Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Scott R Nelson

Committee Member

Melvin P Ely

Committee Member

William J Hausman

Committee Member

Justene H Edwards


This dissertation analyzes the credit arrangements of Black Virginians, enslaved and free, from the American Revolution to the Civil War. As democracy assured new rights for white men, Black Virginians, and especially Black women, saw the erosion of their legal access to civil and political rights. At the same time a new system of banks provided the capital for the expansion of enslavement. This dissertation examines different forms of debt at the moment when changing ideas about race and freedom and relationships of debt began to evolve into the “modern” banking system. Free and enslaved African Americans were active borrowers and lenders. Sometimes they used debt relationships to improve their lives and distance themselves from white supremacy and slavery. Often debt was another tool of exploitation wielded by those in power. This research reveals that that whites applied nineteenth-century liberal capitalist notions of agency to free and enslaved people when it was profitable for them to do so as a form of exploitation separate from enslavement.


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