A sprawling study of the lucrative slave economy of the South, from importation to breeding.
In 1808, the importation of slaves was banned in the United States for protectionist rather than humanitarian measures, signaling a changeover to a domestic slave trade. This husband-and-wife team of accomplished authors and researchers—Ned (The World that Made New Orleans, 2008), and Constance, aka novelist Constance Ash—see that year as key in the transformation of African-American culture. The authors exhaustively delineate the many layers of this horrific story, and they focus on what the numbers reveal: while about 389,000 kidnapped Africans reached the ports of the United States, mostly before independence, by 1860, the number of enslaved persons had grown to 4 million African-Americans. The scramble for labor spurred a slave-breeding economy—epitomized by the fictionalized “stud-farm plantation” in the wildly popular work Mandingo—in which women were breeders (“each prime field wench produced five to ten marketable children during her lifetime”) and men, the “stock Negro,” where children and parents were separated and frequently resold, and many were trafficked into new territories southward and westward. “Increase” was the message on the plantations, in all senses of the word. In a work of ambitious breadth, the authors first look at the realities of this breeding economy, in which people were money and children were interest. Then they delve into the early evolution of slavery into the Chesapeake and the Lowcountry and study how all the necessary accouterments allowed slavery to prevail, including the running of newspaper ads for sales and runaways, the rise of the Jacksonian “democracy” promising poor whites the possibility of becoming slave owners one day, and specific companies and businesses that profited mightily. This well-documented, occasionally choppy book will be valuable to historians and scholars but may prove daunting for general readers.
A massive story of impressive research presented in sometimes-erratic fashion.