Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

1/1/2015 - 12/31/2015

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

Voices of the African Diaspora: Slave Testimony from French Colonial Louisiana

FAIN: FA-58478-15

Sophie Kirsten White
University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, IN 46556-4635)

In seeking to recover the voices of enslaved Africans in early North America, we are faced with shortcomings in the evidence generated by slaves. But in French colonies, the evidence from slave testimony mitigated this lacuna since, unlike English law, French law privileged confession and hinged on testimony as central to judicial procedure, so that slaves were called to testify exhaustively in court as defendants, witnesses and victims. Focusing on one of the richest repositories of extant trial records, from French colonial Louisiana, I make two major interventions. I argue that, far from seeing testimony as exclusively antagonistic and coercive, the enslaved seized the opportunity to voice their experiences of slavery and diaspora, producing an extraordinary corpus of autobiographical narratives. Second, I situate that evidence not just within the French Atlantic, but also within a global French empire that increasingly sought to centralize and standardize slavery and slave laws.

Associated Products

Voices of the Enslaved : Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana (Book)
Title: Voices of the Enslaved : Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana
Author: Sophie White
Abstract: 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. 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.
Year: 2019
Primary URL:
Publisher: University of North Carolina Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9781469654065
Copy sent to NEH?: No


Frederick Douglass Book Prize
Date: 12/9/2020
Organization: Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition (Yale University)

James A. Rawley Prize
Date: 10/1/2020
Organization: American Historical Association