Fugitive Cosmopolitans: Mobility and Freedom Struggles Among Black Atlantic Subjects


ACLS Fellowship Program




This book explores mid-nineteenth century enslaved people's struggles in the Caribbean to utilize the protections afforded by birth in British territory to emancipate themselves from the slave societies of other empires. The project frames these liberation efforts, which unfolded after learning of British emancipation in 1834, as evidence of enslaved people’s hard-won cosmopolitanism and the complexities of black identity formation in slavery. The unlikely ways that Caribbean bondspeople discovered the illegality of their enslavement reflected the cosmopolitan sensibility acquired at high cost to their safety. The self-presentations that colonial officials demanded of petitioners reveal politicized claims both to blackness as tied to slavery and African heritage; and to Britishness as undergirding their right to freedom. These actors experienced more unfreedom in the process of trying to become free, as they were ensnared in the clashes between nations and empires with different legal structures and attitudes toward enslavement and manumission.