Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market

Walter Johnson, Author Harvard University Press $28.5 (320p) ISBN 978-0-674-82148-4
Instead of focusing on cotton plantations or broad historical patterns, this extraordinary study is a flesh-and-blood daily history of the slave market. NYU history professor Johnson takes readers inside the Dixie slave pens and traders' coffles (long rows of slaves manacled and chained to one another). His focus is New Orleans, North America's largest slave market, hub of a trade that decimated African-American slave communities by tearing families asunder--destroying marriages and separating children from parents. Using former slave survivors' narratives, letters written by slaveholders, docket records of cases of disputed slave sales and Southern medical and agricultural journals, Johnson interweaves the voices of traders, buyers, auctioneers and the slaves themselves. He shows that, for white Southern slaveholders, buying slaves buoyed a fantasy of manly bourgeois self-control, speculative savvy and economic independence. Slaves, meanwhile, assessed the character of particular buyers and sometimes, at enormous risk, manipulated a sale to their own advantage. The evil business of slavery has seldom been exposed with so much humanity and insight as in this eloquent study, scholarly yet wholly accessible, a compelling cross-sectional microcosm of millions of human tragedies. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/07/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-674-00539-6
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