Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Slavery on the Periphery: The Kansas-Missouri Border in the Antebellum and Civil War Years

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Slavery on the Periphery: The Kansas-Missouri Border in the Antebellum and Civil War Years

Article excerpt

Slavery on the Periphery: The Kansas-Missouri Border in the Antebellum and Civil War Years. By Kristen Epps. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016. Pp. xv, 265, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, $59.95.)

As difficult as it is to think about the history of the Kansas-Missouri border without a thorough consideration of John Brown as the centerpiece, Kristen Epps makes clear in her introduction that this book is about primarily the enslaved people in this contested area, their daily lives, and interactions with white society. Most notably, she analyzes the organinzation of slavery in this western area and its development in three major periods: pre-1850, the Bleeding Kansas years to the Civil War, and during the Civil War into Reconstruction and beyond. Epps states, "I contend that the Kansas-Missouri border and its slave system demonstrate that slavery could flourish in a region on the outskirts of white American society, that slaves were central to the story of Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War in the West, and that mobility was a core feature of slaves' experiences in the region" (p. 2). She returns time and again to the major emphasis that slave mobility through the border area contributed to how slavery functioned and its ultimate demise.

She illustrates this mobility through records of how slaves were employed, the various skills they were hired for outside of their owners' property, and work they did for their own gain. While census and court records give the rough outlines, she also examines personal stories and news accounts to draw a more complete sketch of enslaved existence. Epps recognizes the public and personal record of slavery in this area is sometimes rather thin. Any historian working on slavery in the western regions understands this completely. She makes a conscious decision to use microhistory as her preferred historiographical methodology in dealing with the fragments of written records she examines.

Microhistory is an especially useful brush with which to detail a narrative such as this and a methodology that more histories of western states and their development should utilize. …

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