Liberated Africans Project

Director: Henry Lovejoy

The Atlantic slave trade lasted nearly four centuries and absorbed an estimated 12.5 million enslaved individuals, while the Indian Ocean trade began earlier and continued longer involving more than a million people. Over one quarter of those people boarded slave ships after 1807, when the British and US governments passed legislation curtailing (and ultimately banning) maritime trafficking. As world powers negotiated antislave trade treaties thereafter, British, Portuguese, Spanish, Brazilian, French, and US authorities began seizing ships suspected of prohibited trafficking, raiding coastal slave barracks, and detaining newly landed slaves in the Americas, Africa, Atlantic and Indian Ocean islands, Arabia, and India. The fates of these rescued captives were decided by naval courts, international mixed commissions, and local authorities located around the Atlantic and Indian Ocean littorals. Between 1808 and 1896, this tribunal network emancipated roughly 8 percent of an estimated 4 million people. The Liberated Africans Project documents the lives of over 250,000 Africans emancipated under global campaigns to abolish slavery, as well as thousands of courts officials, ship captains, crews, and guardians of a special class of individuals known as Liberated Africans. Currently, the exact number of courts, cases and people involved in the process of abolitionism, and indeed when, where and how many Liberated Africans resettled around the world, is not entirely clear. Through the development of at Matrix, the Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University, this project has the potential to resolve these issues.