Freedom as a negotiated history, or an alternative sort of event: The transformation of home, work, and self in early New York

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Abstract

During the early American period in New York the labor force shifted from one that included a large number of enslaved persons to one consisting entirely of persons who were free. This transformation was formalized through a Gradual Emancipation Act passed in 1799 that allowed slavery to continue legally in the state until 1827. This movement toward freedom may be tied to a political economic shift recorded by both historians and archaeologists that redesignated the basis of social standing from work to the possession of the self illustrated by the demands of the labor market and in the creation of the home as a space apart from work. While colonial and early postcolonial labor was largely controlled by masters who both employed and housed workers, with freedom, laborers and masters alike were removed from the workplace to informally class-segregated residential sections of the city. From these homes masters and laborers then convened in the new public space of the labor market, which materialized their equivalence as persons and potential citizens of the American democracy. Using data from archaeological studies of the New York metropolitan region, this chapter identifies how the expectations of freedom smoothed the ruptures caused by the dispossession of workers from the control of their labor and the introduction of the home as a possession that defines the "real" self.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEventful Archaeologies
Subtitle of host publicationNew Approaches to Social Transformation in the Archaeological Record
PublisherState University of New York Press
Pages199-215
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9781438434230
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2010

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    Matthews, C. N. (2010). Freedom as a negotiated history, or an alternative sort of event: The transformation of home, work, and self in early New York. In Eventful Archaeologies: New Approaches to Social Transformation in the Archaeological Record (pp. 199-215). State University of New York Press.