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Conceiving Freedom

Women of Color, Gender, and the Abolition of Slavery in Havana and Rio de Janeiro

Camillia Cowling

Publication Year: 2013

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-6


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pp. 7-9

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pp. ix-xii

...Any book is a journey; this book, in particular, has involved a great many. I have been fortunate to have a great deal of help along the way. Writing the acknowledgements is a happy reminder that, while research can be a long and sometimes lonely road, we travel it in wonderful company...

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Note on Currency

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pp. xiii-xvi

...Currency in Cuba was the peso. Infl ation was very high in the 1870s and 1880s, with values especially fl uctuating for money in notes (billetes). Amounts in billetes were typically worth less than those in gold. All amounts quoted in this book are in gold, unless otherwise stated...

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pp. 1-20

...One sweltering August day in the Caribbean summer of 1883, in Havana, Cuba, a freedwoman named Ramona Oliva made a petition to the offi ces of the island’s governor general. She requested custody of her four children, María Fabiana, Agustina, Luis, and María de las Nieves, who were being...


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1 Sites of Enslavement, Spaces of Freedom: Slavery and Abolition in the Atlantic Cities of Havana and Rio de Janeiro

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pp. 23-46

...Neither Josepha Gonçalves de Moraes, in Rio de Janeiro, nor Ramona Oliva, in Havana, had been born in the city where her claim was fi led. Yet for each woman, these “Atlantic port cities” were not merely the backdrop to her actions, but a signifi cant part of her story, shaping her relationship...

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2 The Law Is Final, Excellent Sir: Slave Law, Gender, and Gradual Emancipation

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pp. 47-68

...With these words, Ramona Oliva’s petition claimed freedom for her fi ve children from her former owner, Manuel Oliva. The unusually passionate wording of the document vividly evoked the eff orts of countless other ex-slaves to bring their understandings of the law’s new provisions to bear...


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3 As a Slave Woman and as a Mother: Law, Jurisprudence, and Rhetoric in Stories from Women’s Claims-Making

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pp. 71-96

...Ramona Oliva’s petition staked a claim to custody over her children. Behind the petition’s apparently simple words lie many of the complex questions that are the subject of this book. As this chapter will show, this language about the rightful claims of maternity appears again and again...

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4 Exaggerated and Sentimental? Engendering Abolitionism in the Atlantic World

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pp. 97-122

...With these words, one of the neighbors of freedwoman Josepha Gonçalves de Moraes, who was seeking custody of her daughter Maria through the courts of Rio de Janeiro, explained why he had helped Josepha care for Maria when Josepha’s ex-owners allegedly neglected her. In so doing, José...

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5 I Wish to Be in This City: Mapping Women’s Quest for Urban Freedom

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pp. 123-148

...With these words, Ramona Oliva’s appeal argued that, although she did not live in Havana, she ought to be able to make her claim for her children’s freedom in the colonial capital. Ramona had traveled some sixty miles from the small settlement of Bolondrón in Matanzas. Her appeal...


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6 Enlightened Mothers of Families or Competent Domestic Servants? Elites Imagine the Meanings of Freedom

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pp. 151-173

...With these words, Judge Oliveira Andrade ended Josepha Gonçalves de Moraes’s two-year custody battle. In so doing, he also crushed the hope, vaunted by abolitionists and clearly shared by Josepha herself at some level, that freedom promised the “sacred rights of motherhood.” Throwing...

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7 She Was Now a Free Woman: Ex-Slave Women and the Meanings of Urban Freedom

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pp. 174-197

...woman, Gabriella, “through violent means,” to Nova Friburgo, a small city in Rio de Janeiro province. The abolitionist press daily berated Bastos and the police force over which he presided for “slaveocrat” behavior— imprisoning nonwhite people, humiliating them by forcibly shaving...

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8 My Mother Was Free-Womb, She Wasn’t a Slave: Conceiving Freedom

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pp. 198-213

...slave Gabriella, who used her newfound freedom to resist removal from the city of Rio de Janeiro. At the same 1886 emancipation ceremony in which Gabriella was freed, he also received compensation from the municipal council in exchange for freeing another young...

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pp. 214-219

...Neither Josepha Gonçalves de Moraes nor Ramona Oliva was successful in achieving her immediate aims. In Rio de Janeiro in August 1886, the judge ruled categorically in favor of Josepha’s owners. Her ten-year-old daughter, who several witnesses had said was being beaten and starved...

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Epilogue: Conceiving Citizenship

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pp. 220-222

...With these words, Ramona Oliva’s 1883 petition proclaimed a radical vision of freedom: that the force of the law should apply equally to all, regardless of status, wealth, sex, or skin color, and that, in the same way, its protection might be actively sought by all who were entitled to it. Written...


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pp. 223-272


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pp. 273-310


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pp. 311-326

E-ISBN-13: 9781469611808
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469610887

Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 861692793
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Conceiving Freedom

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Havana (Cuba) -- Race relations -- History -- 19th century.
  • Antislavery movements -- Brazil -- Rio de Janeiro -- History -- 19th century.
  • Antislavery movements -- Cuba -- Havana -- History -- 19th century.
  • Women slaves -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- Brazil -- Rio de Janeiro -- History -- 19th century.
  • Women slaves -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- Cuba -- Havana -- History -- 19th century.
  • Women slaves -- Brazil -- Rio de Janeiro -- History -- 19th century.
  • Women slaves -- Cuba -- Havana -- History -- 19th century.
  • Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) -- Race relations -- History -- 19th century.
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