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The Invention of Runaway Slaves: Escaping Enslavement in Seventeenth-Century London

November 18, 2019 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Closely-cropped etching/drawing portrait of a young black boy looking off to the right.
Etching: Wenceslaus Hollar, “Portrait of an African Boy” (17th century). Image courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library (Folger bibliographic ID: 241078).

Monday Seminar:

Simon P. Newman

Solmsen Fellow (2019-2020)

Sir Denis Brogan Professor of History, History, University of Glasgow


My larger project explores the creation of an understanding and practice of escape from enslavement in England’s seventeenth-century Atlantic World. In this presentation, I will focus on one aspect of this project, namely the relocation of bound and enslaved people to England during the second half of the seventeenth century and their subsequent attempts to free themselves. In most cases, all that survives is a few angry words written by masters eager to regain their human property, but these early newspaper advertisements helped define the “runaway slave” while also revealing the presence of freedom-seeking people of color in London during the years that racial slavery was taking root in England’s colonies.


Simon Newman began his career writing about popular political culture and social history in the era of the American Revolution. For the past fifteen years, he has focused on the history of slavery in the British Atlantic World, publishing a book on the origins of the plantation labor system. He led a Leverhulme Trust funded project creating a database of runaway slave advertisements published in eighteenth-century Britain, and this research has resulted in collaborations with playwrights, musical composers, film-makers and a graphic novelist who are all interested in the presence of enslaved people in Georgian Britain.

Professor Newman is interested in digital humanities and the potential it has for new kinds of resources and publications in slavery history. In 2018 he published the William and Mary Quarterly’s first born-digital article, and he is aiming to publish the research he completed at the Institute as an Open Access digital book.

Professor Newman has also helped initiate a report into the degree to which the University of Glasgow benefitted financially from Atlantic World racial slavery. Glasgow was the first British university to undertake such a study and to develop a program of reparative justice as a result.


November 18, 2019
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States