Slavery and Forced Migration in the Antebellum South

By Vincent, Charles | The Journal of Southern History, November 2016 | Go to article overview

Slavery and Forced Migration in the Antebellum South


Vincent, Charles, The Journal of Southern History


Slavery and Forced Migration in the Antebellum South. By Damian Alan Pargas. Cambridge Studies on the American South. (New York and other cities: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. xii, 281. Paper, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-107-65896-7; cloth, $80.00, ISBN 978-1-107-03121-0.)

Damian Alan Pargas has produced a valuable volume on the many aspects of the forced migration of enslaved people in the antebellum South. Forced migration took three forms: trade from older southern states of the Atlantic seaboard to other areas, local movement and moving about in rural areas, and being hired out to the city. In this well-crafted volume, Pargas poses vital questions and provides documented answers.

How did American slaves experience forced migration? How did they get along with other slaves? How did they negotiate their removal and rebuild their lives while contending with the "consequences of forced migrations for identity formation" (p. 3)? With a map of the domestic slave trade, pictures, and impressive documentation, this volume uses a comparative perspective "juxtaposing and contrasting the experiences of long-distance, local, and urban slave migrants" (p. 3). One argument Pargas makes is that no southern slave owner was truly committed to paternalism but rather acted out of "financial self-interest" (p. 258). In chapter 1 the author observes that "between 1820 and 1860, at least 875,000 slaves were forcibly removed from the Upper South," causing the enslaved population in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama to increase by 68 percent and leading to a cotton boom after the invention of the cotton gin and a sugar revolution in Louisiana (p. 19). New Orleans became the South's largest slave market. Owners sold or hired out slaves for reasons as varied as personal dislike, to cover up illicit affairs, to rid themselves of recalcitrant slaves, and to alleviate their own economic indebtedness. Some of those sold had to endure the inhumanity of inspections and probing at the auction blocks, slave pens, and jails and being taken overland and by sea routes to various locations. Chapter 2 discusses how they reacted to the prospect of relocation, resisted or negotiated the terms of their relocation, and the organizational aspects of forced migration. …

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