About the Project
Researcher: Wendy Wilson-Fall, Africana Studies
Project Description: This digital humanities project was born out of the realization that mapping would be a great way to document the geographic locations of the family narratives and plantations tied to planters who bought Malagasy slaves between 1719 and 1721, as discussed in my book, Memories of Madagascar and Slavery in the Black Atlantic (Ohio University Press, 2015). As I came to the end of that book project, I also realized that I could perhaps learn something more from a visualization of the human geography of the Malagasy migration experiences of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
For these reasons, I turned to Lafayette’s digital technology staff at the Skillman Library. Several discussions with the Director of Digital Technologies, Eric Luhrs, helped me to understand more about the digital humanities, and I was encouraged to work with a newly hired Digital GIS Visualization specialist, John Clark. John and I spent many hours and had numerous meetings to discuss the possibilities that a digital humanities approach could bring to further exploring the subject of African American narratives about Malagasy ancestors. We also spent a lot of time talking about and researching American trade in the Indian Ocean. Eventually, we applied for a series of grants.
Through support from a Mellon Grant for Digital Humanities that was awarded to Lafayette, we joined other colleagues who had embarked on digital humanities projects. We organized a meeting with Reber Dunkel, formally a professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. Reber is well versed in local Virginia history and was instrumental in helping me to gather information from families in the Ashland-Hanover area. Second, I reached out to interested students, and in June 2015, two student assistants, Jethro Israel and Clara Randimbiarimanana ( a student from Madagascar), John Clark and I traveled to the Peabody Essex Museum library in Salem, Massachusetts to spend several days poring over ship logs, captains’ journals, and business notes from the sailing community of New England during its heyday of Indian Ocean trade. This effort led us to the current stage of the project: exploring the conditions and networks that would have made it possible for Malagasy sailors and merchants to travel with American ships to the United States between 1790 and 1850.
Created in partnership with Skillman Library's Digital Humanities and Digital Scholarship team.
DSS invites contact from Lafayette faculty members interested in discussing potential projects.
Map 1. Madagascar (showing Saint Mary’s Island, Boina, and Fort Dauphin)
Madagascar is a large island, almost a thousand miles long and about 350 miles across at its widest point. The eastern coast of the island faces the Indian Ocean, while the western coast is on the Mozambique Channel. The Malagasy language is spoken throughout the country, with some regional variations. In addition to much Bantu vocabulary of East African origin, there are also Arabic loan words in Malagasy, especially for days of the week and words connected with astrology, arithmetic, and divining. Maps are taken from Memories of Madagascar and Slavery in the Black Atlantic (Ohio University Press, 2015).
Madagascar, showing its proximity to mainland South and East Africa and to the islands of Réunion and Mauritius.
This map identifies major cities and trading centers of the period including the infamous pirate haven at St. Mary's Island.
Map 2. Plantations near the Rappahannock River
Though they were not all sold right away, the Malagasy were sold in the immediate vicinity of their arrival along the waterways of Chesapeake Virginia.30 Maps 2 and 3 show planters’ names and the location of their plantations. Ten plantations are associated with the Carter family, five Burwell plantations are noted, and we find two Carter family–affiliated plantations on the southern bank of the James River (Burwell) and, further west, Brandon, which belonged to the Randolph family. Further northwest are two Carter plantations and another Randolph plantation. Both of these families intermarried with the Carter family, and thus some slaves inherited by Carter’s daughters traveled to other family properties when the daughter married, or were shifted between family-related plantations for special work duties. In the area shown there are two Carter plantations (including the famous Rosewell plantation) and four Burwell ones. Overlooking the York River, Rosewell was built by Mann Page (1691–1730). He was married to Judith Carter, the daughter of Robert “King” Carter, in 1718. As shown on map 3. the Rippon Hall plantation, belonging to the Carter family, is just north of Williamsburg and across the river from Rosewell, on the southern bank of the York, as was the plantation of Cole Digges (in charge of customs when the Malagasy arrived), although that plantation is not depicted here. The three peninsulas of the Virginia tidewater can easily be identified. The map suggests how much river traffic must have shaped the life of the region. Maps are taken from Memories of Madagascar and Slavery in the Black Atlantic (Ohio University Press, 2015).
Northern Tidewater Virginia, selected plantations of the 18th and 19th centuries classified by family ownership.
The plantations of Robert "King" Carter and his descendents were largely concentrated along the Northern Neck between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers.
Map 3. Plantations on the York and James Rivers
Southern Tidewater Virginia, selected plantations of the 18th and 19th centuries classified by family ownership.
The plantations depicted here along the York and James Rivers include those affiliated with the Carters and other powerful kinship networks.