Black Lives & Native Lands: Rewriting the History of New England


David Guzman  May 5, 2020, Black Perspectives



The study of slavery in New England has experienced something of a revival in the last decade. Given that New England is often treated as a hub of liberty after the American Revolution, colonial America scholar Jared Ross Hardesty joins a number of historians in dissociating the region from the parochialism and exceptionalism given to it in earlier studies. In his book, **Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds: A History of Slavery in New England, Hardesty convincingly argues that New England should be a part of a wider story of slavery and colonization in the Americas. Meant as a synthetic history, Hardesty treads the same path as Lorenzo Johnston Greene did in his 1942 work, The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776. Updated with the latest scholarship on the subject, Hardesty’s work offers a brief and concise history of slavery in New England.

Utilizing a settler-colonial framework of analysis for much of his work, Hardesty organizes his chapters chronologically and thematically, first outlining the origins of sixteenth-century England’s involvement in slavery and ending with the problems associated with emancipation in New England. Weaved throughout his narrative are the themes of oppression, exploitation, enslavement, resistance, and assertions of humanity. Drawing from newspapers, account books, letters, autobiographies, and legal documents, Hardesty’s inclusion of enslaved peoples’ lives greatly enriches and humanizes the narrative crafted from his rich source of secondary literature. It also reflects his keen ability to construct the lives, experiences, and pasts of enslaved men and women even among a scarcity of documentary evidence.

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“Politicians, Priests, and psychiatrists often face the same problem: how to find the most rapid and permanent means of changing a man’s belief…The problem of the doctor and his nervously ill patient, and that of the religious leader who sets out to gain and hold new converts, has now become the problem of whole groups of nations, who wish not only to confirm certain political beliefs within their boundaries, but to proselytize the outside world.” – William Sargant “Battle of the Mind”

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