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Voices of the Enslaved

Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana

By Sophie White

352 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 40 color plates, 40 halftones, 2 tables, notes, index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5404-1
    Published: December 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5405-8
    Published: October 2019

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

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Awards & distinctions

2019 Kemper and Leila Williams Prize in Louisiana History, The Historic New Orleans Collection and the Louisiana Historical Association

Co-Winner of the 2020 Summerlee Book Prize, Center for History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast at Lamar University

Honorable Mention, 2020 Merle Curti Social History Award, Organization of American Historians

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.

About the Author

Sophie White is associate professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame and author of Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana.
For more information about Sophie White, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"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."--Cécile Vidal, École des Hautes Études 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