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Abolitionism “Avant la Lettre”: Antislavery Activism in the Seventeenth-Century Southern Atlantic

March 2, 2020 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Image of a woodblock print depicting a king stepping down from a throne and gesturing towards 4 individuals in a line dressed as monks in robes with shorn hair.
Image: Don Garcia, King of Kongo, receiving delegation of Capuchin Monks, 1648. Image credit: Giovanni António Cavazzi de Montecúccolo, “Istorica descrittione de’ tre regni Congo, Matamba et Angola.” Milano: Agnelli, 1690.

Monday Seminar:

Justine Walden

Solmsen Fellow (2019-2020)

Ph.D., History and Renaissance Studies, Yale University


Between about 1650 and 1680, a transnational network of mostly Italian but also French and Spanish Capuchin missionaries working in Kongo, Central Africa; Northern Brazil; and the Circum-Caribbean developed an antislavery discourse that expressed respect for free Africans and compassion for the enslaved. One pair of Capuchins demanded that all African slaves be freed, compensated for lost wages, and that slaves should run away should masters fail to comply. My talk reconstructs some of the factors that led Capuchins to their conclusions—factors which include shifting justifications for slavery in the early modern Atlantic, Capuchin vocation and training, the heritage of Mediterranean slavery, efficient news and travel networks, and Kongolese religiosity. I close by considering the longer-term fortunes of Capuchin antislavery sentiment and reflecting upon how Catholic resistance to the enslavement of Africans in the Iberian Atlantic inflects entrenched paradigms about the origins of human rights discourses and other historiographies.


Justine Walden is a cultural, social, and digital historian of Early Modern Catholic Europe, the Mediterranean, and Mediterranean influences upon the Atlantic. She has published on maps in printed bibles, Renaissance monasticism and mendicancy, Jews in early modern Florence, and Mediterranean slavery. Her first book, The Devil in the Renaissance (forthcoming, Brepols), uses fifteenth-century Florentine exorcism manuscripts to show how a more efficient system of persecuting Jews, peasants, and witches attended the shift from medieval monasticism to early modern Mendicancy. She has held a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the University of Toronto and holds a Ph.D. in History and Renaissance Studies from Yale University (2016).


March 2, 2020
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States