Mapping Ethnogenesis in the Early Modern Atlantic
By James Sidbury and Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra
Myriad new peoples emerged in Africa, America, and Europe during the first three centuries following Columbus’s arrival in the New World. They did so in ways that were deeply rooted in local conditions and idiosyncratic contingencies as well as linked through the movements of peoples, goods, and ideas back and forth across the Atlantic. By focusing on ethnogenesis as the product of the local as well as the global, we have sought to put the experiences of Africans and Amerindians at the center of Atlantic history. Ours is a call for historians not to privilege the tiresome national and imperial narratives that have dominated the field but to dig out of archives the countless contingencies that shaped local experiences.
Seven respondents assess James Sidbury and Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra’s essay from a variety of perspectives: James H. Sweet (author of Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770 ); Claudio Saunt (A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733–1816 ); Pekka Hämäläinen (The Comanche Empire ); Laurent Dubois (A Colony of Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787–1804 ); Christopher Hodson (The Acadian Diaspora [forthcoming]); Karen B. Graubart (With Our Labor and Sweat: Indigenous Women and the Formation of Colonial Society in Peru, 1550–1700 ); and Patrick Griffin (The People with No Name: Ireland’s Ulster Scots, America’s Scots Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1689–1764 ). Sidbury and Cañizares-Esguerra conclude the Forum with a reply.
Atlantic Slavery, Atlantic Freedom: George Washington, Slavery, and Transatlantic Abolitionist Networks
By François Furstenberg
What can a volume from George Washington’s library say about his opinion of slavery or about abolitionism more generally in the late eighteenth century? A great deal, it turns out. Understood both as an intellectual and material artifact and approached from the entangled perspectives of the history of the book and transatlantic abolition, one single bound pamphlet volume brings a new Washington into focus. It locates him in the context of an international debate about slavery connecting British pamphleteers, Parisian salons, and transatlantic friendships; follows European travelers as they disseminated books and pamphlets and carried on conversations on both sides of the Atlantic; and leads eventually to the broader contexts of imperial rivalry and international abolitionism. Set in this context, Washington emerges as a thinker well within the broad mainstream of European opinion about abolition. But even more this new view of Washington helps elucidate the international networks of abolitionist writing and activism that shaped the movement during the age of Atlantic revolutions.
Sources and Interpretations
Power and Confession: On the Credibility of the Earliest Reports of the Denmark Vesey Slave Conspiracy
By James O’Neil Spady
Building on the recent controversy over the integrity of the archival records of the 1822 “Denmark Vesey Conspiracy” trials, this essay suggests a new direction in the interpretation of the events. At the heart of the approach is a recognition of the centrality of intimate relationships to power and communication among the enslaved, free blacks, and white Charlestonians. The confessions of the first, never-incarcerated testifiers are treated with the intimacy of Methodist classes in mind rather than the intimidation of juridical proceedings. Arguing that the earliest, noncarceral confessions were credible, this essay contends that slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, planned an insurrectionary uprising against the city in 1822. The plan might not have extended to thousands or even hundreds of enslaved people, but if it had come to fruition, evidence from the earliest confessions and from the countryside suggests that it might have become extensive and general. The essay deliberately defers taking any position on whether Denmark Vesey had a role in the planned insurrection because the controversy over his centrality in the telling of the story has obscured the actions of other planners and the pivotal statements of these early informants.