Vele was 16 when she embarked a slave ship in 1832 at Cameroons River in West Africa. Precillia Cozzens, 35, was registered as a slave in New Orleans in 1846. Domingos, age 6, was listed in an inventory of enslaved people at Aguiar Plantation, Brazil, in 1806.
When we read about the history of slavery in the Americas, it’s often through generalities and numbers: The trans-Atlantic slave trade forcibly took some 12.5 million Africans from their homes, and some 10.6 million survived the Middle Passage across the Atlantic. We know that enslaved people accounted for about a third of the population in the antebellum-era south, that they were sold as property and often barred from learning to read and write. We know about the brutal punishments meted out by masters. We know they married and raised families.
The night before Christmas in 1836, an enslaved man named Jim made final preparations for his escape. As his enslavers, the Roberts family of Charlotte County, Virginia, celebrated the holiday, Jim fled west to Kanawha County, where his wife’s enslaver, Joseph Friend, had recently moved. Two years had passed without Jim’s capture when Thomas Roberts published a runaway ad pledging $200 (around $5,600 today) for the 38- to 40-year-old’s return.
Daryle Williams was emotionally torn, pushing the decision right up against deadline. As a history professor at the University of Maryland, Williams had been researching the slave trade in 19th-century Brazil when he came upon two newspaper ads featuring runaway Africans. One mentioned a mother, Sancha, escaping with her two sons — Luis, 9, and Tiburcio, 4 — in 1855. The other referenced a young woman, Theresa, who fled with her nursing daughter, in 1842.