Abstract

Hannah Crafts’s The Bondwoman’s Narrative (ca. 1853–61) is the earliest known work of fiction written by a Black woman in the United States. Its distinctiveness lies in the internationalism through which the labor regimes of the southern plantation are shown to be intimately bound to global sites of colonial dispossession. Besides unpacking the entangled strands of British and American imperialisms, the author-narrator critically emulates conventions of the nineteenth-century transatlantic literary marketplace, evincing an understanding of both her embodied self and her intellectual labor as commodities in a world system built with racialized labor. Crafts’s novel revises the notion of chattel slavery as provincial, situating it instead within the Atlantic World’s expansive flows of capital and commodities. It presents not a geographically and socially demarcated institution but a plantation empire that goes far beyond the contours of the American South or, indeed, the continental United States, creating a remarkably nuanced conception of Black positionality, one informed not only by race but also by global capital. As part of a broader field-based inquiry, this article probes the affordances of thinking about antebellum Black Atlantic political subjectivity as positioned between two imperialist projects: British abolitionism and American plantocratic expansionism.

You do not currently have access to this content.