Enslaved is excited to announce its partnership with Liberated Africans (liberatedafricans.org). This project traces the lives of over 250,000 men, women, and a large proportion of children, taken off slave ships in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans during the campaign to end the slave trade in the nineteenth century. The judicial process of their liberation resulted in the compilation of extensive documentation at the world’s first international courts of humanitarian justice located in the Americas, Africa, Arabia, India, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic and Indian Ocean islands. The survivors were designated “Liberated Africans,” although in fact those people who were removed from slave ships and coastal prisons were not actually freed but were forced into periods of apprenticeship that were often documented. As a user-friendly research tool, Liberated Africans enables a visual means of exploring the experiences of the people who witnessed the slave trade, including information on the officials, captains, crews and guardians with whom they came in contact. Although only a small percentage (approximately 7 percent) of the total estimated 4 million Africans involved in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades were subjected to judicial enquiry between 1807 and 1896, the documentation that was produced in the process comprise a representative sample of the whole trade.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade involved the forced migration of an estimated 12.7 million enslaved Africans and lasted nearly four centuries, while the trans-Indian Ocean trade affected more than a million people, but began earlier and continued longer. Over one quarter of these victims boarded slave ships after 1807, when the British and US governments passed legislation curtailing (and ultimately banning) maritime human trafficking. As world powers negotiated anti-slave trade treaties thereafter, British, Portuguese, Spanish, Brazilian, French and US authorities seized ships suspected of prohibited trade, raided coastal slave barracks and detained newly landed slaves around the Atlantic and Indian Ocean littorals. The exact number of courts, cases and people involved in this process, and indeed when, where and how many Liberated Africans were resettled around the world, is not entirely clear. Nonetheless, this project has the potential to resolve these uncertain issues by presenting voluminous documentation in digital form that was generated before, during and after their legal emancipation. The sheer scale of record-keeping is perhaps unprecedented in humanities and social science research because it includes materials held in archives from around the world. The diverse types of documents include proceedings for about 1,000 trials, registers containing biographical sketches for people removed from slave ships (including physical descriptions of scarifications, brandings, disease and/or physical abuse), labor contracts, anti-slavery legislation, correspondence on resettlement policies, images of captured slave ships and even photographs of some Liberated Africans.

 

In 2015, the project director, Henry B. Lovejoy, hardcoded, designed and created Liberated Africans. With a grant awarded by The Hutchins Center of African and African American Research at Harvard University in 2016, Richard P. Anderson, Daryle Williams, Matthew S. Hopper, Alicia Sheill and Catherine Foley re-coded the website and metadata scheme using KORA, which was designed by Matrix and is an open-source, database-driven repository application for publishing complex multimedia objects. With other support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Social Sciences Research Council of Canada, University of Colorado Boulder, York University, University of Maryland, among other institutions and archives, this online resource has expanded and involves the collaborative efforts of an international network of over 50 academics, archivists and data scientists.

 

The Enslaved hub will further enhance this valuable research by connecting Liberated Africans to other digital projects and databases related to the history of the African diaspora. As we begin development on Enslaved, we are excited to collaborate with this research team and we look forward to making the history of people involved in the slave trade and abolition movement more available to scholars, students, descendant communities, genealogists, and the general public.