F20 Black Atlantic: Resources, Pedagogy, and Scholarship on the 18th Century Black Atlantic

[Week 11] Mapping the Hybrid History of New England

Margaret Ellen Newell’s emphasis on the hybridity of New England society and the ways in which “Indians, English, and eventually Africans created it jointly” (7) beginning in the seventeenth century productively challenges the ways in which “the history of slavery in general and of Indian slavery in particular remains stubbornly absent” (4) from historical accounts of New England in its imagery in the American mythmaking imagination.  With the uncertainty of English legal terminology surrounding servanthood as well as the ongoing manufacture and negotiation of racial systems and their implication in that legal system vis a vis citizenship and enslavement, Newell argues that “New England colonists created a slave regime that purposefully refrained from clearly identifying which populations were susceptible to slavery and the precise conditions that slaves would face” (238).

Thus, a powerful tool by which enslaved Indian, African, and Afro-Indian populations would contend with their condition and seek to escape it was through the usage of legal petitions and suits that forced the law into a more concrete, specific, and comprehensible shape.  Starting particularly after 1700, “[t]hese suits exposed many of the holes in New England’s law of slavery” (246), producing “a real challenge to colonial authority” (252).  Still, these interventions affected the legal system differently depending on whether they came from enslaved Indians or enslaved Africans, given the disparate if connected histories, particularly in the matter of the condition’s heritability (248).

Literally mapping both geographically and chronologically the native, African, and English populations of New England alongside an embedded archive of legal petitions and suits for emancipation would create a powerful visual recontextualization of New England hybridity at the outset of the American project and across its history while also demonstrating the ways in which enslaved populations managed to literally and legally articulate their humanity within a system built against them.

Work Cited

Newell, Margaret Ellen. Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American
. Cornell UP, 2015.

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