Slaves’ Supplicant & Slaves’ Triumphant: The Middle Passage of an Abolitionist Icon

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2011


In chapter 11, Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie’s “Slaves Supplicant and Slaves Triumphant: The Middle Passage of an Abolitionist Icon” proposes an alternative dialectic between the kneeling slave image and postabolition representations of former slaves at various times and places all over the Atlantic world. The chapter examines a transition in the visual representation of the slave from the beseeching captive to the grateful ex-slave. Kerr-Ritchie argues that the popular visual image of slave supplication was crucial in constructing the metaphorical image of ex-slaves’ gratitude for their freedom. Even though visual depictions of heroic and triumphant slaves also exist—challenging the more troubling images of supplicant and grateful slaves—representations of enslaved men and women as passive victims are still disseminated via websites, textbooks, scholarly book covers, academic journal covers, conference posters, and public monuments. Through a well-studied genealogy of the images of supplicant, grateful, and triumphant slaves, this chapter deepens readers’ understanding of the Atlantic visual culture of slavery.