Charmaine Nelson

Charmaine Nelson, McGill University

Unfree (Im)mobility: Reading Travel as Resistance in Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth-Century Slave Advertisements of Nova Scotia and Quebec


Found throughout the Transatlantic World, fugitive slave advertisements demonstrate the ubiquity of African resistance to slavery. Produced by white slave owners seeking to recapture their runaways, standardized images of male and female slaves became a staple of such print advertisements. While scholars have mined such notices for evidence of speech, language, labour, and dress, this paper seeks to explore the possibilities and limits of mobility for the enslaved Africans who resided in two of the northern colonies which became Canada, Nova Scotia and Quebec. Fugitive slave notices often detailed not only the date and even the time of the enslaved person’s escape, but where the owner presumed the fugitive to be headed, by what means, who assisted them, and for what ends. As I will argue, the notices therefore allow us to conceptualize the limits of mobility for unfree people in Canada.


Charmaine Nelson (PhD University of Manchester) is a Professor of Art History at McGill University and a member of the Royal Society of Canada (2016-23). Nelson is the author of several fundamental works on Black Canadian and African Diaspora art history and visual cultural studies, including: Slavery, Geography, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica (2016); Representing the Black Female Subject in Western Art (2010); and The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America (2007). Nelson has received numerous SSHRC awards to research Black representation in visual art and culture in Canada and the Caribbean, and she has edited works and organized conferences on African-Canadian art history, African diaspora creolization and the visual culture of slavery, and the Digital Humanities resource Black Canadian Studies (http://www.blackcanadianstudies.com/).

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