Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Aiming for Pensacola: Fugitive Slaves on the Atlantic and Southern Frontiers

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Aiming for Pensacola: Fugitive Slaves on the Atlantic and Southern Frontiers

Article excerpt

Aiming for Pensacola: Fugitive Slaves on the Atlantic and Southern Frontiers. By Matthew J. Clavin. (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 2015, Pp. [x]. 252. $35.00. ISBN 978-0 674-08822-1.)

Although never explicitly referred to as such, Matthew J. Clavin's book is a significant contribution to borderlands history. If borderlands history once emphasized the frontiers of nations and empires, it now deals with, as Pekka Hamalainen and Samuel Truett have written, "ambiguous and often-unstable realms where boundaries are also crossroads, peripheries are also central places, homelands are also passing-through places, and the end points of empire are also forks in the road"" ("On Borderlands,"" Journal of American History-. 98 [September 2011], 338). These words ring true for Florida, which was the site of imperial and racial conflict as well as cooperation between Africans, Native Americans, and Europeans well before the United States annexed it. The conflict between Spanish and English colonists, American nationals. Native Americans, and Africans over land and slavery hardly ceased in 1821.

This work's ambitious claims extend further than the existing research on self-emancipated slaves warrants. While at least three hundred fugitives from American slavery ran to Pensacola in the four decades before the American Civil War, they represent the tip of the iceberg of self-emancipated Americans in those years. Recent studies of the American abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad reinforce this sense of scale. Manisha Sinha notes that historians today estimate some 150,000 African Americans freed themselves by running away between 1830 and 1860 (The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition [New Haven, 2016], 382). Eric Foner concurs, suggesting that 1,000 to 5,000 annually voted with their feet for freedom in those three decades (Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad [New York, 2015], 4).

Yet scale is not everything. Spanish Florida was a colonial society with slaves, but it also contained free people of color who "benefited from the absence of the inflexible binary racial divide that characterized neighboring Anglo-American societies and the strictly ordered caste system that persisted throughout much of Spanish America" (p. …

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