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Freedom's Seekers

Essays on Comparative Emancipation

Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie

Publication Year: 2014

Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie's Freedom's Seekers offers a bold and innovative intervention into the study of emancipation as a transnational phe-nomenon and serves as an important contribution to our understanding of the remaking of the nineteenth-century Atlantic Americas.

Drawing on decades of research into slave and emancipation societies, Kerr-Ritchie is attentive to those who sought but were not granted freedom, and those who resisted enslavement individually as well as collectively on behalf of their communities. He explores the many roles that fugitive slaves, slave soldiers, and slave rebels played in their own societies. He likewise explicates the lives of individual freedmen, freedwomen, and freed children to show how the first free-born generation helped to shape the terms and conditions of the post-slavery world.

Freedom's Seekers is a signal contribution to African Diaspora studies, especially in its rigorous respect for the agency of those who sought and then fought for their freedom, and its consistent attention to the transnational dimensions of emancipation.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xx

This book compares, contrasts, and connects the quest for emancipation by slaves, self-liberators, slave soldiers, black abolitionists, freedwomen, freed children, and freedom’s first generations throughout the nineteenth-century African Diaspora. Its origins are simple enough. In the fall semester of 1990, I taught a freshmen...

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Note on Language

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pp. xxi-xxii

Freedom’s Seekers offers alternative meanings and broader definitions of terms in the spirit of comparative methodology. It employs the terms “selfemancipators” and “self-liberators” rather than “fugitives,” “runaways,” and “escapees” used by contemporaries and scholars. The former provide a more...


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pp. xxiii-xxvi

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Introduction: Was U.S. Emancipation Exceptional?

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pp. 1-18

On July 4, 1876, hundreds of thousands of Americans gathered throughout thirty-nine states to commemorate the centennial of the founding of the U.S. republic. They listened to orations, speeches, songs, and poems. These public presentations covered numerous themes: the current economic crisis facing...

Part One: Experiences

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Chapter 1. Self-Emancipators across North America

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pp. 21-40

Most fugitive slaves in nineteenth-century continental North America did not leave the colonial or independent polity. Slave escapees in British Canada, Spanish Florida and Mexico, and independent Mexico stayed within national/ colonial boundaries. Most scholars agree that fugitive slaves escaped southern...

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Chapter 2. Slave Soldiers

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pp. 41-59

Older historical narratives of wars of national independence and abolition struggles in the nineteenth-century Americas that ignored the roles of people of African descent are increasingly being replaced by a vital historical literature acknowledging slaves and free blacks as military participants. Much of...

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Chapter 3. Slave Revolt across Borders

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pp. 60-84

In the second volume of The Slave States of America published in 1842, James Silk Buckingham penned the following: “The example of Hayti, with a free government of blacks, is before them; —the emancipation of all slaves in Mexico, is known to them;—the example of England in the West India Islands...

Part Two: Lives

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Chapter 4. Samuel Ward and the Making of an Imperial Subject

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pp. 87-100

The American-born fugitive and prominent antislavery activist Samuel Ringgold Ward spent fifteen of his forty-nine years in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Jamaica. The significance of spending nearly one-third of his life on British soil removed from his native country, however, has attracted limited scholarly...

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Chapter 5. Freedwomen and Freed Children

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pp. 101-125

One of the most dynamic developments in emancipation studies over the past two decades is its gender turn. Older categories of labor, race, citizenship, and politics have been reinterpreted regarding the various roles of black and white women as well as the social construction of sexual spheres of femininity...

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Chapter 6. Freedom’s First Generation

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pp. 126-150

Robert Engs’s Freedom’s First Generation: Black Hampton, Virginia, 1861–1890, first published in 1979,1 offers an examination of a post-emancipation southern community through “longer time frames,” the search for “elusive evidence,” and the application of “different standards of measurement.”2 Building upon...

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Epilogue: Freedom’s Seekers Today

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pp. 151-162

Freedom’s Seekers has argued for the indispensability of comparative methodology for emancipation studies. More specifically, it demonstrates there were moments and people that were inherently transnational, and that their experiences and lives can therefore be best understood through comparative...


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pp. 163-200


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pp. 201-222


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pp. 223-229

E-ISBN-13: 9780807154724
E-ISBN-10: 0807154725
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807154717

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 2 maps
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World