Portland State University. Graduate Studies and Research. Interdisciplinary Programs
E. Kofi Agorsah
Term of Graduation
Date of Publication
Master of Science (M.S.) in Interdisciplinary Studies
Women slaves -- Trinidad and Tobago -- History -- Social conditions, Women social reformers, Passive resistance, African American women -- Civil rights, Women's rights -- Trinidad and Tobago, Women slaves -- United States -- History -- Social conditions
1 online resource (xiv, 160 pages)
American history has celebrated the involvement of black women in the "underground railroad," but little is said about women's everyday resistance to the institutional constraints and abuses of slavery. Many Americans have probably heard of and know about Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth -- two very prominent black female resistance leaders and abolitionists -- but this thesis addresses the lives of some of the less-celebrated and lesser-known (more obscure) women; part of the focus is on the common tasks, relationships, burdens, and leadership roles of these very brave enslaved women.
Resistance history in the Caribbean and Americas in its various forms has always emphasized the role of men as leaders and heroes. Studies in the last two decades however, are beginning to suggest the enormous contributions of women to the successes of many of the resistance events. Also, research revelations are being made correcting the negative impressions and images of enslaved women as depicted in colonial writings. Some of these new findings portray women as not only actively at the forefront of colonial military and political resistance operations but performed those activities in addition to their roles as the bearers of their individual original cultures. Their goal was achievement of freedom for their people.
Freedom can be seen as a magic word that politicians, propagandists, psychologists and priests throw around with ease. Yet, to others freedom has a different meaning which varies with the individual's sense of associated values. Freedom without qualification is an abstract noun meaning, "not restricted, unimpeded", or simply, "liberty"; but when it is concretized in individual situations its meaning is narrowed, and it becomes clear that no one can be fully free. Yet the love of freedom is one of our deepest feelings, a truly heartfelt cry, freedom of wide open spaces, liberty to enjoy the taste, in unrestricted fashion, of the joys of nature, to live a life free from external anxieties and internal fears; freedom to be truly ourselves. All living creatures, even animals seem to value their freedom above all else.
Enslaved people were not submissive towards their oppressors; attempts were made both subtly, overtly and violently to resist their so-called "masters" and slavery conditions. Violent and non-violent resistance were carried out by the enslaved throughout colonial history on both sides of the Atlantic, and modern historical literature shows that women oftentimes displayed more resistance than men. Enslaved Africans started to fight the transatlantic slave trade as soon as it began. Their struggles were multifaceted and covered four continents over four centuries. Still, they have often been underestimated, overlooked, or forgotten. African resistance was reported in European sources only when it concerned attacks on slave ships and company barracoons, but acts of resistance also took place far from the coast and thus escaped the slavers' attention. To discover them, oral history, archaeology, and autobiographies and biographies of African victims of the slave trade have to be probed. Taken together, these various sources offer a detailed image of the varied strategies Africans used to defend themselves and mount attacks against the slave trade in various ways.
The Africans' resistance continued in the Americas, by running away, establishing Maroon communities, sabotage, conspiracy, and open uprising against those who held them in captivity. Freed people petitioned the authorities, led information campaigns, and worked actively to abolish the slave trade and slavery.
In Europe, black abolitionists launched or participated in civic movements to end the deportation and enslavement of Africans. They too delivered speeches, provided information, wrote newspaper articles and books. Using violent as well as nonviolent means, Africans in Africa, the Americas, and Europe were constantly involved in the fight against the slave trade and slavery.
Women are half the human race and they're half of history, as well. Until recent years, Black women's history has been even less than that. Much work has been done studying the lives of slaves in the United States and the slave system. From elementary school in the USA on through college we are taught the evils of slavery that took place right here in the Land of the Free. However, how much do we know about the enslaved in other places, namely the Caribbean? The Caribbean was the doorway to slavery here in the New World, and so it is important that we study the hardships that enslaved people suffered in that area. Slaves regularly resisted their masters in any way they could. Female slaves, in particular, are reported to have had a very strong sense of independence and they regularly resisted slavery using both violent and non-violent means. The focus of my research is on the lives of enslaved women in the Caribbean and their brave resistance to bondage. Caribbean enslaved women exhibited their strong character, independence and exceptional self worth through their opposition to the tasks they performed in the fields on plantations. Resistance was expressed in many different rebellious ways including not getting married, refusing to reproduce, and through various other forms as part of their open physical resistance.
The purpose of this project is to identify the role enslaved women in both the Caribbean and the USA played in some of the major uprisings, revolts, and rebellions during their enslavement period. The research identifies individual female personalities, who played key roles in not only the everyday work on plantations, but also in planning resistance movements in the slave communities. This study utilizes plantations records, archival material, and official sources. Archival records from plantations located in archives and county clerks' offices; interviews with sources such as researchers and experts familiar with the plantations of slave communities in designated areas; and research in libraries, as well as other sources, oral histories, written and oral folklore, and personal interviews were used as well.
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Washington, Clare Johnson, "Women and Resistance in the African Diaspora, with Special Focus on the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago) and U.S.A." (2010). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 137.