"Keepin' Still and Mindin' Things:" The Revolutionary Link Between Afro-American Agency and Autonomy in Massachusetts, 1763-1811


KEEPIN’ STILL AND MINDIN’ THINGS_The Revolutionary Link Between Agency and Autonomy in Massachusetts^J 1763-1811.pdf


[Unknown User], “"Keepin' Still and Mindin' Things:" The Revolutionary Link Between Afro-American Agency and Autonomy in Massachusetts, 1763-1811,” Scholar@Simmons, accessed April 4, 2020, https://beatleyweb.simmons.edu/scholar/items/show/381.


"Keepin' Still and Mindin' Things:" The Revolutionary Link Between Afro-American Agency and Autonomy in Massachusetts, 1763-1811


Fiorello-Omotosho, Ariana




The memory of enslavement has continued to center around enslavement in the 19th century South; when in fact, enslavement was first legalized by the colonial state of Massachusetts in the 18th century. The discussion of Northern enslavement is often overshadowed by abolition efforts, failing to acknowledge the long century in which enslaved and free Afro-Americans in Massachusetts asserted their agency and autonomy to assist early abolition efforts and eradicate enslavement within the state. Research has shown that there are still remnants of enslavement and also a reason as to why the memory of Northern enslavement has been “lost” or “forgotten.” This study aims to determine how four Afro-Americans in Massachusetts - Amos Fortune, Belinda Sutton, Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, And Paul Cuffe - asserted their agency and autonomy to aid the rising abolition movement and help to eradicate the system that once held them in chains. Building on existing work on political and social Afro-American abolition, it asks: To what extent were Afro-Americans willing to go to assert their agency and autonomy and in doing so, how did this assertion aid in the abolition movement and help eradicate enslavement? In this context, agency is defined as the mental ability to remain “free” and self-identify as a person who is enslaved, and not a slave, and autonomy is defined as the physical act of reminding oneself, or others, that like their enslavers, they too are able to partake in humanistic enjoyments.

A review of literature on abolition and theories of memory, determine which four Afro-Americans would become the focus of this study. The decision came down to individuals who were either rarely discussed, or known but in a minuscule way, based on public attention. Analysis of archival records and archaeological artifacts provided a deeper insight into the various ways agency and autonomy are displayed, without terming the actions necessarily as such. Agency and autonomy enable the individual Afro-American to have the credit of being knowledgeable about their identity and rights as a human being. On the other hand, resistance still gives minor credit to the oppressors for being the ones receiving the resistance and possibly being aware of that. The results indicate that most free and enslaved Afro-Americans asserted their agency and autonomy in their daily lives and experience times of mental and physical independence. On this basis, it is certain that the ability for Afro-Americans to assert themselves within the political and social structure of society forced others to acknowledge their rights as human beings and use their actions as an emphasis to abolish enslavement. Further research is needed to identify other factors that could have resulted in nationwide attention to the agency and autonomy of Afro-Americans that led to a national campaign for abolition.


African American History


Simmons University (Boston, Mass.)


1 PDF (126 Pages)




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