Many Thousands Gone : The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 1998-09-01
  • Publisher: Harvard Univ Pr
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Today most Americans, black and white, identify slavery with cotton, the deep South, and the African-American church. But at the beginning of the nineteenth century, after almost two hundred years of African-American life in mainland North America, few slaves grew cotton, lived in the deep South, or embraced Christianity. Many Thousands Gone traces the evolution of black society from the first arrivals in the early seventeenth century through the Revolution. In telling their story, Ira Berlin, a leading historian of southern and African-American life, reintegrates slaves into the history of the American working class and into the tapestry of our nation. Laboring as field hands on tobacco and rice plantations, as skilled artisans in port cities, or soldiers along the frontier, generation after generation of African Americans struggled to create a world of their own in circumstances not of their own making. In a panoramic view that stretches from the North to the Chesapeake Bay and Carolina lowcountry to the Mississippi Valley, Many Thousands Gone reveals the diverse forms that slavery and freedom assumed before cotton was king. We witness the transformation that occurred as the first generations of creole slaves--who worked alongside their owners, free blacks, and indentured whites--gave way to the plantation generations, whose back-breaking labor was the sole engine of their society and whose physical and linguistic isolation sustained African traditions on American soil. As the nature of the slaves' labor changed with place and time, so did the relationship between slave and master, and between slave and society. In this fresh and vivid interpretation, Berlin demonstrates that the meaning of slavery and of race itself was continually renegotiated and redefined, as the nation lurched toward political and economic independence and grappled with the Enlightenment ideals that had inspired its birth.

Author Biography

Ira Berlin is Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Making Slavery, Making Race 1(15)
I. SOCIETIES WITH SLAVES: The Charter Generations 15(78)
Emergence of Atlantic Creoles in the Chesapeake
Expansion of Creole Society in the North
Divergent Paths in the Lowcountry
Devolution in the Lower Mississippi Valley
II. SLAVE SOCIETIES: The Plantation Generations 93(124)
The Tobacco Revolution in the Chesapeake
The Rice Revolution in the Lowcountry
Growth and the Transformation of Black Life in the North
Stagnation and Transformation in the Lower Mississippi Valley
III. SLAVE AND FREE: The Revolutionary Generations 217(141)
The Slow Death of Slavery in the North
The Union of African-American Society in the Upper South
Fragmentation in the Lower South
Slavery and Freedom in the Lower Mississippi Valley
Epilogue: Making Race, Making Slavery 358(11)
Tables 369(7)
Abbreviations 376(3)
Notes 379(107)
Acknowledgments 486(4)
Index 490

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