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Title:Freedom’s edge: Enslaved people, manumission, and the law in the eighteenth-century South Atlantic world
Author(s):Marquez, John C.
Director of Research:Dávila, Jerry
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Dávila, Jerry
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Hertzman, Marc; Brosseder, Claudia; Karam, John; Sweet, James
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
South Atlantic World
Abstract:“Freedom’s Edge” explores how enslaved people in the South Atlantic world engaged with the law to achieve their manumission, or legal freedom. Drawing on freedom letters, petitions, legal suits, and other kinds of evidence from the eighteenth century, my analysis focuses on enslaved peoples’ social experience within the law as well as the judicial knowledge they acquired in the process of litigating for their manumission. It engages with both long-standing debates in the history of slavery concerning the patterns and meanings of manumission in the Americas, as well as recent advancements within the field of Afro-Latin America surrounding enslaved peoples’ legal consciousness during the early modern period. Its major methodological contribution is to shift our analytical approach away from a search for “voices” to a deeper exploration of what individual actions and decisions among the enslaved tell us about how they understood and responded to their world. I make two arguments. First, by looking more closely at the processes by which enslaved people became freed legal subjects, we gain deeper insights into the limits of freedom and how the enslaved confronted those limits. Second, I argue that individual legal actions throughout the South Atlantic collectively shaped the law. Enslaved people widened interpretations of law, enforced customs, and defined what constituted fair treatment from their slave owners. Through their legal actions, they made mistreatment into the basis for claims to freedom. Enslaved people also shaped the law and its interpretation by bringing their freedom struggles into the heart of the empire. Servants, sailors, and runaways journeyed from Brazil to Portugal hoping to gain their freedom. Others sent direct appeals from Brazil across the Atlantic to Portuguese monarchs. I bring together stories of the enslaved, the newly freed, the conditionally freed, exiles, and fugitives into one analytical frame, offering new perspectives on power and the always-contested meanings of freedom during colonial slavery.
Issue Date:2019-07-09
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 John Marquez
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-11-26
Date Deposited:2019-08

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