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Voices of the Enslaved

Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana

Sophie White

Publisher: Omohundro Institute
Imprint: OIEAHC
Published: 12/2019
Pages: 344
Subject: Colonial, Revolutionary Era & Early American History; African & African Diaspora Studies; Art
Cloth ISBN: 9781469654041
Paperback ISBN: 9781469666266
eBook ISBN: 9781469654058


In eighteenth-century New Orleans, the legal testimony of some 150 enslaved women and men--like the testimony of free colonists--was meticulously recorded and preserved. Questioned in criminal trials as defendants, victims, and witnesses about attacks, murders, robberies, and escapes, they answered with stories about themselves, stories that rebutted the premise on which slavery was founded.

Focusing on four especially dramatic court cases, Voices of the Enslaved draws us into Louisiana’s courtrooms, prisons, courtyards, plantations, bayous, and convents to demonstrate how enslaved people viewed and experienced their worlds. As they testified, these individuals charted their movement between West African, Indigenous, and colonial cultures; they pronounced their moral and religious values; and they registered their responses to labor, to violence, and, above all, to the intimate romantic and familial bonds they sought to create and protect. Their words--punctuated by cadences of Creole and rich with metaphor--produced riveting autobiographical narratives as they veered from the questions posed by interrogators.

Carefully assessing what we can discover, what we might guess, and what has been lost forever, Sophie White offers both a richly textured account of slavery in French Louisiana and a powerful meditation on the limits and possibilities of the archive.


Sophie White is professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana, and co-editor of Hearing Enslaved Voices: African and Indian Slave Testimony in British and French America, 1700–1848.



Frederick Douglass Book Prize, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, Yale University (2020)
James A. Rawley Prize in Atlantic History, American Historical Association (2020)
Biennial Deep South Book Prize, Frances S. Summersell Center for the Study of the South (2021)
Co-winner, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn Prize for Outstanding Book on Gender and Sexuality, Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (2020)
Mary Alice and Philip Boucher Book Prize in French Colonial History, French Colonial Historical Society (2020)
Kemper and Leila Williams Prize in Louisiana History, Historic New Orleans Collection and the Louisiana Historical Association (2019)
Co-winner, Summerlee Book Prize, Center for History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Gulf South at Lamar University (2020)
Honorable Mention, Merle Curti Social History Book Award, Organization of American Historians (2020)
Shortlisted, Kenshur Prize for Best Book in Eighteenth-Century Studies, Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies (2020)
Finalist, Sterling Stuckey Book Prize, Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (2020)


"This meticulously researched and lyrically written study offers a road map through the archives and a reconceptualization of the autobiography of the enslaved in the Atlantic world. Sophie White’s interpretive strategies wrest a vibrant and complex history of slavery from testimony, court proceedings, and the voices of the enslaved themselves. A genre-busting book."
--Jennifer L. Morgan, New York University

"White brings readers into the world slaves made for themselves, illuminating their attachments as well as their conflicts. With its remarkable anthropological sensitivity, her book is an insightful tribute to those who fought to make their voices heard."
--Cécile Vidal, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris

"With subtle analysis and empathetic storytelling, Voices of the Enslaved uncovers a stunning level of detail about how enslaved people experienced and resisted their bondage, how they managed profound loss and imagined possible futures. In their own words, and with vivid flashes of personality, the enslaved reveal their inner worlds like never before. A remarkable achievement."
--Brett Rushforth, University of Oregon

“A compelling and insightful chronicle of the lives of individual enslaved men and women in French colonial Louisiana.” 
--Journal of Southern History

Voices of the Enslaved is a remarkable achievement of historical interpretation from fragmentary documents, even sources as comparably rich as court transcripts, and is an impressive contribution to scholarship on the African diaspora in the French Atlantic.”
--H-Net Reviews

“Through meticulously recorded and preserved legal testimony derived from criminal trials in 18th-century New Orleans, White details how slaves perceived their own cultural reality as well as that of the ruling masters. The stories provided offer insight into their morals, societal values, and views on labor, violence, and familial bonds. The author intersperses her narrative with records in French and includes multiple paintings, samples of documented testimony, maps, and architectural sketches that help bring these figures and their plight to life. . . . Graduate students and professionals will find it uniquely enlightening.”