Mass Incarceration in the Age of Slavery and Emancipation: Fugitive Slaves, Poor Whites, and Prison Development in Louisiana, 1805-1898


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation examines slave prisons, the circum-Caribbean development of slave penology, and how antebellum theories of crime and correction shaped the postslavery criminalization and incarceration of freed African Americans. Prior historians have argued that enslaved people were never incarcerated, and that carceral systems directed at African Americans emerged only after emancipation. This study, based in part on analysis of over 50,000 prison admittance records, demonstrates that Louisiana slaveholders sentenced vast numbers of enslaved persons to specialized slave prisons, often for months and years. As the nation’s economy grew increasingly reliant on wageworkers, authorities redeployed this slave prison system against poor white migrants charged with vagrancy and freed black sailors charged with entering the state illegally. Many slave prisons survived the Civil War, and were repurposed for wageworkers convicted of vagrancy. These findings present major implications for the study of race, labor, and power in the nineteenth-century United States.