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Bounded Lives, Bounded Places: Free Black Society in Colonial New Orleans, 1769–1803

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ISBN-13: 978-0822318989
ISBN-10: 0822318989
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Bounded Lives, Bounded Places: Free Black Society in Colonial New Orleans, 1769–1803 + Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation + Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty
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Editorial Reviews


Bounded Lives, Bounded Places is an original contribution to the study of colonial Louisiana—an important, but neglected field of study. Hanger focuses upon both ethnic and women’s history, and makes a contribution to comparative history.”—Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Professor of History, Emerita, Rutgers University

“Kimberly Hanger traces the origins of antebellum Louisiana’s large and influential free black society to the late eighteenth-century era of Spanish colonial rule, when the entire region, but particularly New Orleans, saw a steady growth in the number of people classified as neither slave nor white. An extraordinarily rich archival trove, especially of government, church and military records, has enabled Hanger to chronicle in remarkable detail the development of this community of libres and their negotiation of the precarious and ambiguous place they occupied in colonial Louisiana society. . . . Hanger fills an important lacuna in the history of free blacks in North America.”—Roderick A. McDonald, Slavery and Abolition

“No one has done more to explain the origins of Lousiana’s free people of color than Kimberly Hanger. Hanger’s mastery of both the literature of free blacks in the New World and her deep understanding of the development of colonial Louisiana enables her to place Louisiana’s free people of color in hemisphere perspective, while exposing the fine-grained texture of their daily lives. Bounded Lives, Bounded Places is the best study of free people of color in Spanish Louisiana.”—Ira Berlin, University of Maryland

From the Publisher

Other reviews of Bounded Lives, Bounded Places:

"Kimberly S. Hanger's Bounded Lives, Bounded Places is a multidimensional study of libres ('free blacks') in New Orleans during three-and-a-half decades of Spanish rule. . . . Hanger's study goes far beyond explaining the origins of New Orleans' Creoles of Color. Bounded Lives, Bounded Places builds upon and amplifies studies of other marginalized groups, both in the past and in the present, strengthening our faith in human ingenuity and persistence and our hopes for a better future for all."(Colonial Latin American Historical Review)

"Kimberly S. Hanger's book is a useful contribution to our knowledge of early Louisiana and free blacks in North America, based on intensive study of a large number of documents."(The Journal of Southern History)

"Kimberly Hanger's Bounded Lives, Bounded Places paints a detailed and in-depth portrait of New Orleans' free black society in the late eighteenth century."(Colonial Latin American Review)

"Kimberly Hanger has launched a new generation of studies on this class, in her sensitive and well-written Bounded Lives, Bounded Places. The work is notable for its skillful blend of legal, political, economic, cultural, and social history. . . . This work sets a high standard for social histories of free black or other minority classes in the population. It will be the definitive work on free blacks in Spanish Louisiana for a long time."(Plantation Society)

"[A] well-written and researched work on the free blacks (libres) of colonial Spanish New Orleans. [A] convincing portrait of the complex and ambiguous world free blacks occupied in New Orleans. In addition, the author's familiarity with the historical literature of Latin America allows her to place Louisiana libre society in context by offering insightful comparisons with other similar groups located throughout the Americas, something that historians of colonial British North America rarely do. . . . [A] necessary starting place for future scholarly studies."(Florida Historical Quarterly)

"Bounded Lives, Bounded Places beautifully recaptures the world of the libres of early New Orleans and marks the emergence of a major scholar of early America. . . . Hanger's well-written monograph, both for its research and its contribution to the historiography of the lower Mississippi Valley, should serve as a resource for historians of early America. No 'slaves without masters,' the eighteenth-century libres represent a vibrant aspect of colonial American culture rarely glimpsed by historians. The author's innovative research into the official government and church records of the period provides a model for future students of early America even as her depiction of free black culture enriches their understanding of this hitherto elusive community."(North Carolina Historical Review)

"[An] impressive . . . [and] important study [that] substantially advances historical scholarship."(Georgia Historical Quarterly)

"Bounded Lives, Bounded Places confirms Hanger's reputation as an authority on New Orleans' libres. . . [She] fills an important lacuna in the history of free blacks in North America . . . . Hanger's work not only makes a major contribution to the region's colonial history, but also offers directions for further study. . ."(Slavery and Abolition) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (March 13, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822318989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822318989
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #214,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By CoCo on October 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
The central theme of Bounded Lives, Bounded Places is the genesis and rise of the free people of color (i.e. non-slaves, or libres), their place in the society of colonial New Orleans in the mid to late 18th century and the manner in which they bettered themselves and their lot. Throughout Kim Hanger's work, the lives, struggles and aspirations of these unique gens de couleur libres (free people of color) are explored, as well as the institutions that played a role in their ascension to an unparalleled class stratum that was truly unique for its time.

The organization of the book is methodical, concise and logically ordered. Following the introduction, chapter one discusses how libres understood freedom, what it meant for them and their kin, and the methods by which they could obtain it. In chapter two, Hanger demonstrates how, through work and property accumulation, libres negotiated themselves into secure positions in various areas of the social hierarchy. The concept of family values and how kinship helped or hindered libres' chances of success are explored in chapter three. In chapter four, the reader learns how military service propelled libres to achieve and enhance their status as a powerful group. Chapter five examines ways in which libres interacted with whites and slaves and how those relationships reinforced libre identity.

The author's tome provides specific and detailed information about a topic that seems to have been largely neglected. In no small measure, Hanger reinforces her assertions with ample statistics and analysis, making her book a laborious read at times. It will be readily apparent to the layman reader that her target audience for the book is the researcher and historian.
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The main contribution this book offers is a discussion of the "pardo," or light-skinned, and "moreno," or dark-skinned, militia in Spanish New Orleans, and how service in those respective militias correlated to social advancement for free blacks, or as she calls them, "libres," even within the white-based social hierarchy. Prof. Hanger also does a great job of laying out the fundamentals of libre kinship networks, and family structure, including extremely detailed analysis of wills, inheritance, marriages, and fictive relations (or "compadrazgo"). However, Prof. Hanger does not engage in the important social discourse between pardos and morenos, and the cultural and political values that both groups attached to the all-important issue of skin-color. She touches on it at times, especially in the final chapter, but never expands on the topic, leaving the reader with more questions than answer regarding the cultural and political workings of the respective light-skinned and dark-skinned free black populations in New Orleans. She does, however, provide important evidence for the origins of New Orleans's antebellum free black elite (usually light-skinned, and of mixed-race) as early as the beginning of the Spanish Period (1769-1803). Overall, this book is required reading for anyone interested in New Orleans's complex and endlessly fascinating free black community; but additional reading is required if one is to get a full picture even of the Spanish Period, much less the city's pre-Civil War years as a whole (1718-1862).
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Richard I. Kress on July 12, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Black militia Captains, and Lieutenants, the growth of a black middle class, interracial marriages, the first licensed black physician, racially integrated balls all occurred under Spanish rule in New Orleans according to this interesting work. However, the author also makes clear that this was still a racist society in which only black people could be held in bondage. Yet, taken as a whole, the book asserts that the Spanish regime was less evil than the preceding French rule and the antebellum American regime which followed. The author includes substantial original sources for her assertions. Well worth the money.

Richard Ivo Kress
Silver Spring, Maryland
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