The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815-1860 (Yale University Press, 2015)

The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism tells the story of capitalist development through seven slave-trading firms and related enterprises. It’s leading argument is that the business of slavery in the early U.S. republic charts the development of capitalism in terms of chains of credit and commodities, organization, and technology. The book argues that “Slave-traders . . . created integrated systems of supply and credit that anticipate concepts like vertical integration and supply-chain management a century later.”

A review from Enterprise & Society.

Here is a nice review of chapter 4: “Bank Bonds and Bondspersons”

Historian Walter Johnson calls it, “The best book ever written on role of the interstate slave trade in the economic history of the United States—both north and south.” It was a finalist for the inaugural Harriet Tubman Prize in Slavery and Abolition awarded by the Lapidus Center of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. For more, please visit the companion site: The Business of Slavery Book

Yale Press: The Business of SlaveryBSRAC

Money over Mastery, Family over Freedom: Slavery in the Antebellum Upper South (Johns Hopkins Press, 2011)

Money over Mastery tells the story of slavery’s terrible trade-offs in a place long thought to be on the road to freedom. Enslaved people living in the upper reaches of the American South faced a grim prospect: sale and removal to the Deep South cotton frontier. To keep their families together they networked and earned money to keep loved ones off the auction block and out of the human caravans that carried one in three away from family members in the 1830s and bound away one in five during the two generations before the Civil War.

Once a sleepy plantation society, the region from the Chesapeake Bay to coastal North Carolina modernized and diversified its economy in the years before the Civil War. Central to this industrializing process was slave labor. Money over Mastery, Family over Freedom tells the story of how slaves seized opportunities in these conditions to protect their family members from the auction block.rivers_and_rails

The book argues that the African American family provided the key to economic growth in the antebellum Chesapeake. To maximize profits in the burgeoning regional industries, enslavers hired out enslaved workers, which tended to scatter family members. From each generation, they also selected the young, fit, and fertile for sale or removal to the cotton South. Conscious of this pattern, the enslaved were sometimes able to negotiate mutually beneficial labor terms―to save their families despite that new economy.

Moving focus away from the traditional master-slave relationship in a staple-crop setting, Money over Mastery demonstrates through extensive primary research that the slaves in the upper South were integral to the development of the region’s modern political economy, whose architects embraced invention and ingenuity even while deploying slaves to shoulder the burdens of its construction, production, and maintenance.

Money over Mastery, Family over Freedom proposes a new way of understanding the violence of slavery and the choiceless choices families faced. Rather than work against it, as one might suppose, enslaved people engaged with the market somewhat as did free Americans. Enslaved people focused their energy and attention, however, not on making money, as enslavers increasingly did, but on keeping their children and other loved ones out of the human coffles of the slave trade.

Johns Hopkins University Press: Money over Mastery


Henry Goings, Rambles of a Runaway from Southern Slavery (University of Virginia Press, 2012)

Henry Goings’s story was almost lost. Born enslaved in Virginia in 1810, he was moved to North Carolina and then Alabama, visiting many other parts of the South with several owners. He escaped bondage in 1839 by posing as a free black man, Henry Goings, and settled in Canada but was nearly recaptured in 1843 on a return to rescue his wife Maria from slavery. Goings remarried and had a family, publishing his story in Ontario, Canada, in 1869. Rambles of a Runaway from Southern Slavery was lost for 137 years until the University of Virginia acquired the sole known copy. Coedited with Mike Plunkett and Edward Gaynor it was published again in 2012 after extensive research verified both Goings’s existence and the particulars of the story he told. University of Virginia Press: Rambles of A Runaway

Rambles Original

Unrequited Toil: A History of United States Slavery (Cambridge University Press, 2018)

Unrequited Toil explains how an institution that seemed to be disappearing at the end of the American Revolution rose to become the most contested and valuable economic interest in the United States by 1850.

It charts changes in the family lives of enslaved Americans, exploring the broader processes of nation-building in the United States, growth and intensification of national and international markets, the institutionalization of chattel slavery, and the growing relevance of race in the politics and society of the republic. In chapters organized chronologically, Unrequited Toil argues that American economic development relied upon African Americans’ social reproduction while simultaneously destroying their E0640F76-DBB3-401E-9AE4-D546C35FAE79intergenerational cultural continuity. It explores the personal narratives of enslaved people and develops themes such as politics, economics, labor, literature, rebellion, and social conditions.

Read an excerpt from the introduction here:
in-the-united-states/ courtesy of Cambridge University Press and the African American Intellectual History Society.

Podcast interview with “The Age of Jackson” here.

Podcast interview with “New Books Network” here.