Photo of Dr Laura Sandy

Dr Laura Sandy PhD

Reader 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