Project Team: United States Research/Symposium Trip, April 2016

This article summarises a University of Glasgow research/symposium trip to the United States of America in April 2016. Professor Simon Newman, Dr. Stephen Mullen, Mr Nelson Mundell, Dr Felicity Donohoe and postgraduate researchers Debra Burnett and Marenka Odlum-Thompson made the trip across the Atlantic which was centred around a symposium at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, VA, on 11-15 April 2016.

Staff and students from Glasgow and Edinburgh at UVA
Staff and students from Glasgow and Edinburgh at UVA

The trip was made in collaboration with scholars from the University of Edinburgh, led by Professor Frank Cogliano. For nine years, there has been a monthly transatlantic videoconference (held at the University of Edinburgh and UVA) attended by staff and postgraduate students at Virginia, Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities: the trip connected friends and colleagues who have been in regular collegiate discussion for almost a decade. The participation of Glasgow staff, postdocs and Ph.D students was made possible by a grant from the Chancellor’s Fund of the University of Glasgow, as well as an award from the Embassy of the United States. Additional support came from the University of Edinburgh.

George Washington Monument
George Washington Monument

Several of the Glasgow team took advantage of the trip to look at archive holdings related to their personal research. Due to generous assistance from the University of Glasgow History Research Support Fund, Stephen Mullen spent some time in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C and Princeton University. Nelson Mundell is on an extended fellowship (blog to follow!) at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies (ICJS).

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

And academics get a day off too! Allowing for some time for a little sight-seeing of famous landmarks: United States Capitol Building, Independence Avenue (with many museums), The Washington Monument and The White House.

The real work began on Tuesday 12 April 2016 at the University of Virginia. At UVA, we were provided with a tour of Harrison Institute and Small Special Collections Library including a museum exhibit of material related to the American War of Independence. There was also a tour of the Digital Production Group and their work, including digitisation the letters of Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson bust, Harrison Institute, UVA
Thomas Jefferson bust, Harrison Institute, UVA

The Edinburgh/Glasgow team were allowed a special viewing of Thomas Jefferson materials by Edward Gaynor, Librarian for Virginia and University Archives. Edward discussed Jefferson’s role in establishing the University of Virginia in 1819 including his preference for English, Irish and Scottish Professors over Germans in the early days (although a German Professor was employed in any case)! The Postdocs from both Edinburgh and Glasgow met with Professor Alan Taylor of UVA for a useful discussion. Simultaneously, postgraduate students attended Max Edelson’s Graduate Seminar in Nau Hall, UVA. On the evening, Glasgow, Edinburgh and UVA staff and students attended the Early American Seminar at ICJS to hear Edinburgh Ph.D student Ryan McGuiness’ paper on ‘The Barbadian Import and Export Trade, 1680-1700’.

The project team were present at Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s slave plantation in Charlottesville) on 13 April 2016, which was Jefferson’s 273rd birthday.

Thomas Jefferson statue, Monticello
Thomas Jefferson statue, Monticello

There was a short ceremony – with the US Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corp – for Jefferson’s birthday and Founders Day which was followed by an acceptance speech by Marian Wright Edelman, who was awarded the 2016 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership.

U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corp
U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corp

The team were treated to a bespoke tour of Jefferson’s Monticello by Liz Marshall. Back at UVA in the afternoon many attended the Cross Lecture by Professor Gary Gallagher entitled: ‘All About US: Projection, Wishful Thinking, and Anachronism in Recent Civil War Scholarship’. Thursday 14 April was workshop day centred on career development on both sides of the Atlantic: Professors Frank Cogliano, Max Edelson, Simon Newman and Alan Taylor were joined in discussion with Head of UVA Press, Dick Holway. Postgraduates enjoyed a dissertation workshop in the afternoon, presenting short outlines of their ongoing research projects. There was a concluding dinner in Charlottesville in the evening.

Some of the team made their way back to Washington D.C. on Friday 15 April. Others stayed on. I (Stephen Mullen) made my way to Princeton University in New Jersey to look at archive holdings in Special Collections.

Nassau Hall, Princeton University
Nassau Hall, Princeton University

Princeton has strong connections with Scotland and the Scottish Enlightenment and is Professor Simon Newman’s alma mater. A Scots Minister, John Witherspoon was President of Princeton (1768-1794) during the revolutionary period and was the only college president to sign the Declaration of Independence. It was a great experience to be researching in an Ivy League University with such strong Scottish connections. In all, this was an illuminating multifaceted trip: many gained important professional experience, met new friends, undertook research or delivered presentations on their work. The Glasgow team were sad to leave and we hope to see our friends in Edinburgh and at UVA in the near future.

Liverpool Research trip 2016

The Liverpool Experience

Late in January I braved the weather, and the weather disrupted travel, to return to Liverpool Central Library, to undertake an 11-day research trip, endeavouring to find more examples of Runaway Slave advertisements in the English newspapers.

Before I get to the meat, a few words about Liverpool. What a wonderful city! The people are friendly and welcoming – two stopped, unbidden, and gave me instructions for direction finishing with a nod and a smile – and remind me very much of home, Glasgow. There is a similar couthie air, and it really helped me relax from the off. Thank you Liverpool!

Liverpool Central Library is a wonderful building. Flanked by the World Museum Liverpool and the Picton Reading Room, its neo-classical Victorian style is at once both impressive and humble. The inside, refurbished in 2013, provides a contradictory modern look: with gleaming stair cases, an attractive atrium that – in conjunction with the glass and white wood panelling – brightens all five floors, and a busy, buzzing clientele, the transition between old and new is spectacular rather than jarring. The staff are all uniformed and welcoming, accommodating and supportive, and it was a real pleasure working alongside them.

My day would start with the lift up to the fourth floor (almost invariably with an excellent coffee in hand from the ground floor’s café) and either a left to the microfilm readers, or right to the Archives room. There were four papers that I needed to cover for our period of 1700-1780:

Williamson’s Liverpool Advertiser

The Liverpool Chronicle (which then turned into…)

The Liverpool Chronicle and Marine Gazetteer

The Liverpool General Advertiser or the Commercial Register

The first three above were on microfilm. Microfilm can be quicker than searching through hard copies, and avoids sticky fingers and damage to the originals, but it is fairly monotonous, and not much fun on the eyes! Apart from making the capture of something interesting more difficult, for example with a camera, the reels can be worn and extremely faint in places. This is, of course, not peculiar to Liverpool Central Library’s holdings – this goes for library holds of microfilm all over Britain, and the importance of not giving out the originals, but still providing people access to the information, is underscored when you see the tens of people using microfilm every day in libraries. Certainly Liverpool was busy with people researching their ancestors, a hugely popular pastime that I haven’t, yet, found time for.

So the first six days of my trip were given to hand-reeling through microfilm. While there are an equal amount of hand and electronic microfilm readers, the hand-reeled ones were often less busy and provided a bigger image from the film. Something about using microfilm feels very Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (the Alec Guinness version) and I caught myself giving a few furtive glances behind now and then, and once even surreptitiously assessing the possibility that the 80 year old gran next to me researching the cooking pages of the 1920s Liverpool Echo might be a covert agent of the KGB. I wouldn’t do well under torture.

Luckily, she was just another body interested in the research of ancestors (Rosa Klebb in this instance), and my research continued apace.

On day 7, I had finished all the microfilm reels and, with a contented sigh, knew I had only one paper left: The Liverpool General Advertiser or the Commercial Register, edited by one John Gore. And better yet, it was the original copies.

Newspapers are a wonderful artefact, and I thank my stars that I’m in the position of being able to read, examine and analyse them for both the project and my own research. There is something magical about reading original copies, like you are transported back in time, you can hear the hustle and bustle outside, the bell as someone comes in with an advert for entry into next week’s paper – it’s delightful.

My daydreaming of being a Liverpool newspaperman of the 1700s was helped by the fact that these were the very papers John Gore had himself used. He had taken his pen to each and every page – marking down who still had to pay, which adverts needed amended, how many more editions the adverts would last, and there were even notes of his own interest, separate from issues of governing the paper. It was fascinating, and whenever I look back on these years, I will always fondly remember reading and handling up to three-hundred-year-old newspapers, a real experience! Some of the quirkier finds were posted both on my twitter account, and blog.

The Liverpool Research

It was particularly disappointing that a greater number of Liverpool newspapers from the 18th century were not available, some were damaged during a previous move, and others were not kept at all – there is only ephemera of the Liverpool Courant of 1712, for example, which is reckoned the city’s first newspaper. Of the four newspapers I was examining this trip, several years were missing, which is extremely frustrating from a perfectionist point of view, but also from a humanitarian point of view.

Why humanitarian? Well, I felt like I was missing examples of advertisements that, while obviously not helping the individuals, would help paint a greater picture of what 18th century Britain was like for the enslaved. The nine-year-old supposed Angolan boy will never get justice, but by highlighting his case and others, we can hope that such awful scenes as the auctioning of people will be remembered, at the least.

Unfortunately, he was not the only person auctioned and sold, as the Liverpool papers held many adverts of the same ilk. Almost completely male, it was touching and saddening whenever I came across and advert. While runaway adverts at least contain some hope that the enslaved found freedom, the For Sale adverts convey an image of a lifetime’s servitude and mistreatment.

The Liverpool General Advertiser, or the Commercial Register, Friday 2nd December 1768, p.2

To be sold by Auction,
On MONDAY next, the 5th instant December,
At Eleven o’Clock in the Forenoon;
At the House of Mr. WILLIAM STAINTON,
The Sign of the Custom-House, in Brooks’s-Square,
A very handsome NEGRO BOY,
About 11 or 12 Years of Age;
And very suitable for a Gentleman’s Family.
Enquire of the said Mr. Stainton.

The Runaway adverts ran to almost double the amount, which offers some hope, and keeps me turning the page. Alongside the image of working as a newspaperman from the period, I tried to imagine how everything would appear to a young boy or girl, perhaps straight from the African coast and so with no grasp of the language, how bizarre and frightening everything would seem, men and women leering at you, gauging your worth. It seems unimaginable to us now, that there might be a re-occurrence of slavery in Britain. And yet there may be as many as 13,000 slaves in the country today. The two trades are not comparable, for a number of reasons, but it is a sobering thought that there just might be more enslaved in modern-day Britain than there was in the Britain of three hundred years ago…


This piece by Mr. Nelson Mundell. Follow him on Twitter: @NelsonHistory or read more on his  18th century newspaper finds: Peculiarities in the Press 

To find out more about the project, follow this link: ‘Runaway Slaves in Britain: bondage, freedom and race in the eighteenth century’. Twitter:  @runawayslavesgb

The project is based in History, School of Humanities at the University of Glasgow. The principal investigator is Professor Simon P. Newman; Postdoctoral Research Associate Dr. Stephen Mullen and Postgraduate Researcher and Research Assistant, Mr. Nelson Mundell.

RUNAWAY SLAVES

This is the first blog from the research project examining the social history of self-liberated, formerly enslaved black people in Great Britain. The formal title is ‘Runaway Slaves in Britain: bondage, freedom and race in the eighteenth century’. Twitter:  @runawayslavesgb The project is based in History, School of Humanities at the University of Glasgow. The principal investigator is Professor Simon P. Newman; Postdoctoral Research Associate Dr. Stephen Mullen and Postgraduate Researcher and Research Assistant, Mr. Nelson Mundell.

There were many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ‘black’ runaways in Great Britain in the Eighteenth Century. Many were of African descent, some were Native Americans and others were from India. There is some debate whether this group were actually enslaved in Britain at all (there were white runaways escaping from servitude too) although it is clear the group under consideration in our project occupied an ambiguous position. In many cases, they were described as ‘slaves’ and most visit this website
were certainly in bondage. Many had been trafficked from the New World to Great Britain where they were bought and sold as labourers to work without remuneration. Some were kidnapped and sent back to colonies such as Jamaica without their consent. In any case, this ambiguous status was addressed in two landmark British legal cases: Somerset v Stewart in England in 1772 and Knight v Wedderburn in Scotland in 1778. The Mansfield Decision, although hardly equivocal, certainly had an impact at home and abroad. Joseph Knight, an African, was held in servitude in Scotland after he made the journey from Jamaica with his owner, a Scottish plantation owner. After reading of the Mansfield decision in an Edinburgh newspaper, Joseph subsequently challenged his own unfree status in 1774. The resulting legal case laid out a very famous ruling in Scotland four years later:

That the State of Slavery is not recognised by the Laws of this Kingdom, and is inconsistent with the principles thereof and Found that the Regulations in Jamaica concerning slaves do not extend to this Kingdom and repelled the Defender’s Claim to perpetual Service. (National Records of Scotland, CS 235/K/2/2, p.32)

However, these two famous legal cases were in the last third of the Eighteenth Century – runaway advertisements were a common theme in newspapers over the previous hundred years. So, what of the lives of the unknown numbers of men, women and children who became runaways?

Newspaper advertisement reveals lots of details to the historian; age, gender, origins, diseases, bodily markings. One example – albeit in an American context, where there is a mature historiography – provides much detail.

Virginia Gazette, 7 October 1773.

Virginia Gazette, 7 October 1773.

The image itself (thanks to @Limerick1914  for cartier love bracelet this image) is an advertisement intended to facilitate the recapture of two runaway slaves in Surry County, Virginia in October 1773 – a year after the Somerset Case. The process began with a very public proclamation that the individuals had escaped from bondage. The master evidently valued his enslaved property so much that he advertised detailed descriptions in the Virginia Gazette and offered rewards for their recapture. The reward system ensured there was much work for nefarious hunter-capturers. Although runaways in Great Britain ran away from a very different type of bondage and to a very different type of freedom, the recapturing process would have been similar.

In terms of the runaways themselves, we learn from the advertisement that one of the runaways was female, a twenty seven year old woman named Amy, and another was male, a nineteen year old named Bachus who was born in Africa. Bacchus had evidently been subjected to the infamous ‘Middle Passage’ and had been branded on the hand, most likely on a Virginian plantation. We also learn much about the determination of the owner: he offers an incremental reward and rising expenses dependant on how far the runaways escaped.

Interestingly, we also learn about the mentalité of both slave-owner and the enslaved. According to this advertisement, there was a ‘prevalent…notion’ amongst enslaved people in Virginia that if they escaped and reached Britain ‘they will be free’, a mindset fake cartier bracelet surely influenced by the Mansfield Decision of June 1772. Running away was the greatest act of self-determination, and this vexed the slave-owners as would it deprive them of their chattel property and the profits from the expropriation of labour. The advertisement ended with a typical warning: do not offer runaways passage from Virginia or offer them work within the colony. These advertisements represent both an attempt to regain immediate ownership of the enslaved property and also an attempt to limit the collaboration with the local population which could have prolonged freedom. Their fate – and whether they reached Great Britain at all – is unknown. Watch this space.

Further Reading

Cairns, John W., ‘After Somerset: The Scottish Experience’ (2012) Journal of Legal History, vol. 33, pp.291-312

Chater, Kathy, Untold Histories: Black People in England and Wales During the Period of the Slave Trade, c.1660-1807 (Manchester, 2009)

Myers, Norma, Reconstructing the Black Past: Blacks in Britain c.1780-1830 (London, 1996)

Shyllon, F., Black People in Britain 1555-1833, (London, 1977)

Shyllon, F., Black Slaves in Britain, (London, 1974)

Walvin, J., Black and White: The Negro and English Society 1555-1945, (London, 1973)

Walvin, J., England, Slaves and Freedom, 1776-1838 (London, 1986)