Friday, January 30, 2009

'Slaves in the Family'

Slavery did not end in the United States with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 or even with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865. Through its powerful legacy it has persisted into our own time... In ''Slaves in the Family,'' Edward Ball, a descendant of South Carolinians who owned thousands of slaves over a period of more than 150 years, makes a personal effort to come to terms with his history. ''To contemplate slavery,'' he observes, ''was a bit like doing psychoanalysis on myself.''

But Ball insists that it was not guilt that motivated his search into the past. ''A person cannot be culpable for the acts of others, long dead, that he or she could not have influenced,'' he writes. ''Rather than responsible, I felt accountable for what had happened, called on to try to explain it.'' ''Slaves in the Family'' is thus an account and an accounting, a chronicle of Ball owners and Ball slaves that is designed to break the silences surrounding the author's troubling heritage. (New York Times, "Skeletons in the Family Closet" by Drew Faust)
EDWARD BALL: Well, I thought that the black story and the white story should be told side by side. You know, we hear a lot about the plantation owners, but we don't hear enough about the people with whom they lived and who made their lives possible. And I thought that I should try to write a shared history - black with whites side by side. But more important than that was my attempt to find black families today whose ancestors were enslaved by my family and to meet with them and try to reckon with this shared legacy. (PBS News Hour).

Read an excerpt from Edward Ball's Chapter One here.

Watch author Edward Ball here:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sullivan's Island

Sullivan's Island lies in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. Small posts on the island provided good sea defense for the settlers of Charleston. Sullivan's Fort was still under construction in 1776 when defenders successfully repelled the British fleet from behind palmetto-log walls.

The third fort on the site, Ft. Moultrie, was erected in 1809. In 1827, Edgar Allen Poe served at the Fort, and he subsequently used Sullivan's Island as the setting for his short story, "The Gold Bug."

During the Second Seminole War, the U.S. Army sent Osceola and over 200 other Seminole to Charleston by steamship. They arrived at Ft. Moultrie on January 1, 1838.

Osceola was housed in officer's quarters, reputedly attended a play in Charleston, received visitors, and had his portrait painted. His health failed, and Osceola died of malaria on January 30, 1838. Osceola's remains are buried at Ft. Moultrie, which is part of Ft. Sumter National Monument, administered by the National Park Service. (Source: Slavery In America)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

King Rice

In low-country South Carolina, American slavery assumed a distinctive form, one that has captured the attention of generations of historians. Between the end of the 17th century and the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of people of African descent toiled in swamps, ditches and fields cultivating rice, a crop that by the time of the American Revolution had created a planter aristocracy wealthier than any other group in the British colonies....
In ''Black Rice,'' Judith A. Carney, finds new ''ways to give voice to the historical silences of slavery.''

Carney challenges conventional histories, which describe Europeans adapting an Asian crop to American uses. Arguing persuasively that highly sophisticated forms of rice culture from West Africa preceded the arrival of any knowledge from Asia, she carefully traces the variety of production systems used by Africans in different environments and landscapes, including the elaborate construction of canals and dikes in coastal swamps.

The existence of these complex adaptations was ignored by European observers all too ready to dismiss the possibility of technological achievement among African peoples. The ''denial of African accomplishment in rice systems,'' Carney writes, ''provides a stunning example of how power relations mediate the production of history.''

In order to understand the role of Africans in rice history, Carney argues, it is necessary to think of rice as a ''knowledge system'' -- not just a plant or a seed but an entire complex of techniques, technology and processing skills. Africans imported as slaves into Carolina possessed this knowledge, and used their understanding to guide phases of evolution in American rice production.

Thus, after a vast increase in importations of slaves between 1720 and 1740 provided the necessary labor, Carolina rice cultivation, which had begun with upland or rain-fed culture, shifted to higher-yielding inland swamps. The newly arrived Africans created embankments, sluices and canals almost identical to patterns of West African mangrove rice production. With another influx of slaves after 1750, cultivation moved to still more productive tidal flood plains, which required such a large-scale deployment of floodgates, canals and ditches that rice fields became, in one planter's words, a ''huge hydraulic machine.'' This transition, Carney writes, depended on ''the large number of slaves imported directly from the rice area of West Africa who possessed knowledge of the crop's cultivation.''

Carolina planters even knew which African ethnic groups were expert in rice growing and explicitly favored them in their purchases of new slaves. A newspaper in Charleston, for example, advertised the sale of 250 slaves ''from the Windward and Rice Coast, valued for their knowledge of rice culture.''

The knowledge system Carney describes called for different roles and distinctive kinds of expertise for men and women, and these aspects of rice culture were also transported to the New World. Women played a critical part in seed selection, sowing, hoeing and processing of rice. The importance of these skills enabled slave traders to command higher prices for women in Carolina rice-growing areas than in other American slave markets.

The Carolina rice kingdom, the foundation of power in a state that would eventually lead the South out of the nation, came into being because African slaves had mastered -- and shared -- the techniques necessary for growing rice seeds in standing water. ''Why,'' Carney asks, ''would West African slaves transfer to planters a sophisticated agricultural system . . . that would in turn impose upon them unrelenting toil throughout the year?'' The knowledge of rice cultivation, she concludes, provided slaves arriving in South Carolina with a crucial negotiating tool, enabling them to bargain for labor arrangements that guaranteed them greater autonomy than in any other Southern agricultural environment....

The knowledge and creativity of Africans created an agricultural system in South Carolina that was based firmly on their own enslavement and exploitation. (Source: The New York Times, “Seeds of History: The expertise of African slaves in growing rice played a crucial role in the American South.” by Drew Gilpin Faust)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rice Harvest

"With forty or fifty pounds of rice stalks on their heads."

Black Canadians Confront Cape Coast Slave History

CAPE COAST, Ghana–Dusk settles on the ghostly slave castle here, and the shadowy figures walking, weeping in a daze are trying, and failing, to deal with their past.

The 21 Canadians confronting their history last night have returned to Africa from the Caribbean, via Toronto, as free men and women, descendants of slaves. They've just emerged through the Door of No Return – survivors all. And the experience is shattering.

At the last stop on this disturbing tour of the Slave Dungeon, one of the female visitors loses it. She gags, wails and vomits on the floor where her ancestors did the same 300, 400 years ago.

Just outside the door labelled "Cell," her travelling companions sit in the castle's courtyard, in a stupor. Grown men are reduced to sobs. One is being comforted by a crying child.

They have come to reconnect with their roots, a past severed by one of the most brutal and destructive institutions in history, which saw 12 million or more Africans captured, enslaved and shipped to the Americas.

It is a despicable place...But the visitors say this is an odyssey they must complete. They want to see where their ancestors were warehoused in horrible conditions before they were spirited on slave ships across the Atlantic to the New World.

"There is a lot of pain, and some anger," explains Sherwin Modeste, a community housing manager in Toronto. "It's like a funeral procession. People ask why you go, if you know it is painful. But you still have to go."

"Haunting," says Violet Dennison, at 61, the oldest of the visitors. We approach the terrible door. Above it, the sign reads: Door of No Return. "It's called the Door of No Return because when you enter this, you never come back."

Through the door we go, onto the viewing deck where the slavers and merchants surveyed their wretched merchandise, animate and inanimate, before ascending 34 steps to conduct their bloody bartering – humans for gunpowder and ivory and trinkets – in the palaver room.

One last stop at the Cell. This room, barely 10 feet by 12 feet, is oppressively hot. Here is where they kept the slaves who couldn't be tamed – the ones who loved freedom more than life. And this is where they died.

And it's here the sister loses it and pours out her soul to her creator. She howls. She shakes. She throws up her breakfast. And it is a good while before she is comforted. (Source: The Star)

Slave Castle São Jorge da Mina: Elmina, Ghana

In the 15th century AD, Elmina was one of several port communities on the Ghana coast (aka Gold Coast) of western Africa, associated with the West African ethnic group called Akan. Most of the ports were small, dispersed settlements that supported larger communities in the interior. That pattern of settlement probably began at least as long ago as 400 AD. Elmina had a fairly sizable population, as it was located on an excellent harbor. The Portuguese began exploring the Gold Coast in search of gold and trading opportunities in the early 15th century. In 1482 they built the Sao Jorge Castle, to help support their trade networks and fend off European competitors. Castle São Jorge da Mina (or St. George's Castle as it is known today) was the first fortified European trade post in subsaharan Africa. The Portuguese were interested in gold and luxury items such as ivory, pepper, and redwood, as were the Dutch who captured the fort in 1627. Elmina was under Dutch control until 1872 when it was captured by the British. In response to a revolt by the Elmina residents, the British burned the city and abandoned the fort. (Source: "Portuguese Slave Colony of Elmina")The first slaves traded out of Elmina were imported into the city from Liberia, Benin, northern Ghana and other parts of coastal Africa, by the Portuguese during the 15th century. Slaves became the primary export from Elmina in the 17th century.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cape Coast Slave Castle, Ghana

For nearly one hundred and fifty years before abolition in 1807, Cape Coast Castle on the African ‘Gold Coast’ was, in the words of one of its British governors, the grand emporium of the British slave trade. From this handsome building perched on the shore of the South Atlantic Ocean, men, women and children born in Africa were sold as slaves and carried on British slave ships to the West Indies, to North and South America, and to destinations elsewhere. Here the ancestors of millions of people living today in Britain, the United States and many other countries passed through the ‘door of no return’.

In a most original and remarkable book, by telling the story of the castle and of some of the people who lived, worked or were imprisoned within its walls, William St Clair is able to illuminate a vast panorama of modern history, which in its entirety is hard to comprehend.

He draws on an immense archive of records, hitherto hardly explored, agreements with local African leaders, correspondence between colleagues in the Africa Service, letters from home, receipts for the buying and selling of slaves, and scribbled notes sent between the Castle and the slave ships. Bleached by the sun or stained by salt water, these unique writings offer glimpses of events noted down as they happened without hindsight or agenda. In telling the story of Cape Coast Castle, the building, the sea around and its people, St Clair catches for us the sense of actually being there at the time as witnesses. (Source: The Economist Shop)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gorée Island, Senegal, Africa

Goree: The Slave Island

Goree Island is on the great western bulge of Africa - the nearest point on the continent to the Americas.

The Senegalese people called it Ber. The Portuguese renamed it Ila de Palma.

The name was changed to Good Reed by the Dutch and the French called the island Goree - meaning "good harbour".

But the name did not match with what went on in this tiny island between the 16th and 19th centuries when wooden ships sailed from here with human beings chained in their holds across the Atlantic.

On the island, there is a small fort known as Slave House. This was in effect one of the slave warehouses through which Africans passed on their way to the Americas.

Millions have passed through the island and other similar trading posts to work in the plantations of the New World, including America.

Slave Depot

The shipping of slaves from Goree lasted from 1536 when the Portuguese launched the slave trade to the time the French halted it 312 years later.

The Portuguese, Dutch, French and British all fought and killed each other over the trade from there

The island is just 3 km off the Senegalese coast, and its tiny size made it easy for merchants to control their captives.

The surrounding waters are so deep that any attempt at escaping would mean sure drowning.

With a five kg metal ball permanently attached to their feet or necks, a captured African would know what jumping into the deep sea would bring.

Goree Island
16-19 Century: Slaves shipped from Goree

1780: Slave House built

1978: World Heritage Site

Visitors: Pope, Mandela, Clinton

Tales of Delphine Lalaurie

"The man who smashed the garret door saw powerful male slaves, stark naked, chained to the wall, their eyes gouged out, their fingernails pulled off by the roots; others had their joints skinned and festering, great holes in their buttocks where the flesh had been sliced away, their ears hanging by shreds, their lips sewed together, their tongues drawn out and sewed to their chins, severed hands stitched to bellies, legs pulled joint from joint. Female slaves there were, their mouths and ears crammed with ashes and chicken offal and bound tightly; others had been smeared with honey and were a mass of black ants. Intestines were pulled out and knotted around naked waists. There were holes in skulls, where a rough stick had been inserted to stir the brains. Some of the poor creatures were dead, some were unconscious; and a few were still breathing, suffering agonies beyond any power to describe." - From the firemen entering the house
-- "Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans" by Jeanne deLavigne, published 1946 "The Haunted House of the Rue Royale" pp.248-258

The LaLaurie Mansion

It was said that Mme. Lalaurie's manners were sweet, gracious and captivating. She was born in the society's upper circles. She was accustomed to and acculturated to the good life. Yet there were persistent rumors that she treated her servants with disdain and in a cruel, abusive manner.

And still, those who visited her said that she was kind to her servants. If one of them tremble in her presence or startled at the sound of her voice, she would soothe and endeavor to reassure her. Nevertheless, the stories of barbarity increased. The smothered indignation on Royal Street grew.

One day the street was filled with the wild rumor that Mme. Lalaurie was seen by the neighbors cowhiding a little girl in the courtyard. The terrified young thing fled across the yard, into the house and up the winding stairway from gallery to gallery followed by her infuriated mistress. She rushed out onto the belvedere and darted up to roof, with Mme Lalaurie hot on her heels.
In another instant the child reached the edge of the roof -- falling with a dull thud to the courtyard below. She was lifted up and borne into the house a silent, crushed, lifeless mass of humanity. In the old yard there was a shallow well that is now a mere pit and neighbors assert that the night the young girl fell to her death, she was buried by torchlight in the well.

Gullah of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Monday, January 12, 2009

Slavery and the Making of America - Episode 1

Slavery and the Making of America - Episode 2

Slavery and the Making of America - Episodes 3 & 4

Slavery and the Making of America - Episode 3

Slavery and the Making of America - Episode 4

Remorseless Britts on the slave trade

According to the UK Guardian's article "City agonises over slavery apologyPassions are running high in Bristol over whether it should say sorry for its past" posted on 7 May 2006:

'Bristol was one of the main ports involved in the trading of slaves taken from West Africa to British colonies in the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th centuries, and most Bristolians were involved in the slave trade in one way or other,' said Dr Gareth Griffiths, director of the city's British Empire and Commonwealth Museum. 'Local people supplied the labour and provisions for the slaving ships; they created the goods that paid for the slaves and they bought the spoils from the ships when they returned.'

Griffiths is the inspiration behind this week's Apology Debate, at which leading historians, politicians and other public figures will argue whether the city should apologise. It will then be thrown open to a vote. 'The issue is particularly resonant in the lead-up to next year's 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade but emotions run particularly high in Bristol,' Griffiths said.

The extent of Bristol's involvement in the slave trade resonates in practically every civil and religious city landmark: from Merchants Wharf to the Redcliffe Caves, where slaves are said to have been incarcerated, to Queen Square, the city's most serene public space, completed at the height of Bristol's involvement in the trade and where mayor Nathaniel Day petitioned against a tax on slaves.

The pretty courtyard housing the Merchant Venturers' Almshouse harks back to the powerful 18th-century pro-slavery lobby, while the bells of Bristol's loveliest church, St Mary Redcliffe, were triumphantly set ringing when William Wilberforce's Bill to abolish slavery was defeated in 1791.

But it is not only historical landmarks that pay tribute to the trade: just last month, the choice of 'Merchants Quarter' as the name for the new city centre shopping area was deemed so offensive that the developers were forced to come up with other ideas.

No official representative for Bristol has ever formally apologised for the fact that, from 1698 to 1807, when trading in slaves from Africa was outlawed, 2,114 ships set sail from Bristol to Africa and then on to plantations in the Americas, carrying over half a million slaves. Bristol's record was only exceeded by Liverpool, which made a public apology for its role back in 1994. Bristol, on the other hand, has only recently focused attention on its part in the trade; in 1996 its Festival Of The Sea failed to make any mention of slavery. Two years later, however, the Pero's Bridge, named after a slave, was built in the city and a Slave Trail, showing how the city's fortunes were created by merchants, was created.

Continue reading the etire article here.

John Savage on the slave trade apology

Mayor of Bristol on the legacy of the slave trade

The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie

In the summer of 1700, the English merchant-slaver Henrietta Marie sank in unknown circumstances thirty-five miles west of Key West, Florida. Shortly before this mishap, she had sold a shipment of 190 captive Africans in Jamaica.
The shipwreck was first found by Mel Fisher’s divers in 1972 but only partially excavated. Their brief work revealed that it was later than the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which they were searching for, as well as being English. Known as the "English Wreck" for the next ten years, it was not until July of 1983 that divers returned to the site. Archaeologist David Moore went out to study the wreck with Henry Taylor, a salvor who had made an arrangement with Mel to work at the site. They knew that what lay below was not a treasure vessel, but suspected it would be able to make an important contribution to history.The ship was much more important than they hoped. On most ships of the period, one or two sets of iron shackles were carried to punish sailors who might misbehave; the large number found on this site was unusual. Then came an enormous breakthrough - a diver discovered the ship’s bell. The cast bronze bell was heavily encrusted with concreted sand, sediment and coral. When the crew gently chipped this covering away, something remarkable was revealed -- the means to identify the long-lost ship beyond a shadow of a doubt. "THE HENRIETTA MARIE 1699" was etched in block letters on the bell. The identification brought a startling immediacy to the excavation. Once records of Jamaican shipping returns confirmed the vessel’s status as a slaver, the wreck’s significance was apparent - the Henrietta Marie was the earliest slave shipwreck identified by name.

The identification allowed researchers to use historical records to begin reconstructing a little-known passage in American history. Early in the research process, records were uncovered showing that the Henrietta Marie had been a London-based vessel, registered as 120 tons burden. Sturdy and fast, she traveled the infamous triangular trade route favored by the slavers - from England to the Guinea coast, to the Americas, then home again.

Accounts relating to the Henrietta Marie’s voyages were uncovered, as were the names of her investors, captains, and wills of some of her crew members. Artifacts found at the site proved particularly helpful in creating a picture of shipboard life and the practices of the slave trade. (source:

The Bilboes

One method of restraint was known as the Bilboes, which consisted of a long iron bar attached to the floor. Free to slide along the bar were a number of hinged iron rings which were riveted about the ankles of the prisoners, forcing them to sit or lie down until the restraint was released. The word is a corruption of the Spanish town Bilbao, for when the Armada was defeated in 1588, chests of these shackles were found in the galleons, reputedly to pinion English captives. In actual fact similar devices were widely used for naval prisoners on board ship and the Royal Navy was equipped with them until the eighteenth century.

Eventually they found their way to the West Indies, where they were used during the slave trade era. Ten or more slaves would be secured in bilboes, being released each day before being taken to work in the plantations.

The Scold's Bridle

The Scold's Bridle

One of the scourges of medievallife, if not of later centuries, was the scold, or nagging wife, and so the judiciary, with its usual robust approach to social problems, came up with the solution to gag them. And that's how the Scold's Bridle, or the Branks, as they were also known, came into being. There were several different designs, but basicaIly the bridle consisted of an iron framework in the form of a helmet-shaped cage which titted tightly over the head, with eye holes and an aperture for the mouth. At the front, protruding inwards, was a small flat plate which was inserted in to the woman's mouth, and the bridle was then locked about her neck. Some models were quite painless to wear. Others had large tongue plates studded with sharp pins or a rowel, a small spiked wheel, to hold the tongue down. These could cause appalling lacerations if the victim attempted to speak.
Many bridles had a chain attached to the front so that the victim could be led through the streets, to be secured to the market cross or pillory post, and in order to herald her approach some bridles had a spring-mounted bell on the top. Some of the powerful screwing apparatus seemed calculated to force the iron mask with torturing effect upon the brow of the victim; there are no eyeholes, but concavities in their places, as though to allow for the starting of the eye-balls under violent pressure. There is a strong bar with a square hole, evidently intended to fasten the criminal against the wall or perhaps to the pillory. That model would seem to have been designed, not so much for nagging wives, but as a device to keep a felon's head immovable while being extensively branded

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Slave Collar

Iron slave collar with bells.
A woman with iron horns and bells on, to keep her from running away.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Slave Masks

Slaves were considered to be their master's property, wholly without rights to their bodies or their persons. As such, the white enslavers treated the slaves with unrequited cruelty. This picture shows an iron mask worn by an enslaved human being. This cruel mask was to stop slaves eating without permission!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Slave Insurance

According to the USA Today's article "Insurance firms issued slave policies": Early in the 19th century, insurance companies debated whether to insure slaves as property — like work animals and buildings — or as human beings. Increasingly, owners renting their slaves out to mines, railroads and tobacco processors wanted to protect their investments. Insurers eventually began issuing one-year life policies at comparatively pricey premiums that reflected the dangerous nature of the slaves' work. USA TODAY has obtained a copy of a New York Life policy taken out on a Virginia slave by his master. The original is held by the Library of Virginia in Richmond.
(left) New York Life, then called Nautilus Insurance, charged a Virginia slave owner a $5.81 premium plus a $1 policy fee to insure slave Robert Moody for one year in 1847.
In 1847, the owners of Robert Moody insured his life with Nautilus Insurance, which later changed its name to New York Life. A handwritten note on the policy says he was hired out to work at the Clover Hill Pits, a coal mine near Richmond.
Evidence of 10 more New York Life slave policies comes from an 1847 account book kept by the company's Natchez, Miss., agent, W.A. Britton. The book, part of a collection at Louisiana State University, contains Britton's notes on slave policies he wrote for amounts ranging from $375 to $600. A 1906 history of New York Life says 339 of the company's first 1,000 policies were written on the lives of slaves.

New York Life says it "thoroughly reviewed" its archives to comply with a California law requiring insurers to produce any records tying them to slavery.
It says it won't comment on what it found until the California Department of Insurance makes the records public. That's expected soon.
Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, an independent New York researcher who is documenting corporate slave connections, provided USA TODAY with a copy of an 1854 Aetna policy insuring three slaves owned by Thomas Murphy of New Orleans.

The printed letterhead on the Murphy document reads "Slave Policy," and a hand notation describes it as policy No. 158, suggesting Aetna insured more than a handful of slaves.


Author and historian Marcus Rediker recalls his encounter with authentic shackles in an interview: "I was writing about the hardware of bondage, especially the shackles I'd seen in museums. Then one day I got notice of an authentic set of 18th-century slave ship shackles (from a South Carolina plantation) that were up for auction by an early Americana dealer."

"I had a debate with myself. Should I buy a piece of evil? Should I get as close as possible to this gruesome artifact and see what I might learn from it?"
"I bought the shackles and soon found that I had to go back and rewrite everything I'd written on the subject, because now they were more real to me."

"I felt the texture of the metal, how the rod would press against the Achilles tendon, how the loops would rub the flesh raw. In the end, holding those shackles in my hands, even though they made me shudder, enabled me to understand and write about them in a more realistic, even truthful way."

The slave ship was a floating prison in which the captives outnumbered the guards by an order of 10 to one; male prisoners and rebellious females were shackled to limit their capacity to resist. Collection of the Author

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Slave Ship

The Slave Ship: A Human History By Marcus Rediker (Penguin, 2007)

I wanted to make our understanding of the slave trade concrete, to see it as a human history—hence the subtitle of my book -- because I believe that the human capacity to live with injustice depends to some extent on making it abstract. The existing scholarship on the slave trade is outstanding, but a lot of it is statistical, which can occlude the horror of what one group of people is doing to another for money. (Marcus Rediker, interview)
Eric Foner's review of The Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker states: Rediker certainly knows his ships: how and where they were built, how a normal trading vessel was transformed into a slave ship by the addition of cannon and the building of a ‘barricado’, a barrier across the main deck behind which armed crewmen could retreat in the event of an uprising. He takes us on a tour from stem to stern, from captain’s quarters to the levels below decks where slaves were incarcerated. He knows the crew and their tasks – the mates, carpenters, gunners and common sailors. And he knows how slaves were captured, transported and terrorised.

The Slave Ship makes it clear that while Europeans financed, directed and profited from the trade, it could not have functioned without the active participation of rulers and traders in Africa. Domestic slavery and the trading of slaves across the Sahara to Arab merchants existed centuries before Europeans arrived in West Africa. But the rise of the transatlantic trade transformed African societies. By the 18th century, militarised states like Asante and Dahomey had come into existence that thrived by warring on and enslaving their neighbours. The trade exacerbated class tensions within African societies, as merchants and rulers profited from selling commoners to the slavers. (continue reading the entire Foner article here.)

The Leonard Lopate Show states: Marcus Rediker revisits the history of the Africa-to-America slave trade in The Slave Ship. He considers the relationships between the slave ship captain and his crew, between the sailors and the slaves, and among the captives themselves as they endured the violent and often deadly journey between Africa and America. Mr. Rediker also gives attention to those who have been largely excluded from the written accounts - enslaved women and the common seaman.

The Leonard Lopate Show / October 15, 2007 / The Slave Ship

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dred Scott v. Sandford Decision

View the complete text of the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court Decision here.

On March 6th, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case. Seven of the nine justices agreed that Dred Scott should remain a slave, but Taney did not stop there. He also ruled that as a slave, Dred Scott was not a citizen of the United States, and therefore had no right to bring suit in the federal courts on any matter.
In addition, he declared that Scott had never been free, due to the fact that slaves were personal property; thus the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional, and the Federal Government had no right to prohibit slavery in the new territories. The court appeared to be sanctioning slavery under the terms of the Constitution itself, and saying that slavery could not be outlawed or restricted within the United States. (Source:

Interviews with Historian Andrew Ward

Uprooted. Image of a lone slave among the battle ruins in Richmond, Va. 1865.

History News Network interview with Andrew Ward:

HNN Robin Lindley: And you made a point of including a unique directory of witnesses.

Andrew Ward: One of the things that clobbers me the most about slavery is the notion of disappearing. I’m not a religious person, [but] I have a horror of oblivion. That probably has something to do with why I write, why I feel I have to leave something behind. And these people were dragged over here on slave ships, managed to survive the Middle Passage, got here, were told their name was another name, and became almost strangers to themselves, and die without a marker or record. There are all these stories of someone dropping dead in a field or running away and being killed. In [several] cases, a slave recounting would say, “We never knew his name. He just came, but he tried to run away. He was from Africa. They hunted him down and shot him.” It’s sort of this exaggerated version of the obscurity to which are all destined.

HNN: That’s a remarkable way of expressing why you included all the names.

Andrew Ward: This business of robbing them of their identities, their pasts, their selves, was part of it. That was what was redemptive to me about the Jubilee Singers because [they] created themselves. A classic American story is to come out of nowhere and reinvent yourself, overturn everybody else’s expectations about yourself, and become something others would never imagine you becoming.

That has a lot to do with why this [material] grabs me. It’s not just righteous indignation about slavery, although that’s a big chunk of it, but it’s also this sense that these people disappeared, many without a trace, but now, since Roots, there’s been a big African-American genealogical movement. There’s an organization [in Seattle] with Jackie Lawson. They’re ingenious and indefatigable in tracking down information. It’s discouraging to contemplate initially because the written record is not apt to be there, and you have to figure out if [a particular slave] on a manifest is related. You go back to plantation records. And they are tireless and very tough-minded about it.

That’s why I feel obliged to individuate these people as much as I can. I did that also in River Run Red. I try to make it clear these are individuals, and it’s one reason The Slaves’ War has such a variety of perspectives. It’s also why I put in a directory. African-Americans need, whenever possible, additional background information, and it’s incumbent on me to provide it. But it’s basically their book, not mine.

Andrew Ward on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart

"The Slaves' War" historian Andrew Ward

The Slaves' War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves by Andrew Ward.

In "The Slaves' War" historian Andrew Ward tells the story of the Civil War from the perspective of slaves. Mr. Ward based his research on interviews with slaves, as well as slaves' diaries, letters, and memoirs. In these materials, slaves recount their theories about the war's causes, their assessments of Lincoln, Davis, Lee, and Grant, and their memoires of the battles.

Watch the entire 1 hour program on C-Span's BookTV here.


Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859, by Elizabeth R. Varon.

In the decades before the Civil War, Americans debating the fate of slavery often invoked the specter of disunion to frighten or discredit their opponents. According to Elizabeth Varon, "disunion" was a startling and provocative keyword in Americans' political vocabulary: it connoted the failure of the founders' singular effort to establish a lasting representative government. For many Americans in both the North and the South, disunion was a nightmare, the image of a cataclysm that would reduce them to misery and fratricidal war. For many others, however, threats, accusations, and intimations of disunion were instruments they could wield to achieve their partisan and sectional goals.

In this bracing reinterpretation of the origins of the Civil War, Varon blends political history with intellectual and cultural history to show how Americans, as far back as the earliest days of the republic, agonized and strategized over disunion. She focuses not only on politicians but also on a wide range of reformers, editors, writers, and commentators. Included here are the voices of fugitive slaves, white Southern dissenters, free black activists, abolitionist women, and other outsiders to the halls of power. In a new and expanding nation still learning how to meld disparate and powerful interests, the rhetoric of disunion proved pervasive--and volatile. As the word was marshaled by competing sectional interests in the tumultuous 1840s and 1850s, the politics of compromise grew more remote and an epic collision between the free North and slaveholding South seemed the only way to resolve, once and for all, whether the struggling republic would survive.
Click on the link to watch Ms. Varon on C-Span's BookTV here.


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