Angela Sutton & SSDA

“Religious Documents in the Slave Societies Digital Archive (SSDA)”

Sutton 200 x 286The Slave Societies Digital Archive preserves endangered ecclesiastical and secular documents related to Africans and African-descended peoples in slave societies across the Atlantic World. SSDA holdings include close to 500,000 digital images drawn from more than 1,500 unique volumes dating from the sixteenth through twentieth centuries that document the lives of an estimated four to six million individuals, the vast majority of whom have previously not entered the historic record. A large portion of these records, namely those from Cuba, Brazil, and Spanish-occupied Florida, are Catholic records from churches which served majority black populations, and often housed black brotherhoods and religious fraternities which functioned as the safety net and means of upward mobility for both enslaved and free blacks in the colonial period. Their extensive documentation reveals social networks, economic patterns, population shifts, pandemics, inheritance patterns and milestones important to the African-descended populations of these nations. Within these records, scholars have discovered new ways to think about slave resistance, family structures, cultural continuities and disruptions, syncretism, black religion, and African-influenced medical practices in the Americas.


Articles where Angela Sutton discusses the SSDA.


A sample of English-language scholarship that has emerged using documents of the Slave Societies Digital Archive.


Angela Sutton is a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University, working with the Slave Societies Digital Archive ( to make available online 16th-19th century records from the era of Atlantic world slavery. Her PhD from Vanderbilt University is in the field of Atlantic History, and her doctoral thesis focused on the 17th century slave trade in what is now the nation of Ghana. This semester, she is teaching a 7-week symposium on the History of Atlantic Slavery at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in downtown Nashville as part of their Faith, World and Word Community Forum.

Other forms of public history and community engagement with the history of African descended populations involves the Fort Negley Descendants Project , an oral history repository of the descendants of the Union Civil War Fort Negley. It was built by enslaved Africans and free blacks, and defended by the US Colored Troops. After emancipation, descendants of these builders and soldiers founded the black neighborhoods of Nashville, which in turn created Fisk University and Tennessee State University, two HBCUs which played prominent roles in training up the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. The Fort Negley Descendants Project collects the voices of these descendants in a time off rapid growth and unfettered gentrification in order to amplify the voices of Nashville’s urban black community which is getting displaced during the city’s transition. The Project has recently won a Catalyst Grant to continue its work in the 2018-2019 academic year.

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