Journal of Historical Political Economy > Vol 3 > Issue 2

Repression of Enslaved Americans' Protest: A Model of Escape in the Antebellum South

Trellace Marie Lawrimore, Department of Politics, New York University, USA,
Suggested Citation
Trellace Marie Lawrimore (2023), "Repression of Enslaved Americans' Protest: A Model of Escape in the Antebellum South", Journal of Historical Political Economy: Vol. 3: No. 2, pp 211-236.

Publication Date: 25 Jul 2023
© 2023 T. M. Lawrimore
Political Economy,  Game Theory


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In this article:
Models of Coercive Labor 
Repression in the Antebellum South 
Enslaved Americans' Calculus 


How did Southern elites maintain a system that violently extracted labor out of unwilling participants? Resistance by enslaved Americans was common, and it threatened the wealth, power, and lives of elites. So, enslavers employed a litany of individual and collective strategies to reduce the threat of resistance. I study how the South repressed one particular type of resistance: escape. While existing work has considered various repressive strategies in isolation, I model two ways to discourage escape — ex ante positive incentives and ex post pursuit — and contextualize them within the broader repressive environment. Results indicate that higher rewards do not always decrease escape attempts, and that, under certain conditions, higher rewards are associated with more pursuit and the same amount of running. Furthermore, enslavers do not always expend more on pursuit when the exogenous likelihood of escape is higher. The model speaks to enslavers' demands for slave patrols, and it suggests when pursuit, particularly in the form of runaway slave ads, is an appropriate proxy for escape attempts.



Journal of Historical Political Economy, Volume 3, Issue 2 Special Issue: Antebellum Political Economy: Articles Overview
See the other articles that are part of this special issue.