Whitney Fields, Rutgers University

MCEAS Consortium Fellow


“Captive In Promised Land: Black Lives, Confinement, and Incarceration in Nineteenth Century Urban America

“Captive in Promised Land ” is a history of the incarceration and labors of African Americans in the early nineteenth century urban North. Since the establishment of the nation’s first penitentiary in 1790 Philadelphia, African Americans were disproportionately represented within early America’s carceral system. This dissertation reanimates the early history of the nation through their narratives of captivity and confinement from enslavement, indentured servitude, and imprisonment in northern cities. The project brings together analysis of race, gender, and age and considers how Black youth were both subjects of incarceration and scrutinized figures in discourse on abolition, social reform, and emancipation. It rethinks the meanings of carceral space and looks within the halls of nineteenth century asylums, houses of refuge, orphanages, and homes to uncover how African Americans confronted a range of disciplinary institutions and labor regimens after the gradual abolition of slavery in the North. “Captive in Promised Land” chronicles how confinement and incarceration remained central methods to contain the possibilities of Black freedom and attends to the battles African Americans waged when they contested the demands of city officials, employers, reformers, and administrators throughout the early nineteenth century. 



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