In Colonial America, "the initial demand for labor was precisely that—for labor—and was largely color-blind. Kolchin reveals that, while the plantation slavery of what was to become the South developed distinctively and primarily to cultivate tobacco and cotton , it had much in common with the plantation slavery of the Caribbean where sugar was the primary crop. By about , American slavery was concentrated mostly in the South, though it existed in all of the American colonies, and, as time passed, relationships between slaves and masters changed as second- generation slaves lost much of their African culture and became Americanized. In the US—in contrast to the Caribbean—slaves lived longer, developed considerable occupational diversity, and became acculturated, particularly in their absorption of Protestantism.

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Shelves: civil-war , 19thc-us On the first page of American Slavery, historian Peter Kolchin states that The sheer volume of historical work on slavery has become so cast that keeping up with it is a task of herculean proportions even for experts in the field.

For everyone else, it is simply impossible. The book attempts to address that problem by providing both a broad survey of current views of slavery and a guide to the historiography of the topic. The results are outstanding. Kolchin has produced an incredible work that serves as both an introduction to the history of American slavery and a guide to the literature. Such a survey naturally does not have a single argument or thesis, but Kolchin does continually return to the theme that slavery in America was not a static institution but was constantly changing, from a system of indentured servitude in the early colonial era to a race-based, paternalistic model in the antebellum period.

Kolchin begins the work with a study of the colonial period, focusing on how indentured servitude of Europeans was the norm until around , when the amount of labor required far exceeded the amount of servants that Europe could provide. Kolchin notes that most African slaves at first did not arrive in America, but usually found themselves in other Caribbean colonies.

This broader contextualization — examining slavery in a global context — is particularly useful. Kolchin continually compares American slavery to other types of slavery around the world, including the Caribbean colonies — which form a useful comparison because of their reliance on African slaves — but also Russian serfdom. In other places, slaves often died and had to be replaced with new slaves from Africa, but in America, slaves reproduced, creating new generations of American born slaves that developed a new African-American culture that blended elements of their African heritage with American elements.

The American Revolution brought a number of changes in the system of slavery. During this period, some Americans mostly Quakers began to question the institution on moral grounds. The disruption of life brought on by the war did cause much absenteeism and allowed many slaves to escape. Many blacks stayed, but the increased autonomy they experienced caused them to become culturally more isolated. He does focus on the differences between North and South, especially how the emphasis of agriculture in the South lends itself to a larger reliance on slavery.

In the upper South, plantations were generally smaller, whereas the deep South, especially places like Louisiana, used massive plantations with sometimes hundreds of slaves.

Kolchin traces how racism became an ingrained component of slavery over time, but also how the relationship between slaves and masters was based on paternalism. The book also traces the rise in southern protection and defense of slavery. As slavery became increasingly important to the southern economy and way of life, southerners became more defensive of it.

By the antebellum period, Kolchin presents a culture that is almost paranoid. Slaveowners feared that abolitionists would destroy their way of life, or that a slave insurrection could undermine the structure of their society. Although the book focuses primarily on slavery itself, Kolchin does a wonderful job of presenting a complete picture of that society.

He includes details about yeoman farmers and non-slaveholding southern whites, many of which had a stake in the system of slavery even if they did not own slaves themselves.

Kolchin takes care to destroy many misconceptions about slavery. For example, he dismantles the idea that slavery made the South a more economically productive region than the North by demonstrating that the only reason for southern economic growth was the use of more land. Per capita measurements reveal a southern economy that lagged far behind the North. Similarly, slavery was not in the process of dying out in the antebellum period, but was in fact growing. The final chapters of the book present useful explorations of slave resistance, mostly through passive means, and of disruption during the Civil War.

Of particular interest is the chapter on reconstruction, which highlights the ambivalent attitudes of some freed slaves and also highlights their increased agency in determining their fate.

Kolchin emphasizes that not only were southern whites dismayed by reconstruction, but many reformers in the North were disappointed that the South was not more completely transformed.

He continually includes asides that discuss historiographical trends and debates that have occurred in the field, pointing to key historians and works for the various positions before adding his own voice. Of particular interest is his discussion of how historians have treated the slaves themselves, first looking at them as powerless victims, then, the s, looking at slave life from their own perspective, incorporating new sources that reveal much of slave culture and lifestyle.

Kolchin concludes that although that research was incredibly valuable, it sometimes went too far in ascribing so much agency to slaves, whose lives were dictated to them. Kolchin takes similar stances on other issues, often navigating between the extremes of the literature, advocating a middle position in these historiographical debates.

Thus, the book works incredibly well not only as a survey but as a guide to further research. Ultimately, the book is a wonderful overview both of slavery as an institution and of the historiography of the subject.

By design, it relies almost exclusively on secondary sources, but this is not a weakness. The book is not an attempt to provide new original research, but to sum up the existing literature, and in that goal it succeeds brilliantly.

Kolchin presents a complex picture of slavery as it evolves and changes over time. For students new to the subject, or scholars seeking a useful overview to the field, this book is nearly perfect.


American Slavery: 1619-1877

This paper is divided in two sections. Stop Using Plagiarized Content. By about , American slavery was concentrated mostly in the South, though it existed in all of the American colonies, and, as time passed, relationships between slaves and masters changed as second- generation slaves lost much of their African culture and became Americanized. The Revolutionary era saw slavery threatened by Enlightenment ideology, but the institution survived more strongly than ever in the South and, during the 19th century, came to be perceived as fundamental to the Southern economy and way of life. Kolchin also writes about slave life through the Civil War, and, not surprisingly, he sees slavery as leaving a legacy that has persisted throughout our own century. Their free labor established the agricultural foundation of the New World.


American Slavery: 1619-1877, by Peter Kolchin – Analysis

The historical non-fiction novel, American Slavery: , by Peter Kolchin, describes the overview of slavery in America. This novel specifically focuses on the life of a slave throughout the colonial period all the way through the abolition of slavery. Kolchin has specialized in slavery and labor in the American South before, and after the Civil War. Stop Using Plagiarized Content.


Book Review American Slavery: 1619-1877 by Peter Kolchin


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