Slaves of the Revolution: Enslaved Public Labor in the War for Independence
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Slaves of the Revolution: Enslaved Public Labor in the War for Independence

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“Slaves of the Revolution” studies the relationship between slavery and the American Revolution through a social history of enslaved people at public works. I argue that patriot state governments relied on public works such as shipyards and ironworks as carceral spaces to hold three categories of bondpeople: Black loyalists they recaptured, enslaved people they confiscated from white loyalists, and enslaved people near British posts and ships. In the process of securing slavery during the war, states claimed new administrative and policing powers over enslaved people and slaveholders. Enslaved people resisted patriot seizure and corvée with a variety of strategies that were broadly refugee, from marronage to fashioning themselves into wards of the state. I argue that patriots responded to the labor and resistance of public bondpeople during the War for Independence by making the expansion and regulation of slavery into a key military and political goal of the Revolution. Enslaved people’s freedom-seeking in the American Revolution was therefore not just from slavery in general but against the slaving practices of patriot institutions. Chapter one argues that Black loyalists recaptured by Virginia militia and sent to a lead mine both challenged and founded patriot claims to political legitimacy at the outset of the Revolution. Chapter two explores slave confiscation as a police action and how bondpeople confiscated survived public labor by positioning themselves as public charges. Chapter three shows how the Continental Army assisted slave confiscation in the South and examines military impressment as a race-making practice. Chapter four studies the daily lives of state-owned laborers in the South Carolina and Virginia navies who built the ships that patrolled Southern rivers for runaways, 1775-1781. Chapter five examines how runaways to the British politicized their public labor, for both sides, to fashion themselves into refugees from the Revolution.

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This item is under embargo until May 20, 2027.