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Sophie White

Voices of the Enslaved

Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana

Omohundro Institute/UNC 2019

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in French StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network July 29, 2020 Jerrad P. Pacatte

In her prize-winning study Voices of the Enslaved: Love, Labor, and Longing in French Colonial Louisiana (Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture...

In her prize-winning study Voices of the Enslaved: Love, Labor, and Longing in French Colonial Louisiana (Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press, 2019), award-winning historian Sophie White (Professor of American Studies, Africana Studies, History, and Gender Studies, and Fellow of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame) beautifully brings to life the lives and experiences of a number of enslaved women and men whose individual stories have heretofore never been told. 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.

Awards and Distinctions for Voices of the Enslaved:

  • 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

Jerrad P. Pacatte is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey-New Brunswick studying eighteenth and nineteenth century African American women’s history, slavery and emancipation in colonial America and the Atlantic world, and the history of slavery and capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Jerrad_Pacatte!