Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market

Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market

Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market

Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market

Excerpt

Nineteenth-century New Orleans was, by the breathless account of its boosters, on the verge of becoming one of antebellum America's leading cities, a city to be compared to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston. What had once been an imperial outpost, passed back and forth between European powers in faraway trades was, by the early nineteenth century, a city poised on the brink of commercial greatness. Along the city's waterfront, ships from Europe and around the coast, steamers from the Mississippi River valley, and thousands of flatboats were packed so tightly that one could walk deck to deck from one end of the city to the other. Stevedores and draymen, white and black, traced out tiny connections in the world economy, unloading and loading, moving goods that had been paper-traded miles away and weeks before: crates of clothes, shoes, and buttons; guns, tobacco, and textiles; china, books, and French wine; cattle, hogs, corn, and whiskey. Salesmen and sailors shouted warnings and instructions in a half dozen languages. Overhung by the odor of batter-fried fish and pipe smoke, the hopes of the lower South's leading city were reefed across the broad frontage where the Mississippi met the Atlantic: thousands of bales of cotton and barrels of sugar, stacked and flagged with the colors of the commission merchants responsible for their sale. And though the city never managed to outrun the underachievement that accounted for the shrill edge of the boosters' accounts, New Orleans . . .

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