Abstract–African American Credit Use in the Early Republic

My name is Amanda Gibson, and I am a PhD candidate in the history department.

Credit was and is central to the growth of capitalism. My dissertation will uncover the credit market experiences of those most vulnerable to the externalities associated with a slavery-based capitalist economy. It will describe enslaved and free African Americans’ use of credit from the American Revolution to the Civil War.

My 2018 archival research will focus on two different forms of credit used by African Americans and whites in this period—debts owed to jails for expenses related to incarceration and bank lending. Jail and court records will be used to better understand this coerced lending relationship. How were the experiences of enslaved men and women different from those of free blacks? Who ultimately profited from this use of capital—slaveholders, jailers, or the Commonwealth of Virginia? Bank records and personal papers will help me understand if African Americans were involved in the early development of banking institutions in Virginia. How did bankers’ racism and the free or enslaved status of borrowers complicate lending relationships that were based on trust and social status?

This analysis will be used to better understand the function of credit as fueling the growth of the American economy in its first eighty years. This work will also contribute to our understanding of the lives of free and enslaved African Americans in Virginia.