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The Chattel Principle
Since its founding in 1998, Yale's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition has sponsored an annual international conference on some major aspect of the Atlantic slave system and its destruction. Topics have varied from a comparison of the often neglected internal or domestic slave trades in the U.S., Brazil, and the British West Indies to the controversial but widespread arming of slaves from antiquity to the American Civil War. Because the research and discoveries presented in these conferences do so much to enrich our knowledge of humanity's most dehumanizing institution and its place in the founding of the modern world, as well as the first historical movements for civil rights, we are immensely grateful to Yale University Press for publishing the edited papers of our conferences. These conference volumes are designed not only for the scholarly community but for the wider public which, after years of being misled and kept in the dark concerning the centrality of racial slavery on the global scale, has expressed a growing interest in this grim subject. The Gilder Lehrman Center, which is part of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, is supported by Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman through the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History in New York City. We are especially dedicated to the translation of scholarly information into public knowledge through publications, educational outreach, and other programs and events.
David Brion Davis, Director
Edited by WALTER JOHNSON
The Chattel Principle
INTERNAL SLAVE TRADES IN THE AMERICAS
Yale University Press New Haven & London
Copyright © 2004 by Yale University. All rights reserved.
This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, including illustrations, in any form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press), without written permission from the publishers.
Set in Sabon Roman type by Keystone Typesetting, Inc., Orwigsburg, Penn. Printed in the United States of America by Sheridan Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The chattel principle : internal slave trades in the Americas / edited by Walter Johnson.
Papers from the first Gilder Lehrman Center international conference held at Yale
University in Oct. 1999.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn 0-300-10355-7 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Slavery — United States — History — 19th century — Congresses. 2. Slavery — West Indies, British — History—i9th century — Congresses. 3. Slavery—Brazil — History— 19th century — Congresses. 4. Slave trade — United States — History — 19th century — Congresses. 5. Slave trade — West Indies, British — History — 19th century — Congresses. 6. Slave trade — Brazil — History— 19th century — Congresses. I. Johnson, Walter, 1967- II. Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. e449.c48 2004
306.3'62%09l8l2 — dc22
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources.
To my mother and the memory of my father
Foreword by David Brion Davis ix
1 Introduction: The Future Store i Walter Johnson
2 The Domestication of the Slave Trade in the United States 32 Adam Rothman
3 ''We'm Fus' Rate Bargain'': Value, Labor, and Price in a Georgia Slave Community 55
Daina Ramey Berry
4 Slave Resistance, Coffles, and the Debates over Slavery in the Nation's Capital 72
Robert H. Gudmestad
5 The Domestic Slave Trade in America: The Lifeblood of the Southern Slave System 91
6 The Interregional Slave Trade in the History and Myth-Making of the U.S. South 117
7 Reconsidering the Internal Slave Trade: Paternalism, Markets, and the Character of the Old South 143
8 "Cuffy," ''Fancy Maids,'' and ''One-Eyed Men'':
Rape, Commodification, and the Domestic Slave Trade in the United States i65 Edward E. Baptist
9 Grapevine in the Slave Market: African American Geopolitical Literacy and the 1841 Creole Revolt 203
10 The Fragmentation of Atlantic Slavery and the British Intercolonial Slave Trade 234
11 ''An Unfeeling Traffick'': The Intercolonial Movement of Slaves in the British Caribbean, 1807-1833 256
Hilary McD. Beckles
12 The Kelsall Affair: A Black Bahamian Family's Odyssey in Turbulent i840s Cuba 275
Manuel Barcia Paz
13 Another Middle Passage? The Internal Slave Trade in Brazil 291 Richard Graham
14 The Brazilian Internal Slave Trade, 1850-1888: Regional Economies, Slave Experience, and the Politics of a Peculiar Market 325 Robert W. Slenes
david brion davis
When America's black slaves suddenly learned that they were about to be sold and transported to some unknown region to the west or the south, few of them were literate or ''free'' enough to convey their sense of horror and despair to spouses or other family members on different plantations. Yet in i852 a slave named Maria Perkins of Charlottesville, Virginia, wrote a profoundly depressing letter to her husband: ''Dear Husband I write you a letter to let you know my distress my master has sold albert [her son] to a trader on Monday court day and myself and other child is for sale also and I want you to let [me] hear from you very soon before next cort if you can. . . . I don't want a trader to get me they asked me if I had got any person to buy me and I told them no they took me to the court house too they never put me up a man buy the name of brady bought albert and is gone I don't know where. . . . I don't expect to meet with the luck to get that way till I am quite heartsick nothing more I am and ever will be your kind wife Maria Perkins."The mention of ''a trader'' refers to the large number of professional domestic slave traders who transported hundreds of thousands of slaves from states such as Virginia to the lower Mississippi valley and Texas, where by the late 1850s they could be sold at prices equivalent to those of today's new cars. Maria Perkins's only hope was that her husband could persuade one ''Doctor Hamelton'' or his master to purchase her before she was taken to another
auction at the courthouse, but it is almost certain that she was swept into the enormous tidal wave that moved a total of a million or more slaves from their original places of residence to the Old Southwest. As it happened, the 1850s also saw the beginning of a similar massive internal slave trade in Brazil, which had stopped the further importation of slaves from Africa despite the soaring demand for such labor in the coffee-producing regions far to the southwest of localities such as Bahia, where the majority of slaves were still concentrated.
When Harriet Beecher Stowe and earlier antislavery writers sought to expose the worst evils of American slavery, they concentrated on the agonizing breakup of slave families — the separation of spouses such as Maria Perkins and her husband, the wrenching sale of parents away from their children, and the severe suffering and mortality of long coffles of chained slaves as they were marched hundreds of miles overland or crammed into ships that sailed from southeastern harbors southward and then around the Florida Keys to New Orleans or other distant ports. Nevertheless, in recent times historians have tended to highlight the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, a subject worthy of such attention, but then to portray a relatively static institution in which movement was peripheral at best. That is the way southern slaveholders, who tended to despise slave traders, wished to think of their labor system. The ideal of planter ''paternalism'' could be maintained only if the monetary negotiations with traders were kept in the dark. But of course, as time went on and as the demand for and price of slaves kept soaring in the Old Southwest, planters became more open about such transactions.
This was the background for the choice of domestic passages as the subject of the first Gilder Lehrman Center international conference at Yale University in October 1999. Remembering that British abolitionists succeeded in limiting the flow of slaves from the older Caribbean colonies to new frontier zones such as Trinidad and Guiana and that some American abolitionists contended that the Constitution allowed Congress to regulate or stop the interstate trade in slaves, the participants concluded that a comparison of internal slave trades in the United States, the British West Indies, and Brazil would perfectly suit their mission to explore and clarify transnational histories of slavery, resistance, and abolition.
1. David Brion Davis, ed., Antebellum American Culture: An Interpretative Anthology (London: D. C. Heath, 1979), pp. 324-25.
Introduction The Future Store
When, in 1849, the fugitive slave James W. C. Pennington wrote that ''the being of slavery'' lay in ''the chattel principle,'' he meant to trouble the boundary between ''the slave trade'' and the ''rest of slavery.'' He did so by arguing that even slaves who seemed for the moment to live good lives would inevitably be drawn into the worst abuses of the system by the price that was on their heads and the trade it represented. Sale from ''the mildest form of slavery'' to ''the worst of which the system is possible'' and from ''the comparatively favorable circumstances'' of slavery in the Upper South to the desperate abuses of slavery in the Lower South was, he asserted, ''the legitimate working of the great chattel principle.''1
1 Pennington, that is, figured the relation of the slave trade to the rest of slavery in a way that was both spatial and temporal: the trade was a means of spreading slavery over space and (adversely) transforming it over time. The trade, he argued, was a passageway from slavery's present to its future.
The idea that slavery's future ran through the slave market was commonplace among nineteenth-century opponents of slavery in Great Britain and the United States. They saw regulating or entirely closing the internal trade as a way to cut off the flow of slaves between declining and emerging regions of slavery in the British West Indies and the United States, thus throwing the expansion of slavery into reverse and the system of slavery into decline. By
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