The history of modern slavery is enmeshed with ideologies of racial domination and commodification. Walter Johnson’s question, “was the Southern social order based on race or on slavery?” was asked in antebellum times and continues to be debated by researchers today. The earliest European settlers to Louisiana brought chattel slavery, first enslaving Native Americans then captives from Senegambia, Bight of Benin and Congo/Angola. During the eighteenth-century, a system of service and domestic-oriented urban slavery emerged in New Orleans, contrasting but complementing the agriculture-based slave labor of the surrounding parishes. With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the 1808 ban on importing enslaved Africans, New Orleans became the center of the domestic slave trade. Slave owners traveled from all over the South to purchase laborers for sugar and cotton plantations and to work in plantation households. New Orleans also became a hub for illegal slave trading with the Caribbean and Latin America. Alternatively, in New Orleans, more than most Southern cities, enslaved people found freedom in self-purchase, manumission, and escape. Scholarship on slavery in New Orleans and the city’s role in the slave trade reflects the multiple difficulties, influences, and approaches to the study of the subject itself.
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Wheat, David. “The Language of Slaves and Servants: African Agency and the Mobilian Trade Language in Eighteen-Century Alabama.” In Africa and Trans-Atlantic Memories: Literary and Aesthetic Manifestations of Diaspora and History, edited by Naana Opoku-Agyemang, Paul E. Lovejoy, and David V. Trotman, 47-59. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2008.