In the Hands of Strangers: Readings on Foreign and Domestic Slave Trading and the Crisis of the Union

By Engerman, Stanley L. | Civil War History, September 2002 | Go to article overview

In the Hands of Strangers: Readings on Foreign and Domestic Slave Trading and the Crisis of the Union


Engerman, Stanley L., Civil War History


By Robert Edgar Conrad. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001. Pp. xvii, 516. Cloth, $45.00.)

Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas. By Sally E. Hadden. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. Pp. xi, 340. Cloth, $35.00.)

As the literature of American slavery continues to be published in what seems to be an accelerating amount, many of the works can be placed in one of two principal categories. One focuses on the constraints and power aspects of the enslavers limiting the behavior of the enslaved and the other on the patterns of behavior and belief of the enslaved during enslavement, with limited attention given to the constraints imposed by planter power. The two books under review fall more into the former category, dealing with two key aspects that have been the basis of master power and control in most slave societies. Robert Edgar Conrad, who has published several books on the Brazilian slave trade and the ending of Brazilian slavery, has drawn together contemporary writings on the international slave trade and, for the United States, the internal slave trade and the conflicts, mainly due to the expansion of slavery, between North and South leading to the Civil War. Sally Hadden, an assistant professor of history and law at Florida State University, has expanded her Harvard dissertation to describe the operation of slave patrols in Virginia and South Carolina. While the slave trade, foreign and internal, has been a frequent topic of study, Hadden's is the first work devoted exclusively to slave patrols in almost a century.

Conrad's book, whose title comes from remarks of Frederick Douglass, is divided into three sections, "The African Slave Trade, Legal and Illegal," "The Internal Slave Trade of the United States," and "Conflict and Crisis of the Union on the Road to Civil War," with, respectively, sixteen, twenty-five, and twenty-six selections, each of two to twelve pages. Introductions to both the sections and individual selections are relatively brief. The selections are from a combination of familiar primary sources of the period, but with some novel and unexpected choices. With the exception of the writings on the foreign slave trade, almost all are from the years 1820 to 1865, with a goodly number for the period 1850 to 1865. The narratives compiled in interviews sponsored by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression are used in several places to provide the slaves with a voice. And while the materials for the first section are often descriptive about the nature of the slave trade from its origins in inland Africa, the other sections lean more heavily upon what can be described as the abolitionist or antislavery sources.

Conrad has done a fine job in assembling interesting and useful material that should appeal to scholars of slavery as well as students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Most selections are relatively short, but serve to make the points that Conrad discusses. …

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