SHADD: Testimonies of Enslaved Africans from the Era of Slavery


Project Summary:

The SHADD Biography Project focuses on the enforced migration of “Atlantic Africans,” that is enslaved Africans in the Atlantic world during the era of the slave trade, through an examination of biographical accounts of individuals born in Africa who were enslaved in the 16-19th century. The focus is on testimony, the voices of individual Africans. The Project is named for Mary Ann Shadd, abolitionist, Canadian, first woman newspaper editor (Voice of the Fugitive) in North America, in recognition of her political and intellectual commitment to document the Underground Railroad and resistance to slavery in North America. SHADD also identifies the website Studies in the History of the African Diaspora---Documents (www.harriettubmaninstitute.ca/SHADD), which houses facsimile and transcribed versions of testimonies. The SHADD Biography Project seeks to use an online digital repository of autobiographical testimonies and biographical data of Atlantic Africans to analyze patterns in the slave trade from West Africa, specifically in terms of where individuals came from, why they were enslaved, and what happened to them. The Project focuses on people born in Africa and hence in most cases had been born free rather than on those who were born into slavery in the Americas. Our contribution will add specifically concentrate on those who experienced the “Middle Passage,” i.e., the Atlantic crossing, which is often seen as a defining moment in the slavery experience. The genre “slave narrative” is thereby expanded through a study of accounts of slaves born in Africa. The SHADD Project focuses on biographical testimony as the fundamental unit of analysis, whether text arises from first person memory or via amanuensis, and whenever possible is supplemented with biographical details culled from legal, ecclesiastical, and other types of records. The Project will integrate testimonies and other data from several projects. This includes the research of the co-applicants and collaborators, who want to integrate databases in a fashion that will be innovative and creative. Lovejoy brings a range of testimonies focusing on the Central Sudan but including Yoruba, Nupe and other West African cases; Lovejoy is currently working with co-applicant, Kolapo, and collaborators, Kelley and Akurang-Parry, in the generation of materials on West Africa, along with Schwarz. In addition, Lovejoy, Schwarz and Banting Fellow Bezerra are working on biographical information about individuals taken off slave ships by the British navy and designated "Liberated Africans," who can be followed in the documentary record. In collaboration with Co-applicant, Le Glaunec, and Collaborator, Landers, these West African and “Liberated African” data will be combined with data from the French Caribbean, including information from fugitive slave advertisements, and in the case of Spanish and Portuguese colonies, from baptismal and other documentation maintained by the Church. Our intention is to identify individuals in the several collections of documents that amount to massive amounts of material. Individual testimonies are assembled on Google Drive, from where documents are transcribed into files on individuals and then verified. Specific bodies of data will be the focus of PhD and MA research projects. The Project contributes to an understanding of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its impact on West Africa as gleaned from biographical accounts. Scholars in several disciplines other than history, including literature studies and sociology will benefit from the project, which also will interest individuals undertaking genealogical research.The SHADD website allows students, the scholarly community, and the general access to the extensive data in an interactive form.

Project Description:

SHADD Biography Project – Description Objectives – The SHADD Biography Project focuses on the autobiographical testimonies of Africans from the era of the slave trade. The challenge of the project is to demonstrate that the history of Africans in the era of the slave trade can be recovered, and that this history is essential in our understanding of the modern world and its multicultural diversity. Because of the stigma of slavery, the historical importance and influence of the African diaspora has been systematically and institutionally silenced and forgotten. The aim of the SHADD Biography Project is to break this chain of silence by assembling, making accessible, and analyzing biographical and autobiographical accounts of Africans from the era of the slave trade. Although the historical literature and the extent of scholarly attention have both assumed that accounts of Africans do not exist or are relatively few and insignificant in number, the SHADD project has already identified detailed accounts of several thousand individuals from the late 18th century through the 19th century. Moreover, the analysis of the records of the abolition suppression campaign of the first half of the 19th century allows a further study of approximately 100,000 individuals, many of whose biographies can be reconstructed. Our objective is to combine the materials assembled by members of the team into a common dataset based on individuals and their experiences and identities rather than abstract numbers that dominates the discussion at the present time. This wealth of material allows the possibility of examining the history of the period from the end of the sixteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century in considerable detail as revealed in life histories. The African migration of this period constituted more than 90 percent of all trans-Atlantic migration and hence was fundamental to the development of the Americas and the Atlantic world during this period. The issues that are raised relate to the silencing of this story. Why is it that the African origins of the modern world are treated the way they have been, with neglect, denial, and non-scientific prejudice, when simple logic expects a strong and powerful influence on the development of the modern world? An alternate perspective on the development of the modern world has been argued by Lovejoy and others, although without much noticeable effect on the scholarly literature. It is the challenge of this project to confront this neglect by assembling an overwhelming database of materials on individual life histories of as many as 200,000 people who were born in Africa, enslaved, and taken into slavery, often sent across the Atlantic or at least with that destination in mind. The project is designed to advance scholarly knowledge of trans-Atlantic migration and corresponding influences of that migration on western Africa and the Americas, and implicitly Europe. The contribution to knowledge potentially could affect the perspective on history in relation to the development of the Americas and the rise of western European global domination. The SHADD Biography Project, based at the Harriet Tubman Institute at York University in Toronto and collaborating with scholars at Vanderbilt University, the University of Worcester, Université de Sherbrooke, the University of Guelph, and Shippensburg University, seeks to establish an online digital repository of autobiographical testimonies and biographical data of Atlantic Africans during the era of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The SHADD Biography Project concentrates on the life stories of individuals who were born in Africa but were destined for the Atlantic world via slavery. These are the individuals whom we are identifying as “Atlantic Africans.” The Project is named for Mary Ann Shadd, abolitionist, Canadian, editor of Voice of the Fugitive and the first woman newspaper editor in North America, in recognition of her political and intellectual commitment to document the period of the Underground Railroad, resistance to slavery in North America, and the flight of African Americans into exile in Canada. SHADD also identifies the website of the Biography Project, SHADD: Studies in the History of the African Diaspora—Documents (www.harriettubmaninstitute.ca/SHADD), which is intended to house facsimile and transcribed versions of all testimonies. The SHADD Biography Project makes available material on the individuals who helped to form the African Diaspora. Specifically the SHADD Project focuses on men, women and children who were born in Africa and in most cases were born free and therefore can be distinguished from the enslaved people born in the Americas who were born into slavery. The significance of this distinction has been recognized in differentiating those often referred to as creole because they were born in the Americas from those who came from Africa. The focus of this project is on those who clearly came from Africa. In the analysis of slavery, it is recognized that being born in Africa affected how the enslaved were socialized and disciplined to the work regime, but most analysis fails to break through the facelessness of slavery, in which individual personality was erased through the rupture from homelands, the physical and sexual abuse of the Middle Passage, the change of names, and the incorporation into the household of the prison. The danger in analysing slavery is the loss of perspective, succumbing to empathy for the terror of being a slave, when in secret, private moments, we should postulate, the memory of home persisted and even helped sustain broken bodies and tortured minds. The aim of the project is to sift the vast bodies of historical documentation to recover the stories of what happened to people. The SHADD Project includes autobiographical testimony as the fundamental unit of text, whether given in the first person or via amanuensis; personal testimony is supplemented with biographical details culled from legal, ecclesiastical, and other types of records. The SHADD Project will integrate testimonies and other data from several projects. This includes the research of the co-applicants and collaborators, who want to integrate databases in a fashion that will be innovative and creative. Paul Lovejoy brings a range of testimonies focusing on the Central Sudan but including Yoruba, Nupe and other West African cases, including the biographies of Muslims in Brazil and particularly the 1835 uprising in Bahia; Lovejoy is currently working with Sean Kelley in the generation of materials on West Africa, along with Suzanne Schwarz. In addition, Lovejoy, Schwarz and Bezerra are working on biographical information about individuals taken off slave ships by the British navy and designated “Liberated Africans,” who can be followed in the documentary record. Co-applicant Femi Kolapo and Kwabena Akurang-Parry contribute biographical accounts from central Nigeria and southern Ghana, respectively. In collaboration with Co-applicant, Jean-Pierre Le Glaunec, and Collaborator, Jane Landers, these West African and Liberated African data will be combined with data from the French Caribbean, including information from fugitive slave advertisements, and in the case of Spanish and Portuguese colonies, from baptismal and other documentation maintained by the Church. Our intention is to identify individuals in the several collections of documents that amount to massive amounts of material. Testimonies will be assembled and transcribed. The project has expertise in areas of West Africa and the Americas and has access to a wealth of documentation that crosses the Atlantic. Context (including literature review and theoretical approach) – The study of the African past in both West Africa and in the Americas can be enhanced enormously through the analysis of primary texts that derive from individual life histories. The participants in this project are in the forefront of collecting text-based materials, both from published primary sources and from numerous archives in more than 20 countries. In our collective opinion, the study of West African history and the history of the African diaspora can take a giant step forward through the proposed SHADD Biography Project. Each member of the team has made essential and substantial contributions to the collection of biographical data and to its analysis through their publications, as reflected in each c.v. and the list of references. The nature of our individual contributions has usually been episodic, following one or a few individuals and trying to reconstruct life histories in specific contexts. Indeed, we are not the only ones that have contextualized biography as individual case studies. Other excellent work can attributed to James Sweet, Walter Hawthorne, Martin Klein, Sandra Greene, Trevor Getz, and many others, whose work is also reflected in the attached references. In all our cases, we have depended on the documentation that we could find. The SHADD Biography Project proposes to combine all accessible source materials on individuals in one dataset so that we can take analysis to a new level that not only allows a continuation of the current pattern of focusing on individuals but also will allow comparisons and deeper analysis that can result from the ability to access larger bodies of data and with search capabilities that require unique analytical tools. Our proposal is to pool available datasets, which contain cases, testimonies, police reports, and other documents which have been collected, and in the context of graduate student research projects, ongoing projects of team members, and the solicitation of inputs from collaborating scholars who are not part of the application team, we hope to supplement our combined holdings. We want to create a resource that houses data so that we can better reconstruct the biographies of individuals whose histories are thought to have been lost, even denied and rejected, because of slavery. Our specific focus on those who were enslaved but were actually born free in Africa requires that we distinguish those from West Africa from those born in the Americas under slavery, a distinction that Lovejoy has suggested in revising the predominant theories of the “slave narrative” genre so ably described by Andrews, Gates, Carretta, and others and criticized by Lovejoy, among others. We contend that the literature on biography and slavery that has focused on “slave narratives,” that is texts written by individuals themselves and hence constitute autobiographies, has reached a false conclusion that the genre is almost entirely a North American creation. Our data include numerous autobiographical accounts that were written and sometimes published, not only in English but also in Hausa and Kanuri. The SHADD Project includes these autobiographical accounts, which Lovejoy has called “freedom narratives” to distinguish these accounts from the stories of those who were born in slavery in the Americas. In the case of many, if not most, of the accounts in our collective research trace people who were enslaved, but who had been born free, and who subsequently after a period of slavery were able to regain their freedom. In the case of the more than 100,000 so-called “Liberated Africans” who were taken off slave ships in Sierra Leone, this regained “freedom” involved a period of apprenticeship that produced considerable documentation. Hence the SHADD Project diverges from the usual emphasis of “slave narratives” that are autobiographical and extends the search to include biographical reconstructions, although with the important caveat that we base reconstructions on existing texts and testimonies. The SHADD Biogra phy Project complements existing database projects, such as TSTD2 (Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database) (www.slavevoyages.org); and Michigan State University’s Slave Biographies project (http://slavebiographies.org/project). The approach of the present proposal goes beyond these other database projects in two important respects; first the SHADD Project relies on text and where possible digitized copies of original documentation that can be searched; and second, the focus on West Africa as place of birth clearly establishes a demographic population whom we are calling Atlantic Africans. Methodology – The first stage of the SHADD Project requires common agreement among the team members on the necessity to transcribe all texts and text-based excerpts that pertain to individuals. Transcription allows full and easy search of data across sources. Individual testimonies are assembled on Google Drive, from where documents are transcribed into files on individuals. Once a transcription has been verified, both the transcription and the original text are uploaded onto the SHADD website, www.tubmaninstitute.ca/SHADD. Each individual text is prefaced by a short introduction summarizing the key points of the text, providing source information for the testimony, and establishing essential metadata to facilitate search capabilities. Moreover, other digitized materials with references to individuals can also be mined, with additional information added to folders. Each text is coded for approximately thirty basic variables, including name, gender, date of text, date of birth, place of birth, occupation, year of enslavement, and New World destination. These coding variables will make it easier for scholars and students to explore these valuable resources. Members of the Project are still collecting additional biographical information from archival repositories where new materials can be found. Our search for individuals who were born in West Africa has expanded to military records, fugitive slave advertisements, slave sales, legal records, and church documents that are proving enormously rewarding. Documents from which the SHADD Project will derive data sets also include those that were produced by crew members, ship doctors and merchants of slave trading ships during the period of the export slave trade across the Atlantic. These published and unpublished books, stories, reports, diaries and ship logs are mostly written in English, but with many in Dutch, French, Portuguese and Danish. They include major eye witness records and second hand renderings of auto/biographies and biographical information on enslaved people of all sexes that traders/travelers encountered during their journeys and trading to and from Africa. Explorer's accounts and reports, official and private, many published and others unpublished of several government expeditions into the interior of Africa constitute another category – many of the key ones cited in the references. These include encounters with slaves, slave holders, redeemed or manumitted ex-slaves and material from these, though not completely, have been collated by participating members of the SHADD project. These will be systematically pooled and searched for auto/biographical data. Generating data from more of these sources, including, from the non-English language portion is going to require assigning undergraduate research assistants to it. Missionary documents constitute a crucial category of data set source for the SHADD Project. The Methodist, CMS, AME and other missionaries who moved into Africa in the early 19th century, and some since the late 18th, including their numerous very important African helpers, produced a prodigious amount of reports, letters, diaries and journals in West Africa, perhaps more than half of which awaits transcription. As missionaries resided in their African posts for years and even decades, set after another set, their documents are rich sources for auto/biographies of enslaved and freed Africans. Their evangelistic missions in most instances were directly geared towards the marginal elements of the society, enslaved people being a significant portion of this number. Either as converts or prospective converts, visibly oppressed and victimized, the enslaved constituted a significant audience for missionaries, for whom the church and its agents became benefactors. Moreover, mission education was responsible for spreading literacy and the written word and thereby promoting autobiographies. On the whole, in fact, missionary records came to be written mostly by Africans; as Peel has noted, comprising a majority of CMS reports from Nigeria before 1880. The missionary documents produce rounded and more longitudinal documentation of individual slaves than other forms of documents previously discussed. Various members of the team have been transcribing missionary and other texts and now have large datasets with text. Kolapo, for example has worked with CMS missionary documents of the Upper Niger mission, led by Samuel Crowther. Missionary documents cover a period of over 40 years from c.1830-1870. Similarly, there were numerous expeditions into the interior of the upper Guinea coast from the 1790s onward that have left extensive biographical information. The Methodist, CMS, AME and other missionaries who moved into Africa in the late 18th and early 19th century describe their numerous and very important African helpers, many of whom wrote their own prodigious reports, letters, diaries and journals which are invaluable to this project. At present, perhaps half of which still awaits transcription /transliteration. These evangelical missions targeted the marginal elements of society, including enslaved individuals as a significant portion of this number. Whether prospective converts, converts, or visibly oppressed victims to which the church and its agents became benefactors, the enslaved were a significant audience of the missionaries. These documents include children named after missionary benefactors, reports of people redeemed from slavery, the records of the education of such children, and the employment of individuals at mission compounds. Part of the funding will be used to transfer data into a common format and dataset that is based on the material housed on the SHADD website and that will be mined from other databases into appropriate order conformable to a database which will be easily accessible to the scholarly community as well as this research team. Liberated African documentation is extensive in the National Archives in London, in Sierra Leone and in Brazil. Much of the materials from London and Sierra Leone is at the Tubman Institute and the University of Worcester, as well as in Sierra Leone. The Portuguese materials, particularly those from Arquivo Histórico do Itamaraty, Coleções especiais - Comissão Mista Brasil-Inglaterra Arquivo Nacional, Fundo da Junta do Comércio, Códices 184-188 - Cartas de Emancipação de Africanos Livres, Arquivo Publico do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (APERJ). Fundo de Presidente de Província, Códice Diversos, Fundação Biblioteca Nacional (FBN), Seção Periódicos: Dário do Rio de Janeiro, Aurora Fluminense. Anúncios de fuga de Africanos Livres, are now available in digital form in Brazil and at the Tubman Institute. Project Time Line and Deliverables – The project time period is three years. The first year will be devoted to the integration of existing databases. This will require design of the common database, including the determination of fields of the database and the establishment of an umbrella cloud for the project. This stage of the project will require expert advice as well as the reflections of team members on their experiences to determine how best to restructure, supplement, and otherwise modify earlier work. Two working meetings will be required to enable close coordination of this stage of review and planning. The desire to link text and testimony with data means that previous databases will need to be tied to original documentation. This is where student assistance will be necessary and thereby will consciously involve both graduate and undergraduate students in training in transcription and creation of metadata to tie materials to the larger project. The first year will also identify gaps in the data that can be filled through further archival research, digitization of known materials that are not currently in the various databases of team members. In addition a dissemination and outreach programme will be launched, including expansion of existing websites, ongoing publications, participation in conferences and workshops. A working meeting of team members and involved graduate students will be held in Sierra Leone at the end of the first year of the grant. The second year will be devoted to revising the database, once specific upgrades are identified as necessary, and in order to supplement primary source material and to check original sources when necessary. A working meeting of team members and involved graduate students will be held at York. Specific gaps in data will be targeted through collaborative intervention. This will require research in archives that are identified as holding significant materials that have not yet been digitized or where materials have to be examined for possible inclusion. In several cases, graduate students will be involved in collecting targeted materials with extensive biographical information in the context of their thesis research. These include Dele Jemirade (York), who will be working on the police court records in Sierra Leone from the 1850s; Erika Delgado (Worcester), whose Ph.D. thesis will focus on school records in Sierra Leone from c. 1820-1850, Carlos da Silva (University of Hull, UK), whose Ph.D. thesis on the slave trade of the Bight of Benin. The third year will consolidate the project through the final integration of data from diverse sources, including new materials that have been located, digitized and transcribed. Additional digitizing of materials in conjunction with this project will be undertaken. A final team meeting will also allow the preparation of a report on the status of digitization and the possibilities of future additions. At this stage, a publication schedule, including a collective book by the team, will be confirmed. It is expected that by Year 3, there will be several Ph.D. theses and M.A. theses completed that are specifically tied to this project. Furthermore, the websites and online resources will be fully stabilized by Year 3. There will also be a continuation of the dissemination and outreach programme, including other publications, attendance at conferences and participations in workshops. Separate from this proposal, moreover, a conference will be organized in Year 3 to highlight the achievements of the SHADD Project. The core to the implementation of the SHADD Project is the four working meetings of the team, including graduate students. These meetings are intended to be face to face, first at York and then in Sierra Leone and Rio de Janeiro, and finally again at York. Of course, there will be other meetings via skype, and regular monitoring of work so that the collaboration is maximized. Why Sierra Leone and Rio de Janeiro? Because they are two of the most important locations of archives where primary source materials can be found and each location has its own peculiarities that require discussion in situ. The benefits in training for graduate students is obvious, since as appropriate students will be able to extend their stay in either Sierra Leone or Brazil to conduct research of benefit to their own Ph.D. theses and the aims of the Project. It is intended that an edited book will appear by the end of the third year of the project that will include various reports, preliminary papers, and documents that have emerged in the course of the Project. In addition, collective volume that focuses on major findings will be prepared for publication in the Harriet Tubman Series on the African Diaspora, Africa World Press, of which Lovejoy is General Editor. It is anticipated that several articles and conference papers will be generated by team members and associated graduate students. The team has a strong track record in publishing research results through conference presentations and publication. It is also anticipated that two or three of the participants will be selected to write a book that is based on the Project. It is also proposed that a conference will be held after the completion of the Project, which will result in its own publications. The conference will address the issue of biography in the study of slavery. This forum will allow team members and their graduate students to present the results of the Project, as well as papers on particular aspects of the research. The graduate students associated with the Project will present papers. The importance of this endeavour is clear since it relates to the recovery of history and the documentation of the crime against humanity of slavery. Any review of the literature would include the members of this team as major contributors whose awareness of the theoretical implications of documenting life histories challenges the fields of history and literary criticism. We can show that the fashion of studying the “Black Atlantic” has ignored West Africa, but through a rigorous methodology of collection and analysis our team has amassed a wealth of new knowledge. Undergraduate and graduate students are fully integrated into this Project, which guarantees the quality of training and opportunity for mentoring in a meaningful way that will result in publications and the awarding of degrees. Moreover, the focus of the research on biography will undoubtedly be attractive to a wide audience, especially people of African descent in North America, and indeed elsewhere. The constitution of the research team guarantees the feasibility of the project, which is focused on four working meetings and the steady work of student research assistants throughout the life of the Project. The budget therefore focuses on two features: first the cost of mounting four working meetings; and second financial support for students who are involved in the Project. Additional costs in the budget relate to the operation of the Project. As demonstrated by the support from York University, the University of Worcester, and Vanderbilt University, existing resources will be used wherever possible. Clearly an atmosphere exists that is essential for the successful implementation of the Project. The preservation and presentation of data will be in accordance with the digital storage policies of the Tubman Institute. Our Project will contribute to the mobilization of new knowledge on the origins and development of the African diaspora and the impact on West Africa. We propose a publication and web-based programme of dissemination which is based on a solid track record of achievement. We have clearly identified phases for the Project, beginning with an initial working meeting at York University and including subsequent meetings in Sierra Leone and Rio de Janeiro before a final working meeting at York. We will develop web facilities that build on existing achievements. We have a plan for publication that can be guaranteed in the Harriet Tubman Series on the African Diaspora of Africa World Press. Indeed it is the track record of the team members that should be considered foremost in determining whether or not this Project should be funded. Our collective publication record, ability to operate large grants, our experience in training and mentoring, and other achievements indicate that we will be able to implement a major project on the biographies of slaves from West Africa. Our methodological approach and theoretical framework are straight forward and easily comprehensible. The implications of the successful compilation of digitized repository for biographical data are considerable in terms of the potential for the discipline of history. Moreover, the Project is designed to allow for subsequent development, which can be expected.

Project Type:
Funded

Project Role:
Principal Investigator

Country 1:

Country 2:

Country 3:

Country 4:

Month
Year
Start Date:
Apr
2014
End Date:
Mar
2018

Funder:
SSHRC

Year Project Started:
2014

Collaborator:
Sean Kelley

Collaborator Institution:
University of Essex

Collaborator Role:
Co-applicant

Funder
Amount
(e.g type 1000 for 1,000)
1
SSHRC
344000
2
3
4
5
6