To term an act ‘punishment’ is to presuppose its legitimacy. Punishment implies an existing relationship of power and authority between the person punished and the person doing or authorizing the punishing. Punishment has across many times and places been understood as a legitimate aspect of a relationship of domination: of parent over child, husband over wife, teacher over pupil, monarch over subject, judge over (accused) criminal—and slaveowner over enslaved. Describing something as a ‘punishment’ is to assert that it is a response to wrongdoing. It is also to group it with an enormous range of potential other actions, that may
Despite the successful maneuvers of many runaways to escape slavery in the slaveholding South, considerable numbers did not make it and were apprehended by slave patrols, civilians, or watchmen. What happened to those among them who were subsequently not reclaimed by their legal owners? To answer this question, this paper focuses on the punishment and forced employment of runaway slaves by city and state authorities rather than by individual slaveholders. It follows enslaved southerners into workhouses, chain gains, and penitentiaries, thereby connecting different institutions within the nineteenth-century penal system. Exploring collaboration and clashes between slaveholders and the authorities, it will discuss how the forced employment of runaways fitted in with the broader understanding of Black labor and the restructuring of labor demands in the antebellum US South.
Paola A. Revilla Orías, Entangled Coercion. African and Indigenous Labour in Charcas (16th–17th Century), Berlin/Boston, Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2021, 317pp, US$ 85 (hardcover), ISBN 978-3-11-068089-8.
Paola Revilla Orías has written an important study of the relationships of unfreedom that were foundational to the labor history of Charcas, the province of the southern Andes oriented around the silver mines of Potosí and the city of La Plata under Spanish colonial rule. While the book has some shortcomings, it is an important intervention in colonial history, which has, with some exceptions, tended to treat Indigenous and Black
Historically, French Guiana was an anomaly in the French Americas, neither a settler colony nor an economically successful slave-based plantation colony like its wealthy Antillean counterparts. Sporadically governed, underpopulated, and generally neglected by the metropole, it was considered a backwater of the French empire. However, by the first decades of the nineteenth century, the punishment of fugitive slaves had become fundamental to how the colony of French Guiana conceptualized itself. The struggle between owner and state about who had the right to punish, and by what means, caused ferocious repercussions over who could claim sovereignty over slaves and their potential labor. The issue of flight came to signify the legal and political battle between settlers and the state. Indeed, the desire of the French state to control the terrain of French Guiana through the recapture—and punishment—of the enslaved echoes what would occur in the latter half of the nineteenth century as French Guiana became the world’s most notorious penal colony. This paper will explore these issues in nineteenth-century French Guiana through the fugitive figure of the enslaved and subsequently that of the runaway convict.
Erika Denise Edwards, Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2020. Pp. 184. $ 54.95 cloth.
A year and a half passed between the publication of Edwards’ book and its arrival at my hands in Argentina. A worldwide pandemic and Rioplatense courier problems combined in such ways that by the time this review is being written, Hiding in Plain Sight has already been granted two well-deserved awards: the 2021 Western Association of Women Historians Barbara “Penny” Kanner Book Award and the 2020 Association of
This special issue explores how enslaved workers of African descent were punished in the Americas. It studies punishment inside and beyond the criminal justice system, investigating its legitimation and implementation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Collectively, the articles address three main themes: the relationship between the enslaved, the slaveholders, and the state; the shifts in modalities of governance across space and time; and the entanglement of modes of punishment across geographies. This perspective illustrates the broader implications of punishment for issues of labor supply and labor control, and helps us understand how slavery was produced and reproduced in different, yet connected, regions of the Americas.
Fabiana Schleumer, Laços de Família: Africanos e crioulos na capitania de São Paulo. São Paulo: Alameda, 2020. 320 p.
This book Laços de Família: Africanos e crioulos na capitania de São Paulo originally written in Portuguese and published in Brazil focuses on Black and enslaved families that survived enslavement in colonial Brazil by analyzing the social integration of freedmen and women through the constitution of family relations. Black, mixed-race and mestizo, descendants of African ancestry or ‘non-white’ people are the key historical agents in Fabiana Schleumer’s book.
In June 1835, the Brazilian parliament promulgated a stringent law which punished enslaved persons convicted of assassinating their masters with capital punishment. Called the “law of necessity,” the regulation targeted the leaders of slave rebellions and established the death penalty as punishment against slave resistance. Research on the enforcement of the law demonstrated that while the regulation increased public hangings of the enslaved, overall fewer convict slaves were executed because of the law than had their sentences commuted to galé perpétua or a lifetime of penal servitude in public works. Analyzing slave petitions to commute death penalty sentences to penal servitude, this article intervenes in the debates on punishing the enslaved which connects labor history with the history of punishment. The research probes convicts’ understanding of the construction of Brazilian legal culture while analyzing the tensions between slave-owners and imperial authorities on punishing the enslaved.
Sidney Chalhoub was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and studied history in the 1980s at the Fluminense Federal University (Rio de Janeiro) and at the University of Campinas. He taught history at the University of Campinas for thirty years before moving to Harvard University in 2015, where he is now David and Peggy Rockefeller Professor of History and of African and African American Studies. Chalhoub has published extensively in Portuguese and English, especially on the social history of slavery, race, and the working class in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. His work includes