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At “war against our institutions” : Cultures of policing and punishment in the slave cities of the United States and Brazil
chapterposted on 28.10.2014, 16:52 by James Michael Campbell
Slavery in the Americas developed distinctive features in cities. Across the varied built environments and political, cultural and economic landscapes of cities in the United States, the Caribbean and Central and South America there was no single model for urban slavery, but slave labour, demography, culture, and forms of resistance always differed markedly from rural settings. In particular, historians have noted that cities provided spaces in which at least some slaves could lead lives marked by a degree of autonomy that was beyond the ordinary expectations of their rural counterparts. Urban labour demands saw slaves loading and carrying goods, running errands, and toiling in manufacturing trades and factories. Some slaves worked as skilled artisans and many were hired out, sometimes earning wages and even making their own living arrangements. As a young man enslaved in antebellum Louisville, for example, Isaac Throgmorton, a barber, lived with freepeople and passed most of his days almost as a free man himself. “I served my apprenticeship of seven years,” Throgmorton recalled in an 1863 interview, “and then kept shop for myself one or two years, & then I was one year steamboating up the river.” Throgmorton recognised that he had been particularly fortunate, for even in cities slavery could be a brutal and oppressive institution, but the transience and anonymity of urban life nonetheless enabled even slaves with relatively limited freedoms, such as domestic servants, to engage in diverse independent activities. Urban slaves participated in vibrant black and interracial communities, bought and sold goods in city markets, and joined large church congregations. They also joined in more explicitly subversive activities. They read of slave rebellions and political debates about liberty and abolition; accessed underground liquor establishments, gambling, and dance halls; attempted to steal away on board ships, stage coaches and trains; passed themselves off as free people and planned and staged violent uprisings. [Opening Paragraph]