In his new book “Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds,” Western Washington University Associate Professor of History Jared Hardesty provides a concise, comprehensive history of slavery in New England through sharing the lived experiences of African and Indigenous slaves.
Hardesty said he started this book over a decade ago while writing his dissertation at Boston College. Then, while writing his first book, “Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston,” Hardesty was introduced to the larger conversation around slavery in New England.
"I found four conversations happening at once. Academics, public historians, institutions and activists — all talking with, at or not at all to each other," Hardesty said. "This new book narrates these conversations and weaves them together to tell New England’s history with slavery in an accessible and comprehensive way.”
For him, the challenge in weaving these voices together came when deciding whose story to tell, what to cover and why it mattered, Hardesty said.
“I had to take a building-block approach,” he said. “I had to take the stories I found and fit them into a framework that respected the lived experiences and perspectives of enslaved African and Indigenous people.”
For example, Hardesty tells the story of an enslaved noblewoman from the Kingdom of Kongo in West Central Africa who was captured in one of the region’s civil wars. She was sold to Portuguese slavers, captured by either an English or Dutch privateer, and then taken to the West Indies to eventually be trafficked to Boston. While her name is unknown, Hardesty said this woman’s life perfectly illustrates the book’s theme of connections through a transnational lens and provides a guiding narrative of the concepts introduced.
Hardesty said that “Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds” comes at a time when public institutions are reckoning with their connections to slavery. According to him, the book organizes itself around the idea of these connections.
“The book explores the connection between New England’s slave society to other parts of the Americas and the connection of slavery in New England to the larger social, economic and political development of the region,” Hardesty said. “Then we see how those two types of connections shaped and were shaped by enslaved people.”
He points out the connection that slave law was directly borrowed from Barbados by Massachusetts slave traders.
For the longest time, whites in New England were able to write off slavery.
“For the longest time, whites in New England were able to write off slavery,” Hardesty said. “It’s been a process since the end of the Civil War that slavery becomes history and a legacy that they don’t have to confront. But, for formerly enslaved people, they have to confront those legacies daily.”
When you talk about slavery as a whole with Americans, people typically think of it was only a southern thing, Hardesty said. One of his goals in writing “Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds” was to demolish that myth by illustrating the center that New England served when it came to slavery, as New England’s ports were one of the three legs of what’s commonly called the “Triangular Trade:” sugar from the West Indies to New England; rum made with that sugar from New England to Africa; and slaves, traded for that rum, from Africa back to the sugar plantations of the West Indies.
"This book is in some ways an end and a beginning," Hardesty said. "It's a synthesis of 25 years of scholarship but also provides a set of facts and a framework for future conversations surrounding slavery.”
“Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds” can be purchased online through major booksellers, and can be checked out through Western Libraries.