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American Revolutionaries cast themselves as metaphorical orphans, voluntarily severing ties with an overbearing empire-parent. In rendering the trauma of orphanhood as a virtue, this particular metaphor required a harsh rite of passage for protagonists to move from minor status to self-sufficiency. Only by casting off natal relations and their burdensome histories could one move into freedom, as defined by an idealized white male citizen, unencumbered by the trappings of the past. The slave trade’s project of inflicting literal orphanhood on a massive scale sets off this early republican celebration of voluntary alienation in garish relief. The author explores how the tension surrounding orphanhood structured the American Colonization Society, one of the most widely supported and well-financed failures of the time. The ACS was nonetheless the collective author of the first narrative crafted to persuade African Americans of anything: here, to convince them that severing ties to the United States was the only path to true freedom. Attending to orphanhood as imagined in the writings of slavers, the enslaved, and early antislavery legislators, the author traces how theories of early republican childhood were shaped by a shadow narrative in which slavery’s history had to be severed from the nation’s progress.
This chapter traces how historical analogies have enabled the use of the terms slavery and abolition in both the anti-trafficking and the anti-incarceration communities. By placing the often-contradictory approaches these two communities bring to the history of slavery, we trace how a belief in historical progress and an emotional investment in the power of innocence – both concepts embedded in our understanding of childhood – have helped to forge vexed and contradictory definitions of both slavery and freedom. Ultimately we argue that the complex work of historical analogy requires us to imagine history, and the solutions we create in response to history, outside of a developmental model that views the degradation of enslavement a stage we can outgrow or discard.
This chapter looks to literary and legal narratives from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century to trace how women’s bodies function as a site where the definitions of slavery and freedom, person, and property, have been continually refined. From the settler era until well into the twentieth century, American readers were drawn to stories – both in law and in literature – that sought to distribute varieties of female unfreedom along a racialized spectrum ranging from private property to articles of commerce. As these stories progress, and insistence on clear racial distinctions becomes ever more explicit, the tropes of prison and pregnancy emerge as two means of rendering women’s capacity to exert her private will a matter requiring public discipline.
If we are to fully understand how slavery survived legal abolition, we must grapple with the work that abolition has left undone, and dismantle the structures that abolition has left in place. Child Slavery before and after Emancipation seeks to enable a vital conversation between historical and modern slavery studies - two fields that have traditionally run along parallel tracks rather than in relation to one another. In this collection, Anna Mae Duane and her interdisciplinary group of contributors seek to build historical and contemporary bridges between race-based chattel slavery and other forms of forced child labor, offering a series of case studies that illuminate the varied roles of enslaved children. Duane provides a provocative, historically grounded set of inquiries that suggest how attending to child slaves can help to better define both slavery and freedom.