Faculty Research & Creative Activity

Document Type


Publication Date

May 2008


This dissertation examines and reconstructs the lives of fugitive slaves who used the maritime industries in New York, Philadelphia and Newport to achieve freedom. It focuses on slaves during the period between 1713, the end of Queen Anne’s War, and 1783, the end of the American Revolution. While the study’s primary focus is on slavery in three port cities, it employs a broad geographic approach to consider how enslaved individuals in rural areas surrounding New York, Philadelphia and Newport, as well as slaves in more distant regions, used the maritime industry in northern port cities to escape slavery. Maritime work provided unique opportunities for fugitive slaves to exploit conflicts among whites to create relative autonomy and obtain freedom. The work makes five significant contributions to the field of early American history. First, the dissertation demonstrates that the key characteristics of slavery in northern ports were slaves’ mobility, the diversity of the labor they performed, and their strong connection to the Atlantic maritime community. Second, it illustrates that the maritime industry in northern port cities of British North America provided slaves viable means to obtain freedom. Third, it describes the significant eighteenth century black maritime community in port cities of British North America and the larger Black Atlantic. Its fourth contribution is to the field of Atlantic history. The work depicts the interconnections among Atlantic ports in the eighteenth century. It also globalizes the struggle of enslaved peoples by placing their flight to freedom within a larger Atlantic ii context. The last, but far from least, contribution of this study is that it personalizes the stories of enslaved individuals, many of whose lives have remained largely unknown.