A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation by Prof. Erica Armstrong Dunbar

By Prof. Erica Armstrong Dunbar

This booklet is the 1st to chronicle the lives of African American ladies within the city north in the course of the early years of the republic. a delicate Freedom investigates how African American girls in Philadelphia journeyed from enslavement to the precarious prestige of “free folks” within the a long time top as much as the Civil conflict and examines similar advancements within the towns of recent York and Boston. Erica Armstrong Dunbar argues that early nineteenth-century Philadelphia, the place so much African americans have been loose, enacted a type of practice session for the nationwide emancipation that within the post–Civil struggle years. She explores the lives of the “regular” ladies of antebellum Philadelphia, the unfastened black associations that took root there, and the formerly unrecognized significance of African American ladies to the historical past of yankee cities.  (20090301)

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Extra resources for A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City (Society and the Sexes in the Modern Worl)

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By the 1780s freedom from British control was secured and emancipation for Philadelphia’s men and women of African descent appeared imminent. Slavery and the “Holy Experiment” 21 When the colonists revolted, the British threatened their economic stability by undermining slave ownership. In a bold proclamation in November 1775, Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, declared the colony of Virginia in a state of rebellion and placed it under martial law. 44 George Washington and his comrades initially refused to arm men of color, so thousands of slaves took flight throughout the Chesapeake in search of British camps and freedom.

3 Kerr’s contract of service tells us very little about her relationship with her mistress, yet it does offer several important clues regarding their life together. It is clear that Lewis raised Kerr for nearly all her life: they may well have been related. Few people were willing to take on the responsibilities of raising an infant black girl at the turn of the nineteenth century, so we can assume that Lewis was a benevolent woman, a family member, or both. As the almshouses of Philadelphia often hired out abandoned black children, Lewis was most likely saving Kerr from decades of labor at the hands of unfamiliar white Philadelphians.

The reconsideration of the morality of slavery placed some white slaveholders in a quandary: they attempted to follow a Christian path while holding on to their valuable property. For the first time significant numbers of Africans were Christianized, as Methodist evangelicals invited their slaves to 20 Slavery and the “Holy Experiment” participate in baptismal ceremonies and to attend church services. Methodists recognized anyone’s conversion, regardless of economic status or race. New Light Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists also welcomed the opportunity to convert “black heathens,” and although the majority of Africans would not convert until the later part of the century, many slaves were accepted into the Christian fold.

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