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The Gathering Storm: Slave Responses to the Threat of Interregional Migration in the Early Nineteenth Century

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image of Journal of Early American History

Between the American Revolution and the outbreak of the Civil War almost a million American-born slaves were relocated from the Upper South and eastern seaboard to the ever-expanding southern interior. An outpouring of historical research has greatly contributed to our understanding of the political, economic, demographic, and business aspects of interregional slave migration in the antebellum period, but as yet relatively few studies have examined the ways in which early-nineteenth-century slaves anticipated and reacted to the prospect of interstate migration, the ways in which they attempted to resist or negotiate the terms of their migration, or their motivations for doing so. Drawing from slave narratives and interviews, travel accounts, southern newspapers, and plantation records, this study briefly explores the ways in which slave migrants (and their loved ones) experienced and dealt with the news of forcible removal across state lines in early-nineteenth-century America, with a particular emphasis on the theme of family separation as a motivating factor behind their actions and reactions.

Affiliations: 1: Utrecht University, E-mail:


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