Event—Scholarly Seminars

SJ Zhang, University of Chicago


What Cecilia Knew: Reading Reproduction and Marronage in Records of Recapture

SJ Zhang

What Cecilia Knew: Reading Reproduction and Marronage in Records of Recapture

SJ Zhang, University of Chicago

This paper explores how, in 1784, Cecilia Conway—a maroon woman arrested in New Orleans—asserted that she was pregnant and thereby leveraged the power of her reproductive labor. Her claims about her body briefly slowed down the system of capital punishment activated in response to her marronage by altering the trajectory of the state-sanctioned sexual violence inflicted upon her. The conversations between Cecilia and the prison’s authorities that this article unearths constitute an original archive of Cecilia’s assertions while accounting for their heavily-mediated and yet remarkable presence. Cecilia’s claims reject the officials’ skeptical readings of her body; the record of their debate reveals that Cecilia’s pregnancies posed a two-fold problem for the state: first, the penal system did not want to concede that her child was in part its own product. Second, the state’s desire to inflict death upon those it viewed as conspirators clashed with the private planters’ desire to increase an enslaved population marked by reproducible “social death.” By centering the details of Cecilia’s life, this article helps recast the threat of marronage in colonial Louisiana from simply one of male-led armed rebellion to one of reproduction, thorny kinship networks, and a potential maroon society.


This event is free, but all participants must register in advance below. Space is limited, so please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.

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About the Eighteenth Century Seminar

The Newberry Library Eighteenth-Century Seminar, sponsored by the Center for Renaissance Studies, is designed to foster research and inquiry across the scholarly disciplines in eighteenth-century studies. It aims to provide a methodologically diverse forum for work that engages ongoing discussions and debates along this historical and critical terrain. Each year the seminar sponsors one public lecture followed by questions and discussion, and two works-in-progress sessions featuring pre-circulated papers.

The seminar is organized by Timothy Campbell (University of Chicago), Lisa A. Freeman (University of Illinois at Chicago), Richard Squibbs (DePaul University), and Jason Farr (Marquette University).


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