See also Middle Passage and the Love of Liberty: Texts and Sources
Equiano's Travels (OlaudahEquiano, Paul Edwards editor) London 1986
Walvin, James, An African's Life,The Life and Times of Olaudah Equiano, 1745-1797,Continuum, London and New York,1998 and 2000.
'Olaudah Equiano: Representation and Reality' - An International One-Day Conference, 22 March 2003 - Kingston University. Academic study of Olaudah Equiano has been energised in recent years by arguments asserting that some aspects of The Interesting Narrative (1789) may not represent Equiano's personal experience. In particular, the critics S.E. Ogude and Vincent Carretta have cast doubt over Equiano's account of his birth and upbringing in Africa, his kidnapping, and his experience of the Middle Passage. While Ogude's argument is based in textual analysis, Carretta's evidence emerges from archival work - yet both reach similar conclusions: that Equiano probably never visited Africa, and that the early parts of his Narrative are most likely rhetorical exercises, largely 'based on oral history and reading, rather than on personal experience'. As yet, Ogude and Carretta's findings have not been fully tested by the academy, nor have all the possible implications been explored. The many students and general readers of Equiano are invited to read the early Narrative as unproblematic, while professional critics and historians, even when reading the text as 'literary' or 'rhetorical', tend to accept that its underlying narrative reflects Equiano's actual childhood experience. This conference invites scholars to assess the state of Equiano studies after Ogude and Carretta's essays, and to point the way for further research. Contributions from all disciplines are welcome, as are contributors with all points of view. In addition to reading Equiano's work in the light of Ogude and Carretta, we hope also to find room for more general discussion of the historical, interpretative, biographical, rhetorical, and literary issues arising from our reading of The Interesting Narrative.
Montejo, Estaban Autobiographyof a Runaway Slave, World Publishing Co. (Cuban Slave describes life on a large sugarestate)Sancho, Ignatius, The letters ofthe late Sancho 1782 ed P. Edwards 1968
Haenger, Peter, Slavesand Slave Holders on the Gold Coast, Towards an Understanding of SocialBondage in West Africa, Edited by J.J.Shaffer and Paul E.Lovejoy, Translated from the German by Christina Handford, Introduction byPaul E.Lovejoy, Basel (P.Schlettwein Publishing), 2000, 213p., ill.,index. ISBN 3-908193-04-4 "PeterHaenger has used the rich and textured source material contained in the BaselMission Archives to penetrate the curtain of cultural specificity that oftenhides the complex ways in which people interacted beyond the gaze of outsides.Haenger lets the life histories of individuals - missionaries, converts, slaves,pawns, slave owners, males and females - reveal the ways in which slavery and debt bondage were interwoven into thefabric of African society on the Gold Coast in the nineteenth century, and howpeople tried to determine the pattern of social interaction through theuncertain and changing times of the precolonial and early colonial eras."Paul E.Lovejoy
Anonymous Louisiana Slaves Regain Identity
By David Firestone <email@example.com> New York Times July 30, 2000
NEW ORLEANS -- From the darkness of history they emerge out
of a silver spinning disc: two black slaves sold by a sugar
plantation owner named Levi Foster on Feb. 11, 1818, to his
in-laws. The first slave, named Kit, was 28 years old, and
sold for $975. The other, named Alick, was 9, and was
possibly Kit's son. He was sold for $400.
For nearly two centuries, the names of those two slaves were
lost in time, with tens of thousands of others who worked
the sugar and cotton fields of Louisiana and made fortunes
for their owners. Their identities, scratched with quill
pens on transaction records of human property, have moldered
in the basements of parish courthouses for more than 150
years, virtually untouched by researchers who were usually
put off by the difficult French and Spanish script.
Black families often lacked the resources for the extensive
detective work required to find their original African
forebears, and many white families simply did not want to
know about slaveholding ancestors. Levi Foster, in fact,
is the great-great-grandfather of Gov. Mike Foster of
Louisiana, who said recently on a radio program that it
would be "news to me" if anyone in his family had owned
Now, however, the identities and backgrounds of Louisiana
slaves are beginning to emerge from centuries of anonymity,
infusing property once sold like livestock with names like
Kit and Alick. Thanks to years of painstaking work by a
71-year-old historian who lives in a small house here
surrounded by plantain trees, an enormous amount of
information is coming to light about the captives who
were brought to Louisiana in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, a New Orleans native who has devoted
much of her life to the study of slavery, spent 15 years
in the courthouses of Louisiana, as well as in archives
in Spain, France and Texas, seeking all records of slave
transactions and entering them into laptop computers. Aided
by several research assistants, she amassed computerized
records on more than 100,000 slaves -- the largest collection
of individual slave information ever assembled -- and in
March the Louisiana State University Press published the
documents as a searchable database on a CD-ROM.
The disc has amazed historians of slavery and genealogists
with the breadth of its information about the slaves.
Because the French and Spanish proprietors of Louisiana kept
far more detailed records than their British counterparts at
slave ports on the Atlantic coast, the records show not only
the names of the slaves, but also their birthplaces in
Africa, their skills, their health, and in many cases a
description of their personality and degree of rebel-
liousness. For historians who thought such information was
lost or could never be collected and analyzed, the database
is a once-unimaginable prize.
"This is groundbreaking work," said Ibrahim K. Sundiata,
chairman of the history department at Howard University
and a scholar of African history. "Americans have tended to
think of the slaves as simply being Africans, but now we can
begin to understand where these Africans came from and who
they were. For the first time, this takes us beyond the
guestimates, and it's very exciting."
It also has a great deal of unpublished information about
who owned the slaves, which many prominent white families
have never been particularly eager to research. Marsanne
Golsby, a spokeswoman for Governor Foster, said he learned
about his family's ownership of slaves after The New York
Times looked up his ancestors on the disc and found
transactions involving eight slaves, three of them children.
Unrelated documents on file in the Tulane University library
show that his great-grandfather, Thomas J. Foster, owned
50 slaves in 1860, three years before emancipation. (The
governor was not particularly happy about the disclosure;
Ms. Golsby said the newspaper should not have singled out
his family from the many others that owned slaves.)
Dr. Hall's database is the latest example of a recent
explosion of popular and scholarly interest in the African
diaspora, the scattering of African people after they left
or were removed from their home continent. The field has
grown in part because of the availability of computerized
tools that make research a less tedious task than tracking
down crumbling documents, often in foreign languages.
Another CD-ROM, compiled at Harvard University and published
in December by Cambridge University Press, documented more
than 27,000 trans-Atlantic slave ship voyages, describing
their human cargo, their points of origin and destination,
and the outcome of the voyages. A popular Web site,
<http://www.afrigeneas.com>, has collected and published
large amounts of slave data and encourages those tracing
their roots to share their information with others on the
Internet. Genetic researchers have been assembling a DNA
database that may someday allow African-Americans to trace
their origins to specific regions in Africa.
Tony Burroughs, an African-American genealogist who lectures
widely on the subject, said the Louisiana database is as
significant as the publication of Alex Haley's "Roots" in
1976, in part because the demand is even greater now for
accessible information. It also provides hope to those who
believed they could never trace their origins back more than
a few generations.
"We've got all these baby boomers now who want to
learn about their families' past, and they want to use a
computer," said Mr. Burroughs, who teaches genealogy at
Chicago State University and was a consultant on the PBS
"Ancestors" series. "They can't go around and find all
the old documents and do the translations, but now we're
starting to get these amazing databases like Gwen Hall's,
and people can use them. If you have ancestors from
Louisiana, it's like a treasure chest."
Dr. Hall's odyssey through the whispered history of her
state shows how daunting such research can be. She had
taught Caribbean and African-Latin history for many years at
Rutgers University in New Jersey when she began researching
a book in 1984on the development of Creole culture in
Louisiana. In the courthouse at New Roads, La., the seat of
Pointe Coupee Parish, she discovered a cache of documents
set down by French-speaking notaries in the 1770's that
showed the ethnicity of hundreds of slaves.
"I was astounded at how much information there was in the
records," said Dr. Hall, whose eventual book "Africans in
Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture
in the 18th Century," on the Louisiana Africans won several
history prizes in 1992. "In the English colonies, there was
almost no information like this. The French just seemed more
interested in the origins of people, who they were and where
they came from. Maybe it's because they had a much longer
history of slave trading posts in Africa."
After deciding to pursue the potential of such records
around Louisiana, she won a research grant from the National
Endowment for the Humanities and began a lengthy trek
through every courthouse and archives depot in the state,
where slave transactions were recorded as carefully as
exchanges of real estate.
Clerks would frequently tell her that the documents were
unusable because they were in French or Spanish, although
she is fluent in both languages. Often, she and her
assistants would find old record books on a shelf next to a
heater, or in a damp basement. In one courthouse, she said,
someone had tried to burn the records, apparently afraid
they would expose a black family that had been passing for
white for several generations.
The years of staring at documents and computer screens took
a toll on Dr. Hall's eyesight, which deteriorated to the
point that she could barely make out black ink on a white
page. A pair of specially designed eyeglasses has since
improved her ability to see contrasting colors.
She also had to familiarize herself with the design of
computer databases, working to make the collection of
information as flexible as possible to answer any
conceivable question a researcher might ask. Using the
disc requires a separate database program but with a little
experience it is possible to enter a first or last name and
find out a great deal about a matching slave or owner.
The disc is available from major Internet book sellers
An entry for a slave named Hector is typical: Born in the
Congo, he was sold by St. Pierre Etier on Jan. 1, 1797, for
400 piastre gourdes (about $700) to Francois Prevost, in St.
Martin Parish. But the bill of sale went on to note that
Hector was a chronic runaway who was at large at the time of
sale. The buyer "will be responsible for his care if he is
found and is suffering from any illnesses or wounds," the
document says in French.
Many of the records were originally produced for trials
or other legal actions regarding slaves. One describes an
accusation against two slaves, Pierrot, of the Bamana ethnic
group from Senegambia, and Nicolas, a Louisiana Creole, for
killing and eating their owner's cow in 1764 in the New
Orleans region. Both were publicly flogged.
"Finally we're going to be able to recover these workers as
people with pasts, with names and families," said Michael
Gomez, a professor of history at New York University and
a leader of the growing movement to study the African
diaspora. "These records humanize people who were
thought of as a kind of undifferentiated mass."
Beyond the light that the collection has strewn on
individuals, it has also illuminated many larger cultural
questions. Dr. Hall and other experts in the field say the
data have conclusively proved that two-thirds of African
captives brought to Louisiana in the early part of the slave
trade, before 1730, were from the Senegambia area of West
Africa, unlike other ethnic groups that went to the East
Coast. The culture they brought with them -- music,
language, food, folklore -- became the foundation of
Louisiana's distinctive Creole culture, a way of life for
both whites and blacks for hundreds of years to this day.
"Even the Uncle Remus stories were originally Wolof
folktales which were first written down in Louisiana,"
Dr. Hall said, referring to one of the Senegambian ethnic
groups. "For so long there was this tendency, even in the
most prestigious academic circles, to see Africans as an
abstraction, coming from a simple single place. But now
we're starting to see it as a place of great complexity, and
the different ethnicities greatly affected the development
of African-American culture."
Dr. Hall, who is white, has never hesitated to buck academic
or social conventions. The daughter of Herman Midlo, a labor
and civil rights lawyer in New Orleans who defended many
black clients in the 1930's and 40's when other white
lawyers would not, she became radicalized as a young woman
by the segregation she had observed growing up. After a
brief flirtation with the Communist Party in the 1950's,
she married Harry Haywood, an outspoken black Communist,
who died in 1985.
She championed the study of African ethnicities at a time
when mainstream scholarly opinion was not interested, and
says she is delighted that the field has finally caught up.
"I'm hoping this database will help smooth the path for
others to make Africans concrete as human beings," she said.
"Some day, people will be asking this database questions
that I can't even imagine right now."
Copyright (c) 2000 New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.
Documenting the American South: North American Slave Narratives, Beginnings to 1920 [SGML viewer]