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The Precariousness of Freedom: Slave Resistance as Experience, Process, and Representation


The Precariousness of Freedom: Slave Resistance as Experience, Process, and Representation places dominant and commonly studied forms of slave resistance (rebellions, running away) in conversation with un(der)studied forms (psychological states, slave dress, theatrical performance). Together these nine chapters explore slave resistance across three centuries (seventeenth to nineteenth) and four empires (British, Dutch, French, and Spanish), offering innovative comparative research which juxtaposes unexpected regions and issues to provoke significant new questions and analysis of issues, events, artwork, and cultural objects. Including the study of various enslaved populations and their free allies, the chapters incorporate the exploration of children, adults, women, men, groups, and individuals, African-born people, and black Creoles. Together the contributors – established and emerging scholars – have defined resistance not merely as outward activities and actions like a rebellion or mutiny and acts of running or sailing away from one’s enslaver, but other visible and invisible choices, personal and political practices, and engagements like the choice of clothing, hairstyle, and adornment. But resistance also existed in the internal worlds and psychology of the enslaved, in their expressions of positivity, love, anger, aggression, and sadness, which whites strove to document in fugitive slave advertisements and manuscripts in yet another bid to identify, control, and immobilize the enslaved. In this groundbreaking new book, the contributors have analyzed enslaved resistance through the laws and legislation of colonial courts, within the print culture of fugitive slave advertisements, and as the cultures of slave dress and theatrical performance in Jamaica and the American North.

Praise for “The Precariousness of Freedom”

“Thanks to this book, I will always think about Jamaica and Barbados and Lower Canada in conversation together.”
Dr. Harvey Amani Whitfield, Professor of History, University of Calgary

“The assembled chapters are significant contributions to the field of Slavery Studies that rely on original research and explore a great array of unexplored or understudied primary sources.”
Dr. Ana Lucia Araujo, Professor of History, Howard University

“…this collection is impressively strong… [it] really stands up beautifully! This is a powerful and essential collection…the chapters on slavery in Quebec are really the most robust and coherent contributions to the field.  I hadn’t realized how much of a need there was for these chapters about Quebec until I read them. Once this collection is out, people will be citing and referring back to [them] all the time.”
Dr. Susanna Ashton, Professor of English, Clemson University


Table of Contents

Charmaine A. Nelson, editor

Introduction: Exploring the Nature and Study of Slave Resistance
Charmaine A. Nelson


Chapter 1: Navigating Between Slavery and Freedom: Runaway Curaçaoan Slaves and their Descendants in the Spanish Colonial Legal System
Linda M. Rupert

Chapter 2: The Allure of the Advertisement: Slave Runaways in and Around New York City
Shane White

Chapter 3: Testifying to Canadian Slavery: A Portrait of Joe (c. 1757- 1790)
Emily Wing


Chapter 4: Guardians of Bondage: Enforcing Slavery in New France and Barbados in the  Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
Nadir Khan

Chapter 5: “She got out of a garret window by the help of a ladder”: Tactics, Experiences, and Alliances of the Enslaved Fugitives in Nova Scotia and Quebec Charmaine A. Nelson

Chapter 6: Thomas Thistlewood and the Problem of Petit Marronnage in Eighteenth-century Jamaica
Trevor Burnard



Chapter 7: Broken Chains, Broken Promises: Fashioning the Black Body and Rethinking Freedom in Colonial Jamaica
Steeve Buckridge

Chapter 8: Pictorial Depictions of Enslaved People in Quebec Gazette Advertisements, 1765-1794
Emily Davidson

Chapter 9: Visual Rhetoric and the Representations of the Amistad Mutiny
Lisa Merrill


Forthcoming from Captus Press in 2024