Breaking Barriers: Turning Obstacles into Motivation to Escape

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Name: Nick Andersen
Thesis Adviser:
 Heather Williams

Rosser imageAbstract: American Slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries created a system of labor based on exploitation of an entire race of human beings to produce capital for their owners. To ensure their property stayed within plantation confines owners created barriers to prevent their human capital from reaching freedom. Designed to prevent slaves from even seeking freedom, these obstacles were sometimes successful. However, personal accounts of slaves themselves conveyed a very different perspective on obstacles. Slaves’ letters, diaries, and narratives showed that for those slave who sought freedom they often found motivation through the obstacles created by their owners.

The relationship between slaves’ motivations for freedom and the barriers preventing escape is compelling because it suggests that completely dominating a person is a futile endeavor. Owners created these barriers because they wished to add to their power over the slaves they owned, but their power was instead challenged by their very creation. This work will investigate the use of cruel punishments for leaving the plantation, encouragement of family ties, and secession’s role in protecting an institution as barriers to escape. Set up to give the appearance of power the barriers allowed slaves to realize their freedom was more important than their safety and comfort. This unique relationship proves that no person could be completely controlled or dominated.

IMAGE: Moses Roper, Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, from American Slavery, First Edition (Berwick-Upon-Tweed, 1848), 14.

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