CNY Humanities Corridor Visiting Scholars Brownbag Presentation

Richard Bell“The Blackest Market: Kidnapping, Slavery and Salvation”
Richard Bell (University of Maryland)

Brownbag Presentation: August 29, 2014 / Noon / Tolley 304 / SU Humanities Center

Long before Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) fixed the depiction of man-stealers in the American imagination, there was Patty Cannon (c. 1760-1829). A kidnapper, enslaver, and slave trader of unprecedented audacity and ambition, this Delaware woman died by her own hand in prison in 1829. Concluded decades before the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 brought the abduction of free black men and women to national attention, her repellent career offers a rare glimpse of slavery’s darkest secret: a black market underworld in which legally free people were kidnapped and traded as slaves; a reverse underground railroad of infamous repute in its day that has since been largely forgotten.

Situated at that pivotal moment during which sectional identities began to harden and racial and class politics came to consume the American imagination, Patty Cannon’s story provides a new means to probe some of the major themes in early national and antebellum historiography. Bridging the historiographical and geographic divide between North and South, Cannon’s repugnant exploits connect the rise of the market not only to organized antislavery activism, but also to the spread of industrial agriculture, western expansion, and the democratization of print culture. Hers is a story with national implications.

Richard Bell is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park. He received his PhD from Harvard University and his BA from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of We Shall Be No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States (2012) and the co-editor of Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America (2012). He is currently at work upon a new book-length micro-history titled “The Blackest Market: Kidnapping, Slavery and Salvation.”

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