Abstract

Using more than 2,100 slave runaway announcements from across the Brazilian Empire (1822–1889), this article argues that the typical runaway was an atypical slave. Specifically, runaways were overwhelmingly male and of a limited range of age, worked outdoors and itinerant jobs, and possessed outward (e.g., clothing) and inward (e.g., language and literacy skills) characteristics. This unusual combination put a small minority of bondspeople into a position to flee, while flight remained unthinkable or far too dangerous to the vast majority, even at a point that slavery was presumed to be ending. This finding matters because for more than a half a century, historians have commonly used the runaway slave as the quintessential example of slave resistance. But this interpretation may transform the runaway into an unrepresentative symbol and divert our attention from the many ways that oppression within slavery was, by definition, the lack of opportunities to resist.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 404-426
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-14
Open Access
No
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