They baked New England’s Thanksgiving pies, preached their faith to crowds of worshippers, spied for the patriots during the American Revolution, wrote that human bondage was a sin, and demanded reparations for slavery.
In “Love of Freedom: Black Women in Colonial and Revolutionary New England” (Oxford University Press, 2009), Elizabeth H. Pleck, a UI professor of history and of African American studies, and Catherine Adams, a professor of history at the State University of New York at Geneseo, explore how black women in colonial and revolutionary New England sought not only legal emancipation from slavery but also defined freedom more broadly to include spiritual, familial and economic dimensions.
“Our aim was to show the assumptions about family, masculinity and femininity embedded in black women’s love of freedom, the meaning of freedom for both black women and men, and the significance of gender in the development of the free black community right after emancipation from slavery,” Pleck said. “We show how marriage and slavery combined to circumscribe freedom for many black women – that women were both vulnerable and resilient.”
Pleck believes the book is essential for students interested in African American and women’s history as well as people interested in the history of New England.
“The book is important because we show that many black women understood freedom in terms of male dominance of the family and community, not in terms of equality between the sexes,” she said.
“We want people to know that black women fought for their freedom, but the way they defined it was shaped by distinctive features of slavery in New England.”