Free Women of Color in the Americas
Publication Year: 2004
Published by: University of Illinois Press
Series: The New Black Studies Series
Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication
The chapters in this volume explore collectively a number of issues related to the lives and experiences of women of color who were not, strictly speaking, held in full legal bondage, or who did not consider themselves to be so bound, in the slave societies of the Americas. The emphasis of discussion here is thematic. The sample of societies covered, however, is wide enough to illuminate slave societies of the Americas...
I. Achieving and Preserving Freedom
1. Maroon Women in Colonial Spanish America: Case Studies in the Circum-Caribbean from the Sixteenth through the Eighteenth Centuries
With rare exceptions, women have remained largely invisible in the literature about maroons.1 The generalized maroon experience—a daring and dangerous escape from closely supervised plantations, followed by a harrowing chase by slave catchers and dogs through rough forests and swamps inhabited by dangerous creatures—is most often depicted as a male endeavor, as in the case of war. Marronage became so threatening and disruptive in many colonies of the circum-Caribbean...
2. Of Life and Freedom at the (Tropical) Hearth: El Cobre, Cuba, 1709–73
The inhabitants of El Cobre, an Afro-Cuban village on Cuba’s eastern frontier region, were slaves of the king of Spain during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In this corner of the Caribbean, royal slavery became an ambiguous and gendered status that blurred boundaries between freedom and bondage in many spheres of...
3. In the Shadow of the Plantation: Women of Color and the Libres de fait of Martinique and Guadeloupe, 1685–1848
Although it was always possible for slaves in the French Antilles to acquire freedom, not all who did so followed legal and official channels. From the very early development of slave society in these colonies there existed a group of people—libres de savane, also known as libres de fait—who lived in a state of quasi-freedom, having been manumitted by their owners without the authority of the state or the official documents...
4. “To Be Free Is Very Sweet”: The Manumission of Female Slaves in Antigua, 1817–26
By 1823 the antislavery campaign in Britain reached a significant milestone when Parliament supported a new attempt to ameliorate slavery by legislation in the colonies. An earlier attempt at amelioration had been launched during the 1780s and 1790s. It was aimed at achieving sufficient improvement in the conditions of slavery through several measures, including some of a pronatalist variety...
5. “Do Thou in Gentle Phibia Smile”: Scenes from an Interracial Marriage, Jamaica, 1754–86
The great crisis in the thirty-four-year relationship between Thomas Thistlewood, a white English immigrant to western Jamaica, and Phibbah, a native-born Jamaican slave, came in June 1757, three and a half years after Phibbah had established herself as his principal partner. Thistlewood had long been unhappy with his situation as an...
6. The Fragile Nature of Freedom: Free Women of Color in the U.S. South
In 1813 Lucinda, a free woman of color, petitioned the Virginia General Assembly for relief. Following her owner’s death, she explained, she and a number of other slaves had been manumitted by the owner’s last will and testament. According to the will, they were required to leave the state. Their owner knew that if they remained in Virginia...
II. Making a Life in Freedom
7. Out of Bounds: Emancipated and Enslaved Women in Antebellum America
By the onset of the Civil War, African American women made up slightly more than 50 percent of the free black population in the United States. Unlike most of their enslaved sisters, large numbers of free women left a variety of published and unpublished records in private collections and the public domain that elevate many of these women...
8. Free Black and Colored Women in Early-Nineteenth-Century Paramaribo, Suriname
During the period of slavery, Paramaribo, capital of the colony of Suriname, was the only urban center in a society dominated by plantation agriculture. When the Dutch took over the colony from the English in the late seventeenth century, Paramaribo was scarcely more than a hamlet. Fifteen years later it still consisted of no more than fifty or sixty...
9. Ana Paulinha de Queirós, Joaquinada Costa, and Their Neighbors: Free Women of Color as Household Heads in Rural Bahia (Brazil), 1835
In 1835 Ana Paulinha [sic] de Queirós, a sixty-year-old, never formally married, freeborn woman of mixed African and European ancestry (“parda”), found herself heading a fairly prosperous household in São Gonçalo dos Campos, a largely rural parish in the region known as the Bahian Recôncavo in the province (now state) of Bahia in Northeastern Brazil. The census takers who visited the household in that year...
10. Libertas Citadinas: Free Women of Color in San Juan, Puerto Rico
In 1824 Balbina Alonso, a liberta (free woman of color) who lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was accused of having an illicit love affair with Don Antonio Cordero. Church authorities complained that although she had been banned to the small town of Patillas on Puerto Rico’s southeastern shore, Alonso was still in San Juan, enjoying...
11. Landlords, Shopkeepers, Farmers, and Slave-Owners: Free Black Female Property-Holders in Colonial New Orleans
During the era of effective Spanish rule (1769–1803) free libre (black) women—whether single, married, or widowed—came to control a substantial portion of the economic resources of New Orleans. There emerged what might be considered a free black elite, although not on the scale of the gens de couleur (people of color) of Saint...
12. Free Women of Color in Central Brazil, 1779–1832
The most invisible group in colonial Brazilian history must be free women of color. They rarely appeared in official correspondence except when their role in batuques (social dances) was denounced or when they were accused of prostitution. Not even the many surviving censuses of the colonial period record their presence in Brazil. Slaves...
13. Henriette Delille, Free Women of Color, and Catholicism in Antebellum New Orleans, 1727–1852
In the early morning hours of April 1, 1838, Henriette Delille, a twenty-six-year-old free Creole woman of color, left her family home on Burgundy Street in New Orleans and walked eight blocks to the nearby chapel of the St. Claude Street Convent. It was the second Sunday before Easter, the Paschal period during which the...
14. Religious Women of Color in Seventeenth-Century Lima: Estefania de San Ioseph and Ursula de Jesu Christo
Seventeenth-century Franciscan narratives from Spanish Peru contain two valuable portraits of religious women of color. The first, the “Vida de Estefania de San Ioseph” written by the Franciscan chronicler Diego de Cordova Salinas, was published in his C,oronica de la Religiosissima Provincia de los Doze Apostoles del Perú in 1651. The second, the story of Ursula de Christo, is found in an unpublished manuscript entitled...
B. J. Barickman is associate professor of history at the University of Arizona. He has published articles on slavery and the social and economic history of nineteenth- century Brazil and is the author of A Bahian Counterpoint: Sugar, Tobacco, Cassava, and Slavery in the Recôncavo 1780–1860 (1998). Another book project is “‘We’re Going to...