With NEH grant, Jessica Taylor to study 17th century escapes and escape attempts by unfree laborers
May 12, 2023
Name: Jessica Taylor
Department/School/Center: Department of History
Name of award: National Endowment for the Humanities, Humanities Collections and Reference Resources award, $49,999, funded partially through the agency’s special initiative, American Tapestry: Weaving Together Past, Present, and Future
Project summary: “Dangerous Harbor: Finding Escaped Unfree Laborers in the 17th Century Chesapeake” is a planning project in collaboration with faculty at Virginia Tech (co-principal investigators include Chreston Miller in University Libraries) and Virginia State University to make publicly accessible documentation about escape attempts of people held in bondage in Chesapeake.
Researchers will reference court documents from Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland archives that detail escapes and escape attempts of unfree laborers of Indigenous, European, and African descent. They will create standards and a preliminary database from a rich sample of records from (Old) Rappahannock, Westmoreland, and Lancaster counties, among the most complete in the Commonwealth of Virginia for this time period.
Using this data, they will chart trends in strategies, motivations, and networks of servants, and the punishment and language surrounding servitude. Experts from Enslaved.org and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources are assisting with database design and network analysis.
Why is this award important to you and Virginia Tech?
"I am only one member of this larger project, but for my part I’m excited to share stories of people who not only took enormous risks to reject an oppressive society, but had specific hopes for their futures. I love this region and want to help create a new way to study the roots of racialized slavery and resistance, both of which inform how we discuss the U.S. South today."