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PhD defence

Cities of Refuge: Slave Flight and Illegal Freedom in the American Urban South, 1800-1860

Thursday 16 January 2020
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


In the nineteenth century, tens of thousands of enslaved people escaped slavery in the US South. The bulk of historiography has hitherto focused on those who left the slaveholding states in their endeavors to reach freedom. In reality, however, the majority of slave refugees stayed within the South. Cities of Refuge: Slave Flight and Illegal Freedom in the American Urban South, 1800-1860 is the first study to put permanent southern-internal slave flight centerstage. It investigates how and why urban spaces of freedom arose, and how refugees from slavery navigated them.

The freedom these people found was of an illegal nature because it had no basis in law. Based on four major cities as case studies, this dissertation analyzes social, cultural, political, and economic processes that made illegal freedom possible. Drawing from material from Baltimore (Maryland), Richmond (Virginia), Charleston (South Carolina), and New Orleans (Louisiana), the size of the urban free black populations, degrees of urbanization, and work opportunities receive particular attention.

In a nutshell, Cities of Refuge paints a nuanced picture of slavery, slave control, and freedom within the changing social geography of the American South.


  • Prof. D.A. Pargas
  • Prof. M.L.J.C. Schrover


PhD defences are free; you do not have to register.

PhD dissertations

PhD dissertations by Leiden PhD students are available digitally after the defence through the Leiden Repository, that offers free access to these PhD dissertations. Please note that in some cases a dissertation may be under embargo temporarily and access to its full-text version will only be granted later.

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Maarten Muns, Scientific Communications Adviser, Leiden University
+31 71 527 3282

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