“’A State of Imperfect Freedom’: Clamoring for Control over Free Black Mobility in Virginia, 1782-1806”

STSM Presentation by Christine Merten on Tuesday, 20 September 2022 at 4:30pm (UTC+2(=CEST)).

From the 1790s onwards, Virginia implemented a code of laws and regulations as a means to control and restrict Black mobility and the increase of the free Black population. In an effort to understand the motivations behind the enactment of these control policies, this paper examines the attitudes of white Virginians toward Black freedom mainly through an investigation of petitions from citizens between 1782 and 1806. While scholarship have generally focused on efforts of the state legislature and designs of the political elite to control free Black movement, this paper demonstrates that ideas for the spatial mobilisation and immobilisation of free Blacks were not only supported but also pushed by a broader base in Virginia. White Virginians, particularly from the state’s eastern region and its urban areas, actively “clamored” for regulations on the mobility of free Blacks in response to the growing threat of unrestrained Black movement to white control. In doing so, this paper joins a growing body of scholarship that argues that processes of mobilisation and immobilisation were central to notions of race, freedom, and citizenship in the early Republic.

Christine Mertens is a PhD candidate at Leiden University and Roosevelt Institute for American Studies in the Netherlands, and currently visiting the Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies as a WORCK Short Term Scientific Mission (STSM) fellow.

The talk will take place physically and virtually in the conference room (0.018) at the ground floor of Niebuhrstraße 5, Bonn. To join the Zoom meeting: https://uni-bonn.zoom.us/j/61789204624?pwd=M3ZHS3JmY2ErZzZiVzlvemNBM3E2QT09

Meeting ID: 617 8920 4624
Passcode: 641252