Tobacco as Freedom: Cuban Slavery and Self-Purchase in the Nineteenth Century


Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowships




This project examines the internal/informal economy of Cuban tobacco slaves. This economy, predicated on independent/surplus yard production, represented the primary means for slaves to accumulate material wealth and served as a catalyst for initiating the process of coartación (legal self-purchase). It analyzes judicial records detailing the material possessions of the enslaved, as well as coartación filings/appeals to demonstrate how slaves interacted with, and at times manipulated, their environment. For many slaves, this economy guaranteed a measure of self-determination far removed from their imposed identity as enslaved laborers. This project specifically argues slaves used this economy to defy the traditional arrangements of power, thereby altering the “essential” narrative of enslavement.