2019 began with a bang when I traveled across the pond to become the first graduate student studying in the U.S. to present at the University of Oxford’s Early American Republic Seminar (OxEARS). Without the work of my new intellectual family members and OxEARS co-conveners, Grace Mallon and Stephen Symchych, along with the love, support, and prayers of my family and friends stateside, my overall experience at Oxford would not have been as amazing as it was.
Presently, I am a first year PhD Student in the Department of History at the University of Delaware, and although I have presented at many conferences thus far, the paper workshop experience I had at OxEARS was beautifully new. To my surprise, when the ten minute presentation began, there were around a dozen people present to see me elaborate on my pre-circulated paper entitled “Fear of a Negro Revolt: Southern Patriot Fears of Black Rebellion.” I wrote “Fear of a Negro Revolt” for my Black Atlantic and the Archive graduate seminar, co-convened by Professor Laura Helton, and two graduate students, Mali Collins-White and Brandi Locke.
I drew inspiration for the work and its understanding of how fears of self-emancipating enslaved people fleeing to the British from my seminar reading and later presentation on Julius Scott’s recently published dissertation The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution. My central question focused on how and why runaways during the time of the American Revolution, especially in the lead up to and aftermath of Dunmore’s Proclamation, helped push southern patriots forward to proclaim independence. I also focused on the intersection of white manhood/honor and its connection to enslaving African and African Americans, and how with enslaved people fleeing from them, their masculinity was actually struck by such “rebellious” acts. Because of Dunmore’s location off the coast of Norfolk, the group most suitable to reach him to fight were enslaved and free watermen. I used evidence about the many enslaved and free watermen who fled to the British through my use of The Book of Negroes, the same documentation provided ample evidence of enslaved and free Black women fleeing as well.
Most valuable for me about the OxEARS experience, was the tremendous feedback from the audience. They showed me how, by taking more time with my ideas, and providing proper space to explicate them, my paper, which is apart of what I believe will be a future dissertation, will be much better. If anything, I realized that I had about four of five potential chapter ideas if I apply their advice! The audience also supplied valuable books to read like Joanne Freeman’s Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New World, and William R. Ryan’s The World of Thomas Jeremiah: Charles Town on the Eve of the American Revolution, which will both help not only my overall understanding of the time frame, but also how enslaved people directly impacted the identities of whites around enslaving them.
Throughout the entire hour and a half I spent discussing my work at the Rothermere American Institute, and later time over dinner, I learned a lot about collegiality, how to present my scholarship in various venues, and a deepened love of the study of #VastEarlyAmerica . If you told me three years ago that I would become an early Americanist, I would have called you rude for ever saying such a frivolous thing. Oh how life changes quickly! My Oxford trip may have been relatively short, but I certainly am not short on memories!