Occidental history Professor Sharla Fett, has written a new book, published this year, about the journeys of slaves aboard illegal slave ships captured by the American Navy and repatriated to Liberia. Fett currently teaches classes titled “History of American Women” and “Slavery in the Antebellum South.” Her book, titled “Recaptured Africans: Surviving Slave Ships, Detention, and Dislocation in the Final Years of the Slave Trade, was published by The University of North Carolina Press and is available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.
Janet Farrell Brodie, a member of the off-campus history writing group that Fett is a part of, praised Fett’s work.
“I believe that, like her earlier book, it will be widely reviewed, praised for its focus and brilliant use of evidence and elegant writing,” Brodie said.
The slaves, whom Fett refers to as recaptives, were intercepted by the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic before the start of the Civil War. Although the import of slaves had been outlawed by the United States since 1807, Fett characterizes American policy at the time as deeply flawed by racism.
Fett, who studied U.S. slavery and emancipation in graduate school, now fills the gaps in her education through her own research.
“I never learned anything about African youth and adults who came into the custody of the federal government after being seized from illegal slave ships,” Fett said.
According to Fett, writing her book took several years and included a rewrite. Fett had the help of the history writing group she and Brodie helped organize about 15 years ago. The group, composed of five to six female historians, meets once a month at members’ houses to provide each other with feedback on their written drafts.
“As part of the writing group, we have read drafts of all of her chapters, sometimes several versions of a chapter,” Brodie said.
History Professor Jane Hong, Fett’s colleague, admired Fett’s writing style.
“Professor Fett takes great pains to respect the humanity of the people she writes about,” Hong said.
Although written accounts from the recaptured people themselves are sparse, other written documents have survived. From these documents, two of the recaptured people particularly resonated with Fett. One was Francisco, a recaptive whose Portuguese language skills made him a valuable translator. Bomba, who served as a mother figure for the group of recaptured people, was the second.
Fett’s goal for her book was for it to provide new insights to readers, amplifying their understanding of U.S. slavery and emancipation. She hopes to begin book talks soon.