A history of the strong beginnings of American slavery in the 17th century.
Many of us think of slavery in America as an aspect of the 19th-century Deep South, but Warren (History/Princeton Univ.) astutely shows how New Englanders were quick to join in the buying and selling of both Indian and African slaves. In fact, slavery was an intrinsic part of their economy, unifying the Atlantic world through goods and services bought with earnings off slaves and slave-made products. In 1641, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties formed the basis for slave codes, banning bond-slavery with the exception of “lawful captives taken in just wars.” The Massachusetts Bay Colony and other entities exported Indians taken in local wars and imported Africans for whom wars were waged abroad. Indians were unsatisfactory slaves as they were rebellious and prone to escape or suicide. Consequently, Indians were “dumped” in the West Indies in exchange for sugar, tobacco, and African slaves. While some have said New England was key to the Indies economy, which relied on the food and cattle sent along with slaves, the author points out that the colonists were dependent on the profits from property and markets in the Indies. Warren analyzes a wealth of 17th-century correspondence, journals, court records, wills, and other documents, and she has maintained original spelling and grammar in order to save the sense of that world. It certainly accomplishes that, but it may slow some readers trying to understand the context, and Warren occasionally gets bogged down in examples of legal documents, particularly in long lists of wills, revealing estates that included a few slaves. New England slavery was not the same as plantation slavery, where slaves were worked to death for a single crop. Rather, most were sold into domestic servitude, often as a single slave with no community.
For students of early American history, this is an eye-opening book about Puritans and Anglicans who disapproved of slavery but accepted it as a normal part of life and reaped its profits.