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Dark WorkThe Business of Slavery in Rhode Island$
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Christy Clark-Pujara

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781479870424

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479870424.001.0001

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Living and Laboring under Slavery

Living and Laboring under Slavery

(p.41) 2 Living and Laboring under Slavery
Dark Work

Christy Clark-Pujara

NYU Press

This chapter explores how Rhode Islanders’ participation in the Atlantic economy dictated geographic patterns of slaveholding in the colony as well as the work done by enslaved people. Enslaved Rhode Islanders labored in distilleries where rum was made to purchase slaves, built the slave ships that transported enslaved Africans, served as the crew on those ships as they crisscrossed the Atlantic, and grew the food that sustained the enslaved. Prior to white Rhode Islanders’ commitment to Atlantic commerce, the enslaved population was relatively small, scattered, and predominantly Native American. However, as the West Indian and Atlantic slave trades became the cornerstones of the local economy, more and more enslaved people of African descent were brought into the colony and by the mid-eighteenth century enslaved people made of ten percent of the total population. Most rural slaves lived and labored on large farms with three or four other enslaved people of African or Native American descent. Most urban slaves worked alone or with just one other enslaved or indentured person laboring as domestics, tradesmen, manufacturers, and shopkeepers. And although many of the enslaved labored in the business of slavery as sailors, carpenters, and distillers, their lives held meaning beyond enriching the owners. Enslaved Rhode Islanders formed families, friendships, and created communities; they ran away, they stole, they damaged property. So while the business of slavery may have defined the strictures of their lives, it did not define their lives.

Keywords:   slavery, african, mulatto, mustee, African American, Native American, Narragansett Country

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