Spheres of knowledge
in Frontiers of servitude
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Slaves were frequently said to be inferior in their intellectual faculties, yet most commentators thought of these distinctions as non-essential, or even what would later be called ‘cultural’. Religion was also the language through which commentators engaged with slaves, and was the measure of their capacities. Testimonies about slaves’ use of language hint that it was thought defective or comical, but it might also edify, or testify to the inventiveness of Creole populations and culture. Manifestations of sensibility in the contact with – even the sale of – slaves illustrates how radically condition separated human experience. Slaves were said to be faithful, but anecdotal and fictional manifestations hint at concerns about their self-interest. In a plantation environment in which restricted knowledge was of great urgency, the secrecy of slaves might be of some concern. This was particularly troubling in cases of magic or poisoning. This was a serious concern for ecclesiastics, and testifies to how radically European, African and Creole epistemologies might be separated.

Frontiers of servitude

Slavery in narratives of the early French Atlantic


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