Jenifer L. Barclay, "The Mark of Slavery: Disability, Race, and Gender in Antebellum America" (U Illinois Press, 2021)


Time and again, antebellum Americans justified slavery and white supremacy by linking blackness to disability, defectiveness, and dependency. In The Mark of Slavery: Disability, Race, and Gender in Antebellum America (University of Illinois Press, 2021), historian Jenifer L. Barclay examines the ubiquitous narratives that depicted black people with disabilities as pitiable, monstrous, or comical, narratives used not only to defend slavery but argue against it. As she shows, this relationship between ableism and racism impacted racial identities during the antebellum period and played an overlooked role in shaping American history afterward. Barclay also illuminates the everyday lives of the ten percent of enslaved people who lived with disabilities. Devalued by slaveholders as unsound and therefore worthless, these individuals nonetheless carved out an unusual autonomy. Their roles as caregivers, healers, and keepers of memory made them esteemed within their own communities and celebrated figures in song and folklore. 

Prescient in its analysis and rich in detail, The Mark of Slavery is a powerful addition to the intertwined histories of disability, slavery, and race.

Jenifer L. Barclay is an Assistant Professor of History at SUNY Buffalo. Her research places African American history in conversation with the “new” disability history, a field that emphasizes disability as a lived human experience embedded in a set of socially constructed ideas that change over time, across cultures, and in relation to other categories of identity such as race, gender, class and sexuality. She earned her Ph.D. in African American History at Michigan State University. 

Jerrad P. Pacatte is a Ph.D. candidate and School of Arts and Sciences Excellence Fellow in the Department of History at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. A social historian of gender, slavery, and emancipation in early America and the Atlantic World, Jerrad is currently completing his dissertation, entitled “The Work of Freedom: African American Women and the Ordeal of Emancipation in New England, 1740-1840” which examines the everyday lives, labors, and emancipation experiences of African-descended women in late-colonial and early republic New England.  Jerrad is also increasingly interested in the history of slavery and disability in the context of early America; his research examining the lives and physically-disabling nature of enslavement in early New England will be published in two peer-reviewed anthologies - one of which is co-edited by Jenifer L. Barclay and Stefanie Hunt Kennedy - early next year. 

Your Host

Jerrad Pacatte

Jerrad P. Pacatte is a doctoral candidate and School of Arts and Sciences Excellence Fellow in the Department of History at Rutgers.

View Profile