December 2022 (vol. 12, no. 4)

December 2022 (vol. 12, no. 4)

Volume 12, Number 4
December 2022



Leslie M. Harris and Daina Ramey Berry

Researching Nineteenth-Century African American History

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Thomas A. Foster

“No Perfect Archive”: Recovering Histories of Enslaved People at Abingdon Plantation

This essay imagines itself recovering a lost history. More accurately, it initiates the telling of a previously unrecorded history, of enslaved life at Abingdon Plantation in Arlington, Virginia. Abingdon is a particularly good site to illustrate the possibilities and limitations of recovering histories of sites that have not been well documented. This essay contextualizes archeological reports of the site in the relevant secondary literature. It also uses shards of evidence in local histories, inventories, and wills, and archival papers examining plantation life along the Potomac River, including at Mount Vernon and Arlington House. It explores what can be known, what can be reasonably inferred, what was likely, and what helps us situate slavery in our understanding of Abingdon Plantation, ultimately filling in this history as a presence, however constructed, rather than a loss or an absence.

Keywords: Enslaved life, Abingdon Plantation, Virginia, Mount Vernon, Arlington House, archeological reports

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Kimberly Welch

The Stability of Fortunes: A Free Black Woman, Her Legacy, and the Legal Archive in Antebellum New Orleans

After Eugene Macarty’s death in 1846, his white distant heirs sued Eulalie Mandeville, Eugene’s partner of fifty years and a free woman of color, for approximately $155,000. This article follows the trial that ensued, Macarty et al. v. Mandeville, a Louisiana civil suit that lasted two years, spanned more than 350 pages of written testimony and evidence, involved some of New Orleans’s leading families, and concerned one of the largest fortunes held by a free Black woman in antebellum America. By employing a close reading of a single lawsuit, this article shows that trial court records function as a form of archives in themselves and Black Americans both used and produced those archives. Reading a trial record as an archive, that is, for its very intentionality, careful and selective curation, and coproduction, reveals the myriad ways Black Americans collected, collated, preserved, and interacted with documents and therefore shaped the narratives the archives tell.

Keywords: Legal History, Race, Wealth, Property, Free People of Color, Trial Courts, Court Records, Interracial Sex, Inheritance, Archives

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Jasmine Nichole Cobb

Partial Portraits: African Americans in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine

This essay considers seemingly benign illustrations from nineteenth-century sources, which scholars might be inclined to reproduce for evidentiary use. It critiques representations of African Americans in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Through an analysis of portrayals of slavery, it discusses image composition and production to argue that as a visual archive of the nineteenth century, the periodical is an incomplete and misrepresentative evidence source on African Americans.

Keywords: Visual culture, Archive, evidence, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, African Americans, Virginia Illustrated, Portraits, Images of slavery, Frederick Douglass

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Brandi C. Brimmer

Tracing the Intimate Histories of Poor Black Women in the Late-Nineteenth-Century US South

This article explores the dynamics of separation among Black veterans and their spouses in the post-emancipation South through an analysis of pension records. Few archival sources provide descriptions of Black working-class women and their relationships with their estranged husbands. Pension files offer a glimpse into the intimate lives of the Black poor and the legal communities they participated in as they navigated the US Pension bureaucracy. This essay tells the story of a North Carolina freedwoman, Jamsey Green, and my effort to trace the intimate histories of poor Black women using a combination of digital research tools, military records, and manuscript sources.

Keywords: Civil War Pension System, Archives, Black Soldiers, Respectability, African American Divorce, Black Women

read this article at project muse