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Enslaved.org contains information about hundreds of thousands of individuals involved in the historical slave trade — including enslaved people, enslavers, and slave traders. For most of these individuals, we can offer little more than fragmentary evidence in datasets; for some individuals, however, we can tell fuller life Stories from across Africa and the Americas, of enslaved people fighting for their freedom, of the shifting boundaries between enslavement and liberation, and of the dynamics of slave trading, raiding, and everday life. Through these biographies, we can better understand the complexities of people's lives and the role of slavery and freedom in shaping them.

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Data and Stories

Like the datasets collected and aggregated on this site, Stories highlights the common thread of 500 years of Black resistance, persistence, and creativity across Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The “Data” gleaned from an 18th century slave trader’s ledger or a 21st century historian’s spreadsheet may sound cold and lacking in humanity. Such data often privileges the viewpoint of enslavers. But a biography or a story, is also the aggregation, rearrangement, and interpretation of data points. The data we see in Enslaved.org can provide the building blocks of future biographies: a baptismal certificate, a military record, a receipt for services, or newspaper ads looking to recapture freedom-seeking women, men, and children. Add those data points together and you might have the beginnings of a new Story.

These Stories also get ‘behind the data’ to the lived experience of slavery and the myriad ways the enslaved fought for their freedom in Africa, the Caribbean, and North and South America. Some highlight heroic rebellions, while others show the courage of everyday resistance to bondage. They span the entirety of the African slave trade, from Sebsatian Lemba, who led a rebellion on Santo Domingo in the early 1500s, to Adelina Charuteira, a street vendor and abolitionist who belonged to the final generation of enslaved people in Brazil in the late 19th century. Several of the subjects of these Stories would live well into the 20th century, including Redoshi, captured in Benin and illegally brought to the United States in 1860, and Delia Garlic and Tempie Durham, both enslaved in the American South as children and interviewed by historians for the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. Several were either involved in major slave rebellions or accused of conspiracy to rebel, among them Jemmy and Gullah Jack Pritchard (South Carolina); Breffu (Danish Virgin Islands); Sandy (Tobago); Zeferina (Brazil); and Court and Tomboy (Antigua). Others resisted enslavement and colonial rule by forming maroon communities in Ecuador (Francisco de Arobe) Mexico (Yanga); Brazil (Cosme Bente das Chagas and Dandara of Palmares); Jamaica (Nanny of the Maroons; and Guadeloupe (Solitude). Still more liberated themselves when the opportunity to escape arose, among them, like Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua, John Caesar, and Harry Washington.

Resistance took many forms, however. The Stories highlight the role of military service (Juan Bautista Whitten, Nicholas Mongoula, Jesse Cowles); entrepreneurship (Broteer, Alethia Tanner, Duchess Quamino, Luiza Mahin, and Manoel Joaquim Ricardo); and religion (María Francisca Camejo, Mary Elizabeth Lang, Iyá Nassô, Josiah Henson) in shaping the lives of enslaved people.

We encourage readers of the Stories to examine the similarities and differences of enslaved life across different regions and time periods. Comparisons can also be made of enslaved life with a number of free persons of color. These include Anna Murray Douglass, the wife of Frederick Douglass, and the central figure in making possible her husband’s escape from Maryland to Massachusetts, and Francis Williams, the first Black writer to gain recognition in the British Empire, who enjoyed more “privileges” than other people of color in 18th century Jamaica, but never enjoyed equal citizenship with whites.

Story Contributors

The core of Enslaved.org’s Stories come from three biographical dictionaries produced by the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University and published in print and online in Oxford University Press’s African American Studies Center, with Hutchins Center Director, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as Editor in Chief.

Adapted versions of 150 of these biographies are included here, with permission from OUP, along with timelines, bibliographies, and links to other resources. We hope these might serve as a model for researchers looking to recover the lives of other enslaved people.

Beginning in 2022 we are adding new stories, original to Enslaved.org, to this original core, some by contributors sharing deeper information beyond the datasets they have submitted to our website. See, for example, the Stories of Alexander Caine, Frank Lee, William Isaac Johnson, Peter Churchwell, and Jesse Cowles, formerly enslaved Virginians, who found freedom fighting for the Union in the American Civil War authored by Professor Brian Neumann from his Black Virginians in Blue data article https://doi.org/10.25971/pgr6-km31. Quack and Cuffee, who appear in Professor Jill Lepore’s New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan dataset https://doi.org/10.25971/6sgg-kx22 appear here as Stories, as do Henry and Sarah, entries in The Account Book of Charles B. Calvert in Southern Maryland, 1830-1860 https://doi.org/10.25971/FBNC-FV84.

We also encourage users of the platform to recommend and contribute new Stories of enslaved people that are not connected to a dataset. A model for these types of biographies can be seen in the Stories of several women who participated in or led rebellions of the enslaved: Breffu (St. John), Akua (Jamaica), and Barbara, Pallas, and Amelia (Berbice/Guyana).

The Executive Editor for Enslaved.org/Stories is Steven J. Niven; contact him at sjniven@fas.harvard.edu to inquire about adding new Stories to the site.