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In a more famous case, Harriet Tubman had frequent premonitions and visions while helping slaves escape from bondage. Sarah Bradford, Tubman’s biographer, remarked that “she is the most shrewd and practical person in the world, yet she is a firm believer in omens, dreams, and warnings.”

Tubman reportedly had dreams that foretold her flight from bondage, helped her avoid pursuers during her missions in the South, and predicted the Civil War and the eventual emancipation of all slaves 3 years before these events actually occurred. According to Tubman, her father was the source of these abilities because he had an uncanny skill of predicting the weather and even foretold the Mexican-American War (Bradford, 1993, pp. 73-75, 92, 114-115).


Based on evidence derived from trial records, slave narratives, interviews, autobiographies, and other sources, a composite sketch of the “typical” slave conjurer can be drawn. Conjurers were often isolated ascetics, living on the margins of the slave community and wrapped in mystery. Their elevated status on the plantation and their mastery over mystical forces made them simultaneously feared and respected. These spiritualists claimed to possess a variety of supernatural powers including the ability to communicate with the spirit world and the power to heal the sick, and many claimed possession of second sight or the ability to foretell future events through interpreting visions and dreams. Their command of esoteric forces and other-worldly knowledge allowed them to gain influence over slaves, which resulted in conjurers playing central roles in various acts of slave resistance. In terms of their collective belief in conjure and magic, North American slaves shared similar cultural experiences with Africans throughout the Atlantic world. This conclusion, then, firmly situates the North American slave experience into context with other diasporic slave societies, while underscoring the notion that far from being accommodationists, North American conjurers were vital in the creation of a revolutionary consciousness among fellow enslaved Africans.

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Elijah Grant

Elijah Grant @DrGRANT117    

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