Slavery, Freedom, and Dependence in Pre-Revolutionary Boston, 1700-1775
Hardesty, Jared Ross. “Slavery, Freedom, and Dependence in Pre-Revolutionary Boston, 1700-1775”, Boston College, 2014. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/3775.
This dissertation uses an early-modern, transnational lens to examine slavery in eighteenth-century Boston. It serves as a test case for reexamining and reconceptualizing slavery in British North America and the Atlantic World. Rather than the traditional dichotomous conception of slavery and freedom, colonial-era slavery must be understood as part of a continuum of unfreedom. In Boston, African slavery existed alongside many other forms of dependence, including indentured servitude, apprenticeship, pauper apprenticeship, and Indian slavery. Drawing heavily on legal records such as wills and trial transcripts, we can see how African slavery functioned within this complex world of dependency. In this hierarchical, inherently unfree world, enslaved Bostonians were more concerned with their everyday treatment than emancipation. Eschewing modern notions of freedom and liberty and understanding slavery as part of a larger Atlantic World characterized by a culture of unfreedom, this study demonstrates not only how African slaves were able to decode their new homeland and shape the terms of enslavement, but also how marginalized people engrained themselves in the very fabric of colonial American society.