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The Emancipation of Bound Laborers in the Americas before the Abolition of Slavery

October 7, 2016
University of Montpellier


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The Emancipation of Bound Laborers in the Americas before the Abolition of Slavery

University of Montpellier, France

October 7, 2016

Building on a first one-day conference which dealt with the legal codification of unfree labor, this second conference would like to examine the emancipation of bound workers in the Americas before the abolition of slavery. An emancipation is a legal act which frees an individual from the authority of a master. Whereas indentured servants were granted their freedom at the end of their term of service, which was specified in their contract, manumission remained a privilege for slaves who were to serve on a perpetual and hereditary basis. The paths to freedom were subject to a range of legal and contractual regulations which varied geographically and over time. Freedom could be achieved by a variety of means: at the expiration of a contract term, when a sentence had been served, by an early liberation, by (self) purchase, by emancipation, as well as by unusual methods such as engaging in non-marital relationships, by filing law suits or by absconding. Although emancipation was used as a mechanism of controlling unfree workers, it sometimes generated social tensions — for instance, when it led to the growth of the free black population of slave societies.

What were the modalities of the emancipation of unfree workers? Which factors motivated the adoption of legislation regulating emancipations? Is it possible to establish a typology of the emancipators and of the emancipated servants and slaves? To what extent did slaves and indentured servants take part in their own liberation? Did the introduction of slavery provide any negotiating power to white servants, for instance by reducing their length of service? Did the practice of emancipation evolve in reaction to the advent of abolitionism, especially after the movement gained momentum and radicalized itself? To what extent did the practice of emancipation raise social, political, economic and public security stakes? How did masters accompany and facilitate their servant or their slave's transition from the status of a bond person to that of a free person? Was the social integration of freed servants and of manumitted slaves influenced by the factors which had enabled their emancipation, as well as by their former legal status, their racial or their national origin? These are some of the many questions this one-day conference will endeavor to answer.



Proposal Submission Procedure


The languages of the one-day conference will be French and English.

For consideration, please submit a paper proposal of 300 words and a 1 page CV by June 1st, 2016 to

A selection of papers presented at the conference will be published.

Conference organizers:

Lawrence Aje (Université Paul -Valéry, Montpellier 3 - EMMA)

Anne-Claire Fauquez (Université Panthéon - Assas - EA 1569: Transfertscritiques et dynamiques des savoirs, Université Paris VIII)

Elodie Peyrol-Kleiber (Université de Poitiers - MIMMOC)

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