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Plantation Life in the British West Indies, 1650–1850  

Jenny Shaw

Over two million enslaved people labored on cash crop plantations in the British West Indies in the almost two hundred years between the development of sugar plantations on Barbados in the 1650s and the age of emancipation in the 1830s. Although both the sizes of plantations and the crops produced varied across the Caribbean, generally the system of enslavement and therefore the plantation life generated within that system, did not. The contours of enslaved lives were shaped by myriad forces—the violence of the institution of slavery, the strictures of gender, reproduction, and patriarchy, the racial animosity engendered by whites, the hierarchies of the enslaved community, and the demographic reality of the colonies. The labor enslaved women, men, and children performed, the violence they endured, the familial and kinship ties they forged, the cultural practices they engaged in, and the strategies they employed to challenge their bonded status, were the constituent elements of their enslavement and their daily lives. But once slavery ended, the demands of the plantation did not fade. Neither did the racist attitudes of whites about people of African descent, or elite assumptions about what constituted a good subject in Britain’s burgeoning empire. As they forged new lives in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s, former slaves grappled with how to set limits on their labor, build families, and live lives free from white scrutiny and oppression.

Article

The Underground Railroad  

Diane Miller

Africans and their descendants enslaved in the western hemisphere resisted their status in several ways. One of the most consequential methods was self-liberation. While many date the Underground Railroad as starting in the 1830s, when railroad terminology became common, enslaved people began escaping from the earliest colonial period. Allies assisted in journeys to freedom, but the Underground Railroad is centered around the enslaved people who resisted their status and asserted their humanity. Fugitives exhibited creativity, determination, courage, and fortitude in their bids for freedom. Together with their allies—white, Black, and Native American—they represented a grassroots resistance movement in which people united across racial, gender, religious, and class lines in hopes of promoting social change. While some participation was serendipitous and fleeting, the Underground Railroad operated through local and regional networks built on trusted circles of extended families and faith communities. These networks ebbed and flowed over time and space. At its root, the Underground Railroad was both a migration story and a resistance movement. African Americans were key participants in this work as self-liberators and as operators helping others to freedom. Their quest for freedom extended to all parts of what became the United States and internationally to Canada, Mexico, Caribbean nations, and beyond.

Article

Slave Conspiracies in the British Colonies  

James F. Dator

Slave conspiracies in the British colonies developed alongside the institution of slavery. They were terrifying events for colonists and enslaved people alike. For historians, they are complicated events to study because white British authorities left behind an archival record written from the perspective of the ruling class, which usually comprised slaveholders who were anxious to maintain their power and interpreted alleged plots in ways that accorded with their racialized view of the world. Nonetheless, studying these conspiracies tells us a considerable amount about the social climate of the period. Thus, studying them illuminates not only the emotions of fear and terror that haunted these societies but also the role that culture, economy, and political values played in their development.

Article

Middle and Final Passages in the Atlantic Slave Trade  

Sean M. Kelley

By current estimates, more than 450,000 Africans arrived in North America as captives. While the dreaded “Middle Passage” has justifiably commanded public and scholarly attention, the men, women, and children who arrived in North America aboard slave ships actually experienced multiple passages. Virtually all were born free and subsequently enslaved, enduring intra-African journeys of various lengths before arriving at the coast for sale to Europeans. Then, after an Atlantic crossing averaging two months, American planters and merchants transported them by land and sea to their eventual destinations. Although the fundamentals were similar across time, the particular circumstances and hence the journeys themselves varied greatly. Before 1800, most captives wound up working on plantations near the Atlantic coast. After 1800, as the cotton boom took hold, it was much more common for Africans to journey far into the American continental interior. More than 95 percent of all Africans arrived between 1700 and 1807, the vast majority in the Chesapeake and Charleston. This influx allowed specific African ethnocultural groups to form clusters and speech communities, although these waned when the foreign slave trade became illegal in 1808. An illegal slave trade persisted up to the Civil War, but it was much smaller than the pre-1808 trade. It differed also in its reliance on the Caribbean as a transshipment point for captives, rather than on Africa.

Article

US-Italian Relations  

Leopoldo Nuti and Daniele Fiorentino

Relations between Italy and the United States have gone through different stages, from the early process of nation-building during the 18th and the 19th centuries, to the close diplomatic and political alignment of the Cold War and the first two decades of the 21st century. Throughout these two and a half centuries, relations between the two states occasionally experienced some difficult moments—from the tensions connected to the mass immigration of Italians to the United States at the end of the 19th century, to the diplomatic clash at the Versailles Peace Conference at the end of World War I, culminating with the declaration of war by the Fascist government in December 1941. By and large, however, Italy and the United States have mostly enjoyed a strong relationship based on close cultural, economic, and political ties.