“The Centrality of Slavery: Settlement, Enslavement, and Middle Class Slaveholders in Missouri, 1770-1820”: Colloquium + Discussion with Prof. John Craig Hammond


As part of our ongoing (and still developing) online, Logboat-sponsored colloquium series, we’ll gather on May 8 at 3:30pm via Zoom for Pennsylvania State University-New Kensington Associate Professor of History John Craig Hammond’s presentation of his book chapter, “The Centrality of Slavery: Settlement, Enslavement, and Middle Class Slaveholders in Missouri, 1770–1820,” which is slated to appear in his and Kinder Institute Associate Director Jeff Pasley’s edited volume, A Fire Bell in the Past: The Missouri Crisis at 200, which will be published by the University of Missouri Press as part of the Kinder Institute’s Studies in Constitutional Democracy series. The event will take a talk-discussion hybrid format, and participants are invited (and encouraged) to read Prof. Hammond’s chapter, which can be downloaded here, ahead of time. See below for more information, and access the Zoom meeting here. Email Thomas Kane, KaneTC@missouri.edu, for password information.

Chapter Abstract

In this chapter, Hammond examines how and why a slave society was constructed in Missouri between the 1770s and statehood. His short answer is that between 1770 and 1820, in what would become the state of Missouri, slavery and enslavement were central to processes of European settlement and development, conquest and colonialism, and governance and incorporation into the contested imperial worlds of the North American continent and the Atlantic world. More specifically, Hammond argues that European settlement and claims of sovereignty became inextricably tied to state support for slavery in Missouri between the 1770s and the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and again between 1803 and 1819. Whether in the 1770s, 1804, or 1819, for many white Missourians, whose commitment to enslaving others ran deep, imperial state power was ideally deployed to keep slaves in slavery, not to facilitate their emancipation.

And while white Missourians’ commitment to slavery makes it difficult to envision a peaceful path to emancipation in Missouri, enslaved Native and African Americans challenged their bondage in numerous ways. Shifting jurisdictional and legal regimes combined with the diverse origins of enslaved Missourians to permit some African Americans to challenge the legality of their enslavement. Likewise, the unsettled, indeterminate structures of social, political, and economic life in the Missouri borderlands created spaces that slaves exploited to claim and exercise freedoms within slavery, even when they found themselves unable to flee or to challenge the legality of their own personal enslavement. And because Missouri never underwent the plantation revolutions that transformed places like Louisiana, and because Missouri never fully crossed the threshold that separated societies with slaves from slave societies, on three occasions between 1770 and 1820, lawmakers in Washington or Madrid tried to force white Missourians to adopt some kind of gradual abolition plan, though Missouri’s powerful slaveholding minority fought off these external efforts.

John Craig Hammond is Associate Professor of History at Penn State, New Kensington in suburban Pittsburgh. He is author or editor of numerous publications on slavery, politics, and conflict in the United States between the Revolution and the United States Civil War. He is currently co-editing with Jeff Pasley a volume on the Missouri Crisis of 1820. He is also considering pursuing the ideas presented in his contributed chapter to this volume as a monograph on mid-continent slavery.