The best books from the last ten years on the domestic slave trade

Joshua D. Rothman Author Of The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America
By Joshua D. Rothman

The Books I Picked & Why

Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home

By Richard Bell

Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home

Why this book?

Because the buying and selling of enslaved people was enormously profitable and entirely legal in the United States before the Civil War, even free Black people lived in fear that they might be kidnapped, sold illegally as slaves, and never heard from by their friends and families again. Though many Americans are familiar with the experience of Solomon Northup, as relayed in his memoir Twelve Years a Slave and the film of the same name, Richard Bell demonstrates how kidnapping was widespread in the nineteenth century and how thin the line could be between freedom and slavery.


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The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation

By Daina Ramey Berry

The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation

Why this book?

That enslaved people were considered commodities is no secret. But in this book, Daina Ramey Berry demonstrates how enslaved people were attached to monetary prices throughout their entire lives. Indeed, enslaved people were in the market even before they were born, and they remained in the market even after they had died. But Berry reminds us that enslaved people themselves understood that their “soul value,” and not their supposed economic value, defined who they really were.


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An Intimate Economy: Enslaved Women, Work, and America's Domestic Slave Trade

By Alexandra J. Finley

An Intimate Economy: Enslaved Women, Work, and America's Domestic Slave Trade

Why this book?

The domestic slave trade business was operated predominantly by white men, but the labor of Black women was critical to making it profitable. Here, Alexandra Finley recovers the stories of Black women who fed and clothed the enslaved in pens and jail, who kept the houses of slave traders, who were commodified for purposes of sexual slavery in the so-called fancy trade, and who sometimes even lived as the concubines and “wives” of traders. Putting enslaved women and their work at the center of the story yields an entirely new angle of vision on the trade.


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Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade

By Maurie D. McInnis

Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade

Why this book?

As the domestic slave trade became more expansive alongside the growth of the cotton economy, it attracted the increased ire of antislavery activists in the United States and England alike. Using sketches and paintings of the slave trade made by British artist Eyre Crowe in the 1850s as an entry point, Maurie McInnis explores the landscape of the slave trade in major American cities such as Richmond and New Orleans. In the process, she also opens a fresh window onto the world of transatlantic abolitionism.


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The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815-1860

By Calvin Schermerhorn

The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815-1860

Why this book?

Much of the recent outpouring of books on the domestic slave trade is an outgrowth of revived debates about the historical relationship between slavery and capitalism in the United States. Calvin Schermerhorn draws that connection as tightly as any historian in recent memory, tracing the financial innovations generated by the trade and following the money around the country and across the Atlantic as a foundation for American economic growth was built on the backs of hundreds of thousands of enslaved people trafficked against their will.


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