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Voices of the Enslaved: Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana

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In eighteenth-century New Orleans, the legal testimony of some 150 enslaved women and men—like the testimony of free colonists—was meticulously recorded and preserved. Questioned in criminal trials as defendants, victims, and witnesses about attacks, murders, robberies, and escapes, they answered with stories about themselves, stories that rebutted the premise on which slavery was founded.

Focusing on four especially dramatic court cases, Voices of the Enslaved draws us into Louisiana's courtrooms, prisons, courtyards, plantations, bayous, and convents to understand how the enslaved viewed and experienced their worlds. As they testified, these individuals charted their movement between West African, indigenous, and colonial cultures; they pronounced their moral and religious values; and they registered their responses to labor, to violence, and, above all, to the intimate romantic and familial bonds they sought to create and protect. Their words—punctuated by the cadences of Creole and rich with metaphor—produced riveting autobiographical narratives as they veered from the questions posed by interrogators.

Carefully assessing what we can discover, what we might guess, and what has been lost forever, Sophie White offers both a richly textured account of slavery in French Louisiana and a powerful meditation on the limits and possibilities of the archive.

ISBN-13: 9781469666266

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press

Publication Date: 08-01-2021

Pages: 352

Product Dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

Series: Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

Sophie White is professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana and co-editor of Hearing Enslaved Voices: African and Indian Slave Testimony in British and French America, 1700-1848.

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From the Publisher

This meticulously researched and lyrically written study offers a road map through the archives and a reconceptualization of the autobiography of the enslaved in the Atlantic world. Sophie White's interpretive strategies wrest a vibrant and complex history of slavery from testimony, court proceedings, and the voices of the enslaved themselves. A genre-busting book.—Jennifer L. Morgan, New York University

With subtle analysis and empathetic storytelling, Voices of the Enslaved uncovers a stunning level of detail about how enslaved people experienced and resisted their bondage, how they managed profound loss and imagined possible futures. In their own words, and with vivid flashes of personality, the enslaved reveal their inner worlds like never before. A remarkable achievement.—Brett Rushforth, University of Oregon

White brings readers into the world slaves made for themselves, illuminating their attachments as well as their conflicts. With its remarkable anthropological sensitivity, her book is an insightful tribute to those who fought to make their voices heard.—Cecile Vidal, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris

In a marvelous act of recovery, translation, and storytelling, Sophie White resurrects the sounds and sights of enslavement on the edge of the French Empire, revealing a place we might have thought we would never see. An original and startling book.—David W. Blight, Yale University