Michael Dickinson


Michael Dickinson, Virginia Commonwealth University

Barra Sabbatical Fellow


“Almost Dead: Captivity and Social Rebirth in the Urban Black Atlantic, 1680-1807”

My project examines how the thousands of captives who lived, bled, and resisted in the urban Anglo-Atlantic survived to form dynamic communities. It was in these urban slave communities—within the connections between neighbors and kinfolk—that enslaved blacks found the physical and psychological resources necessary to endure. Enslaved black efforts to bear bondage in early port cities reveal the dynamics of urban Atlantic slave communities, the ways these communities changed over time, and perhaps most significantly, that Anglo-American port cities formed an interconnected black urban Atlantic landscape. I use three cities with close ties to uncover an understudied Atlantic network of exploitation: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bridgetown, Barbados, and Kingston, Jamaica. The study investigates the lives of captives who inhabited the three cities and the communities they formed within these urban centers. The manuscript begins in the late seventeenth century as the three cities developed and matured. The investigation then concludes with the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, which dramatically altered the institution of slavery in Anglo-America. I argue that examining the lived struggles of urban bondspeople illuminates a deeply connected corridor of slave communities vital to understanding the lives of Anglo-American captives. Whether sites of first arrival, commodification, sale, short-term captivity, or lifetime enslavement, the urban Atlantic shaped and was shaped by black lives.


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