Date of Award

Fall 2019

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Thomas J. Brown

Abstract

In the antebellum South, an enslaved person was more likely to be leased out than to be sold during his or her lifetime. Despite its ubiquity, leasing of enslaved people is rarely interpreted at historic sites and is not widely understood by the general public. In this project, I examine leasing and resistance to slavery in North Carolina through the lens of Jim, an enslaved man leased by Washington Duke at the property that is now Duke Homestead State Historic Site. While Duke is famous in North Carolina as founder of the American Tobacco Company, he was a yeoman tobacco farmer in the pre-Civil War South. Duke leased Jim to work on his 250 acre tobacco farm, but Jim resisted enslavement and escaped from Duke twice in 1863.

Jim's story challenges popular notions of both the enslaved experience and white complicity in slavery. His story demonstrates that the enslaved experience was much more diverse than representations of plantation slavery indicate. Jim experienced the uncertainty that comes with being leased out and resisted his dual enslavement in numerous ways, including running away. Furthermore, his story reveals that white participation in slavery was much more extensive than simple statistics of slaveowning suggest. White North Carolinians did not have to own enslaved people to profit off the bodies of enslaved people, and Duke's wealth was built - at least in part - on Jim's exploited and stolen labor.

This thesis gives a narrative history of Jim's story, the context of leasing, and strategies of resistance by enslaved people. It also provides interpretive recommendations for telling his story at Duke Homestead. Interpreting Jim's story not only provides an important element to the narrative told at that site, but it also provides a corrective to the wider story North Carolinians tell about their history. Jim's story helps to make that wider narrative more inclusive by illuminating a lesser understood experience of black North Carolinians while also challenging minimizations of white North Carolinians' role in slavery.

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