This essay explores two historical subjects, Catharina, an enslaved woman living and working in eighteenth-century New Orleans, and Ruth, a free field laborer in post-emancipation Barbados. Through a careful reading of their different but overlapping legal petitions against the planters who worked to control their labor, this essay seeks to distill a shared battle around Black mothering and to reconsider what it means to mother in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Atlantic world, respectively. In so doing, this essay contributes to scholarship that analyzes reproductive racial slavery’s afterlife, particularly how slavery’s matrilineal principle shaped the meaning of Black motherhood in bondage and in freedom. Exploring violent confrontations with empire in moments of profound change, the stories of Catharina and Ruth each offer new definitions of labor and value and hint at how Black women theorized a world beyond racial capitalism.

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