lands into Slave Plantations

“Alabama Fever” triggered a takeover by cotton planters of America’s oldest indigenous region. The Old South wasn’t really that old. Plantations appeared in many areas of the Deep South only a few decades before the Civil War. Before that, the South was Indian country. The South’s long and rich Indigenous history is unknown to many[…]

Creating a Digital Museum to Memorialize America’s Slave Past

Art historian Renée Ater reflects on how pain and reconciliation coexist at the Contraband and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial in Virginia and other monuments to slavery. By Chelika Yapa Scholar James Young once posed this provocative question: How does a nation memorialize a past it might rather forget? Art historian Renée Ater is exploring this question[…]

Muslims and the First Recorded Slave Revolt in the New World, 1522

Charles V blamed the revolt on their radical ideology rather than the harsh realities of living a life of slavery. On Christmas Day, 1522, 20 enslaved Muslim Africans used machetes to attack their Christian masters on the island of Hispaniola, then governed by the son of Christopher Columbus. The assailants, condemned to the grinding toil[…]

Social and Economic Factors in the Reconstruction Era

Reconstruction’s influence of and effects upon religion, education, industry, and taxation. Organized Religion Freedmen were very active in forming their own churches, mostly Baptist or Methodist, and giving their ministers both moral and political leadership roles. In a process of self-segregation, practically all blacks left white churches so that few racially integrated congregations remained (apart[…]

A History of Reconstruction after the Civil War

The of the aftermath of the Civil War and the brief attempt to “reconstruct” the U.S. South on the basis of democracy and political equality for the freed Black slaves. The formal emancipation of African American slaves and the victory of the Union Army in the Civil War constituted a significant but incomplete advance for[…]

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is the first monument to commemorate the over 4,000 African Americans who were lynched in the United States between 1877 and 1950. Introduction Located in Montgomery, Alabama, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice is the first monument to commemorate the over 4,000 African Americans who were lynched[…]

Why Abolitionist Frederick Douglass Loved the Photograph

He considered it the most democratic of arts and a crucial aid in the quest to end slavery and achieve civil rights. Suddenly, it seems, the camera has become a potent weapon in what many see as the beginning of a new civil rights movement. It’s become a familiar tale: Increasingly, blacks won’t leave home[…]

Enslaved Labor and Building the Smithsonian: Reading the Stones

Examining evidence that enslaved persons were involved in the construction of the original Smithsonian Building in Washington, D.C. Many enslaved workers who labored at the Maryland quarry from which all the building’s “freestone” or sandstone blocks were obtained had roots in enslaved families owned by Martha Custis Washington at Mt. Vernon. And what erudition. He[…]

James Madison on Slavery and the Electoral College

The Electoral College may not have been expressly designed only to protect African slavery, but based on Madison’s notes, it was the mode most preferred by pro-slavery forces. Sean Wilentz, Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor of the American Revolutionary Era at Princeton University, just announced in a New York Times op-ed that he retracted his earlier opinion[…]

The Three-Fifths Compromise and the Origins of the Electoral College

The 1787 debate over how slaves would be counted when determining a state’s total population for legislative representation and taxes. Introduction The Three-Fifths Compromise was a compromise reached among state delegates during the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention. Whether, and if so, how, slaves would be counted when determining a state’s total population for legislative representation and taxing purposes was important,[…]

Slavery’s Traces: In Search of Ashley’s Sack

Until now, Ashley’s identity has been unknown. Overview One of the most enigmatic objects on display in South Carolina’s Middleton Place, this unbleached cotton sack features an embroidered text recounting the slave sale of a nine-year-old girl named Ashley and the gift of the sack by her mother. Until now, Ashley’s identity has been unknown.[…]

Things You May Not Know about Slavery in British North America

Exploring common misconceptions about slavery in the American colonies. While there are many misconceptions about this time period in American history, some of the most egregious surround the institution of slavery in the mainland colonies of British North America. It is common to read back into colonial times an understanding of slavery that is based[…]

Trying the Dark: Mammoth Cave and the Racial Imagination, 1839–1869

Examining the diverse body of cultural artifacts against the backdrop of Mammoth Cave as a site of American slavery. Overview In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave was a popular tourist destination for travelers from around the United States and beyond. The cave also functioned during these years as a dynamic[…]

Inside the Jackson Tract: The Battle Over Peonage Labor Camps in Southern Alabama, 1906

Exploring the history of post-slavery labor, the harsh conditions of labor camps, and efforts to end the peonage system. Introduction On a warm spring day in 1904, former governor of Maryland and lumberman E. E. Jackson, along with several associates, traveled to Alabama to view their extensive holdings of southern yellow pine forests. The party took[…]

To Free or Not to Free: Thomas Jefferson’s Lukewarm Stance on Slavery

Jefferson’s reasoning centered on generational sovereignty and timeliness. It is often acknowledged that Jefferson did much in his years prior to his retirement from political activity to try to eradicate the institution of slavery. Writes Gilbert Chinard in Thomas Jefferson: The Apostle of Americanism: No New Englander had done more to promote the cause of[…]

An Accurate Historical Understanding of the Underground Railroad

Underground Railroad activists and fugitive slaves had to improvise in response to ever-shifting circumstances. When I’ve used that line over the years in speaking to audiences about the loosely-organized network that aided runaway slaves in the pre-Civil War U.S., it has usually elicited surprise.  Since slavery ended, most Americans have come to view the Underground Railroad[…]

Seeds of Rebellion in Plantation Fiction: Victor Séjour’s ‘The Mulatto’

Through its representation of physical and psychological effects, Séjour’s story inaugurated the literary delineation of slavery’s submission-rebellion binary. By Dr. Ed PiacentinoProfessor Emeritus of EnglishHigh Point University Overview This essay examines Victor Séjour’s “The Mulatto” (1837), a short story acknowledged as the first fictional work by an African American. Through its representation of physical and[…]

The Emergence of the Border South in the 19th Century

The rise of the Border South in the nineteenth century as a section was accompanied by conflict over slavery. It was a geopolitical region whose complexities of identity, commerce, and family make it both deeply Southern and at points open to other regions, cultures, and influences. Defining the Border Anyone who has lived for a[…]

A Bill of Lading Delivers the Goods: The Constitutionality and Effect of the Emancipation Proclamation

A bill of lading is a document issued by a carrier to a shipper acknowledging receipt of goods for transit. This greatest of all bills of lading was constitutionally issued by the Union’s helmsman. And it delivered the goods. By James A. Dueholm, J.D. Introduction On January 31, 1865, Congress adopted the Thirteenth Amendment, which[…]

Deadly Notes: Atlantic Soundscapes and the Writing of the Middle Passage

The ships traveling the pathways of the Middle Passage—and beyond—were anything but silent spaces. “A Kind of Chorus” [S]ince speech was forbidden, slaves camouflaged the word under the provocative intensity of the scream. No one could translate the meaning of what seemed to be nothing but a shout. It was taken to be nothing but[…]

Voices in the Campaign for Abolition

From the mid-18th century, Africans and people of African descent – many of them former slaves – began to write down their stories. This article describes these writings and assesses their role in the abolition of slavery. Introduction Slavery in the Atlantic world was more complex than history books can readily convey. Most enslaved people[…]