Slave Hounds and Abolition in the Americas

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Past and Present





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The lash and shackles remain two primary symbols of material degradation fixed in the historical memory of slavery in the Americas. Yet as recounted by states, abolitionists, travellers, and most importantly slaves themselves, perhaps the most terrifying and effective tool for disciplining black bodies and dominating their space was the dog. This article draws upon archival research and the published materials of former slaves, novelists, slave owners, abolitionists, Atlantic travelers, and police reports to link the systems of slave hunting in Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and the US South throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Slave hounds were skillfully honed biopower predicated upon scenting, hearing, sighting, outrunning, outlasting, signaling, attacking, and sometimes terminating, black runaways. These animals permeated slave societies throughout the Americas and bolstered European ambitions for colonial expansion, indigenous extirpation, economic extraction, and social domination in slave societies. as dogs were bred to track and hunt enslaved runaways, slave communities utilized resources from the natural environment to obfuscate the animal's heightened senses, which produced successful escapes on multiple occasions. This insistence of slaves' humanity, and the intensity of dog attacks against black resistance in the Caribbean and US South, both served as proof of slavery's inhumanity to abolitionists. Examining racialized canine attacks also contextualizes representations of anti-blackness and interspecies ideas of race. An Atlantic network of breeding, training and sales facilitated the use of slave hounds in each major American slave society to subdue human property, actualize legal categories of subjugation, and build efficient economic and state regimes. This integral process is often overlooked in histories of slavery, the African Diaspora, and colonialism. By violently enforcing slavery’s regimes of racism and profit, exposing the humanity of the enslaved and depravity of enslavers, and enraging transnational abolitionists, hounds were central to the rise and fall of slavery in the Americas.


African American Studies | African History | African Studies | American Studies



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