Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




“‘Gratuitous Distribution’: Distributing African American Antislavery Texts, 1773–1850” examines the networks and practices African Americans used to move antislavery print in the early nineteenth century. Exchanges made use of subscription agents, business affiliates, churches, civic institutions and family or personal connections. Texts moved by formal and informal means, were smuggled and mailed, and some recipients read them aloud to people lacking or prohibited from literacy. At times, these practices transgressed laws or resulted in white authorities’ attempts to suppress the circulation of antislavery materials and the roles played by black distributors. Collaborative efforts facilitated the flow of printed texts and people and linked communities across vast geographies to promote projects of black empowerment.

The distribution of printed materials as diverse as sermons, newspapers, pamphlets, hymn-sheets, and textbooks was essential in supporting African American resistance to racial discrimination and promoting the growth of the abolitionist movement in the early republic. These strategies laid the groundwork for national movements against racial inequality and for African American empowerment. Black print networks made possible, informed, and distributed the work of white abolitionists who joined in the shared political labor against slavery, as the United States hurtled towards a bloody civil war. Recovering long hidden or obscured African Americans’ print distribution practices and networks offers a new vantage point for reconsidering the agency of these black individuals and communities and reinterpreting their foundational roles in the struggles for abolition and racial equality.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.