In the Archives
I specialize in African-American history, the history of American slavery, and women’s and gender history, but I am equally fascinated with colonial and 19th century legal and economic history, especially as it pertains to women, systems of bondage, and the Atlantic and domestic slave trades.
My book, They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South, is based on my revised dissertation which I wrote under the direction of Professor Deborah Gray White in the History Department at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. In 2013, it won the Organization of American Historians’ Lerner-Scott Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in U.S. women's history.
My work has appeared in Slavery and Abolition, Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, the recently published anthology, Sexuality and Slavery: Reclaiming Intimate Histories in the Americas, as well as on the web.
I am currently at work on three new projects. The first, a book-length entitled Women, American Slavery, and the Law, considers how slave-owning women’s legal actions shaped laws of slavery and property. It explores the specific legal demands these women made upon the state and considers how their legal appeals may have influenced lawmaker’s decisions to implement this legislation and worked their way into the property laws that emerged in new territories and states as the country expanded and slavery spread along with it. It argues that, long before legislatures codified married women’s property laws, many women already possessed separate property rights, which they secured through a variety of legal instruments, such as marital contracts, deeds of gift, separate trust estates, and protective clauses, which granted them separate ownership and control of the bequeathed property. But more profoundly, the legal petitions women filed before the passage of married women’s property acts suggest that, when lawmakers enacted this legislation, they were writing into law activities that were already happening on a piecemeal, case-by-case basis in local courts.
The second, '“‘She had…a Womb Subjected to Bondage’: The Afro-Atlantic Origins of British Colonial Descent Law,” examines the ways that West African customs and laws influenced English thinking about matrilineal descent and may have influenced their decisions to implement matrilineal descent laws, especially those that determined enslaved status, in their North American colonies.
My third project, “‘A Country so dreadfull for a White Woman’: British Female Expatriates in England’s West African Forts and Castles before 1750” examines the lives of approximately three hundred English women (and their children) who settled in Royal African Company forts and castles along the West Coast of Africa. It situates English settlements in pre-colonial West Africa within Britain’s imperial project and seeks to understand how white women’s experiences on the West African coast challenge but also enrich prevailing ideas about gender, race, and migration/immigration in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.