Photo of Dr Laura Sandy

Dr Laura Sandy PhD

Lecturer in the History of Slavery History


    The Overseers of Slavery: Supervisors, Enslaved Laborers, and the Plantation Enterprise, 1619-1800

    This book is a study of plantation overseers, whose management of enslaved labourers was crucial to plantation enterprises in the southern colonies of British North America and the early American republic, 1619-1800. Conceptually, the necessity of recovering the histories of hereto marginalized individuals, in order to understand fully the operation of plantation slavery, was a central concern of this research. This includes not only the (white) overseer but also his family, especially his wife and daughters, who, this research reveals, also performed significant, if to date wholly unrecognised, supervisory roles on the plantation. Similarly, this work will demonstrate the actual significance the enslaved overseer, a figure whose presence has been largely dismissed in the existing literature, and whose career can illuminate a great deal about race relations, authority and power in colonial society. My book illuminates new and fundamental themes in the study of the micro-politics of slavery, race and class in the colonial world and will appeal to specialists in the social, economic, and cultural history of slavery, colonial America, the American Revolution, Atlantic history, labour history, migration history, legal history, and the history of imperialism.

    Slavery and Lives on the Margins

    To date, my research interests have focused, in particular, on what Peter Parish has termed the "edges" of slavery. For example, this has involved scouring the archival record to recover the life stories of those neglected or marginalised in existing accounts of slavery. My initial focus was on plantation overseers and their families. Frequently dismissed as poor, brutish, and dependent, I have uncovered a more complex picture of individuals who, in many cases, were ambitious, hard-working and capable managers. They were, however, caught in a system that was built upon physical coercion and they occupied the most contested status within the hierarchies of power that existed on slave plantations. Some overseers were, indeed, recruited from the ranks of the enslaved. Furthermore, as I reconstructed the forgotten lives of these men, I found, too, evidence concerning their families. Although almost invisible in the historical record as it existed, I was able to establish the important part that free white women, other than the planter's wife, were able to play in developing colonial plantation enterprises. I have found it enormously rewarding to be able to illuminate the lives of those men and women who have hitherto occupied the shadows at the "edges" of slavery. My current research project therefore builds on this theme of recovering the histories of the forgotten and the marginalized in the history of slavery; I am investigating 'slave stealing' and the lives of those involved in this complex and little understood phenomena. This study examines the scope and various motives of those involved in slave stealing and reconstructs the experiences of both the trafficked and the trafficker in this illegal slave trade. In the future, I hope to explore the connections with modern people trafficking and slavery and would very much like to establish contact with scholars interested in researching the stories of people who have been hidden, smuggled, and stolen, both historically and in the contemporary world.

    Research Fellowships, Awards and Grants


    Washington Library Research Fellowship. 2020
    The Fred W. Smith National Library, Virginia, USA

    Peter Nicolaisen International Fellowship. Oct 2018/ July 2019
    International Centre for Jefferson Studies, Virginia, USA

    KHS Research Fellowship. July 2015
    Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA

    Archie K. Davis Research Fellowship. Jan 2013
    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

    Kentucky Historical Society Research Fellowship. April 2012
    Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA

    Filson Research Fellowship. April 2011
    Filson Historical Society, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

    Mellon Research Fellowship. Jan 2008
    Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia, USA

    ESRC Post Doctorate Fellowship. 2007-2008
    University of Manchester, Manchester, UK, 2007

    Robert H. Smith Research Fellowship. Nov 2005- Feb 2006
    International Centre for Jefferson Studies, Virginia, USA

    John D. Rockefeller Library Fellowship. May 2005
    Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia, USA

    Junior Research Fellowship. April 2005
    Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia, USA

    Research Fellow, Institute of Southern Studies. Nov-Dec 2004
    University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, USA


    U.S. Embassy / BAAS Small Grant. 2018
    The British Association for American Studies, London, UK

    British Academy Overseas Conference Grant. May 2009
    The British Academy, London, England

    Oxford Brookes University Research Award. May- June 2009
    Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, England

    ESRC Conference and Travel Grant. Aug-Sept 2007
    University of Manchester, Manchester, England

    ESRC PhD Studentship. 2002-2006.
    University of Manchester, Manchester, England