Book Review: Stephanie Jones-Rogers’ “They Were Her Property”

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes? –Dr. Samuel Johnson

Stephanie Jones-Rogers’ They Were Her Property is a beautifully written work of scholarship that demolishes great swathes of conventional wisdom while painting a vivid portrait of “19th century America’s most significant and devastating system of economic exchange,” and how white women slave-owners actively participated within it by owning, managing, and selling slaves. (Yale University Press has also done the work proud; the paper and typesetting are gorgeous, and best of all — ranting, here — the running heads in the footnotes section have page numbers, so you can flip directly to the page of footnotes you want and then to the note, rather than having to remember the name of the chapter, fumble through the index to find it, and then work slowly forward by the numbers. Why don’t all publishers do this? Close rant.) The Washington Post descibes Jones-Rogers’ methodology in “White women’s long-overlooked complicity in the brutality of slaveholding” (but, as we shall see, it’s more than “complicity”:

At every turn in her analysis, Jones-Rogers takes care to illuminate how we know what we know. Her central sources are firsthand accounts by enslaved persons, especially the more than 2,000 interviews with former slaves recorded by the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal agency[1], in the 1930s. In those interviews, formerly enslaved people clearly recall having female owners and recall, too, the authority those female owners exercised in exploiting, punishing and tormenting their bondspeople. A vast documentary record confirms these recollections: For example, women appear as slave owners in census records; in newspaper advertisements for the return of runaways; and in court records, confronting spouses who refused to recognize their property rights.

The New York Times describes Jones-Rogers’ historiography in “White Women Were Avid Slaveowners, a New Book Shows“:

[The book] examines how historians have misunderstood and misrepresented white women as reluctant actors. The scholarship of the 1970s and ’80s, in particular, did much to minimize their involvement, depicting them as masters in name only and even, grotesquely, as natural allies to enslaved people — both suffered beneath the boot of Southern patriarchy, the argument goes.

Jones-Rogers puts the matter plainly. White slave-owning women were ubiquitous. Not only did they profit from, and passionately defend, slavery, but the institution “was their freedom.” White women were more likely to inherit enslaved people than land. Their wealth brought them suitors and gave them bargaining power in their marriages. If their husbands proved unsatisfactory slave owners in their eyes, the women might petition for the right to manage their “property” themselves, which they did, with imaginative sadism.

In this review, I’m going to quote long-ish passages of the book, both to display Jones-Rogers’ methodology and historiography at work, to drive home the points made in the reviews above, and to show — you think you know something, but come to find out you didn’t really know it — what a skin-crawlingly vile institution the Slave Power really was. I’ll conclude with a few brief remarks on the current political conjuncture.

Women Owned Slaves

From the Introduction, pages xii-xiv:

I focus specifically on women who owned enslaved people in their own right and, in particular, on the the experiences of married slave-owning women. In addition, I understand these women’s fundamental relation to slavery as a relation of property, a relation that was, above all, economic at its foundation. I am not suggesting that this was these women’s only relationship to the institution or that the economic dimension of their relations overrode other aspects of their connections to slavery; rather, I argue that pecuniary ties formed one of slave-owning women’s primary relations to African American bondage.

Historians who explore slavery’s relationship to capitalism generally focus on the roles that men played in the development of both. But if we considered the very real possibility that some of the enslaved people these men compelled to work in southern cotton fields actually belonged to their wives, the narrative about American slavery and capitalism would be strikingly different. And when we consider that the enslaved people women owned before they married or acquired afterward helped make the nineteenth-century scale of southern cotton cultivation possible, the narrative of slavery, nineteenth century markets, and capitalism as the domain of men becomes untenable.

In the South, slave-owning women possessed the kind of wealth that prospective suitors and planters in training hoped to acquire or have at their disposal. Why else would John Moore crassly tell his cousins Mary and Richard that “girls… bait their hooks with niggers and the more they stick on the better success” they would have in securing a worthy husband?”

Why else, indeed?

Women and Girls Were Given Slaves as Gifts

From the chapter “Mistresses in the Making,” pages 2 and 19:

[Slave-owning parents] gave enslaved men, women, and childen to their young daughters on special occasions like baptisms, birthdays (especially twenty-first birthdays), holidays, and marriage, or for no reason at all. They also bequeathed enslaved people to their daughters in their wills. And when human property was transferred to them, these young women came to value the crucial ties between slave ownership and autonomous, stable financial futures….

Slave-owning mother’ deeds of gift, like the one devised by Ann V. Hicks of Marlborough District, South Carolina, on August 17, 1831, not only offer more concrete support for enslaved people’s claims that their owners gave them to married daughters they also show that these property transfers preserved their daughters’ legal titles to these slaves as well. Hicks drew up a deed of gift that conveyed six enslaved people and their future children to her three married daughters. It stipulated that she gave these enslaved people to them “without any right in the husbands which they now have or may hereafter have, to exercise any control over said property, or in any manner to intermeddle therewith…. Hicks envisioned a certain kind of life for her daughters, one that did not leave them subject to whatever financial blunders their husbands might make.

“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South… Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow… Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave… Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind…”

Women Managed Slaves

From the chapter “Missus Done Her Own Beating,” page 72:

Although in most studies of slvery the underlying assumption is the only male heads of households exercised mastery over enslaved people, formerly enslaved people forthrightly challenged this view… They spoke of households in which slave-owning couples exercised “double mastery.” Each spouse had his or her own style of slave management and discipline, styles could be complementary or incompatible, and when their styles clashed, conflict was often the result…..

Slave-owning couples also used different instruments to administer punishment, and this, too, was a reflection of their particular styles of achieving mastery and preserving the value of their human property. On the plantation where Anna Miller resided, her master punished the men with a cowhide whip, and her mistress often whipped the women with nettleweed branches. At first glance, Miller’s emphasis on the different instruments of discipline that her master and mistress used might imply that her mistress chose a milder method of punishment, a choice that could support the contention that white women were more concerned about their slaves’ well-being. But this was not the case. The small hairs that cover the stems of the netttleweed, also known as “stinging nettle”… contain several chemicals that cause intense pain when they come into contact with the skin. When the affected area was rubbed, the motion would push the hairs, and the pain-inducing chemicals, deeper into the skin, prolonging the pain and irritation. Miller’s mistress’s weapon of choice had a long-lasting, increasingly painful effect on the bodies of the enslaved females living within her household.


Women Sold Slaves

From the chapter “She Thought She Could Find a Better Market,” pages 82 et seq.:

For [enslaved people], the slave market was a mobile, spatially unbounded economic network that connected urban commercial districts to plantation estates and incorporated boardinghouses, rural pathways, urban streets, taverns, and coffee shops, as well as holding pens and auction houses. They also saw slave-owning households — their porches, kitchens, dining rooms, and bedrooms — and the fields and the quarters, along with the pathways and roads surrounding them, as fundamental parts of the slave market. In all these places, slave-owning women orchestrated the sale and purchase of enslaved people. Not onlly did slave-owning women participate in the public haggling over bodies in the slave pen, they frequently subjected enslaved people to the terror of the slave market in the privacy of their own homes. While slave traders, auctioneers, and brokers prepared enslaved people for sale by the sides of country roads, in southern auction houses, and in slave-trading establishments, white women talked with friends and family members about their labor needs and their desire to buy or sell enslaved men, women, and children… They were often able to fulfill that desire without visiting a brick-and-mortar marketplace because this process often took place — or at least began — in their homes.

Lelia Tucker wrote a letter to her husband in which she documented one femail acquaintance’s negotiations with three slave-owning women in their social circle. A woman she called “Mrs. P,”… had not only “hired a houseservant” from one Mrs. Braxton, she had also hired or purchased a washerwoman who belonged to a Mrs. Charlton. Tucker told her husband that Mrs. P. expected “to take Mrs. Prentis’s cook on trial, before she venture[d] to purchase her.” Lelia Tucker mentioned no involvement by male kin, a proxy, or a agent in the agreements between Mrs. P. and the other women. Mrs. P. was likely to have learned about the available servants through local female networks and approached the women herself. Such local sales and hires between friends and acquaintances could be the reason why these transactions remained out of the slave traders’ account books.

Mrs. P.’s negotiations and transactions with Mrs. Braxton, Mrs. Charlton, and Mrs. Prentis offer further evidence of the integration of the home and the “intensive and brutal” market in slaves. The slave market so thoroughly saturated the slaveholding household that a slave-owning home could never be a place characterized solely by “human relations unqualified by a price.” All four of these women incorporated currency and human commodities into their social network.

Someone from Hollywood should really option They Were Her Property, and make an ensemble piece in the style of Robert Altman. With plenty of realistic sounds, as of coins, whips, flipping pages in account books, and so forth.


I don’t want to task the author with writing a book they didn’t want to write, but the potential connection to make for me, the sought through line, was this question: “How many of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) once owned slaves?” For those who came in late, the white women of the UDC were responsible for promulgating and propagating the fabulously vile and destructive Dolchstoßlegende-level myth Big Lie of the “Lost Cause,” an endeavor that makes today’s gaslighting and disinformation operations look like The Poky Little Puppy. From the Encyclopedia Virginia:

What do we mean by the Lost Cause? Long the prevailing ideology of not only the UDC but of the United Confederate Veterans, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and much of the postwar elite white culture, it follows several basic precepts:

  • the Confederacy didn’t start the war;
  • slavery had nothing to do with it;
  • enslaved people were generally well-treated and faithful to their masters;

  • the United States only won because of its industry and manpower and a willingness to sacrifice the lives of its soldiers; and
  • Confederate soldiers were uniquely heroic and Confederate women uniquely honorable.

So what does this have to do with white supremacy? All of these things add up to a nostalgic elevation of a society the foundation of which was the violent enslavement of other human beings. And this “elevation” was not by accident. It came at precisely the moment when those formerly enslaved people were competing with their former enslavers for political power [during Reconstruction]. By asserting that slavery was not that bad and that white people had always acted honorably and in the best interests of blacks, the Lost Cause became an argument for a society in which white people belonged at the top of the order and blacks at the bottom.

One way the UDC succeeded was through an effort to control the content of school textbooks. Facing South:

[69,706,756] students were enrolled in the South’s public elementary and secondary schools between 1889, when the government began counting students, and 1969, the height of the segregationist Jim Crow era, according to the U.S. Department of Education statistics. There they were subjected to the alternative reality of the Lost Cause, a false version of U.S. history developed in response to Reconstruction that minimizes slavery’s central role in the Civil War, promotes the Confederacy’s aim as a heroic one, glorifies the Ku Klux Klan, and portrays the white South as the victim.

The poisonous Lost Cause lessons were taught to multiple generations of Southerners to uphold institutionalized white supremacy — in part through public school curriculums shaped by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). More famous these days for their controversial Confederate monuments, the UDC had an almost singular focus on making sure the Lost Cause propaganda was so ingrained in the minds of Southern youth that it would be perpetual. Their most effective tool? School textbooks.

So, a natural through line from the Antebellum South through the Civil War through Reconstruction to Jim Crow would be to ask if the UDC leadership regretted the loss of their human capital. Jones-Rogers doesn’t ask the question, and I can’t find any scholarship on it. The Encyclopedia Virginia says that UDC co-founder Caroline Meriwether Goodlett was “raised on a large Kentucky plantation,” and that co-founder Anna Mitchell Davenport Raines was the “daughter of a Confederate officer.” It’s possible they owned slaves, but we don’t know. Suzanne Woolley Smith, in the journal Border States, says the following:

The U.D.C. was an organization which gave women of the middle and upper class a domestic arena.

Women were proud of the roles that they and their mothers had played during the war, but many were also mindful of the continuing changes that the war had wrought in their lives. Many women were forced to become self-supporting after the war.

Here again, we have likelihoods, not historical certainties. In the Slave Power, the upper and middle classes were slave-owning, by definition; it follows, statistically, that some members of the UDC were likely to have owned slaves. Surely “the roles that they and their mothers played during the war” would have including managing households and plantations, and therefore managing slaves. It’s also likely that some of the women were forced to “become self-supporting” because their slaves had been taken away. But I wish somebody like Rogers-Jones would write a book on this topic!

A second natural through line from the Antebellum South to the present day is prison labor. Nathan J. Robinson writes in Current Affairs:

The prison labor system in the United States has long been an unacknowledged scandal. It’s quite plainly a form of slavery. The Thirteenth Amendment even admits as much: it doesn’t say that when you’re forced to work for being convicted of a crime, that isn’t slavery. It says that slavery is legal if it is imposed as part of a conviction for a crime.

But two possibly unexpected beneficiaries of the contemporary prison slavery system were none other than Bill and Hillary Clinton, who during their time at the Arkansas governor’s mansion in the 1980’s used inmates to perform various household tasks in order to “keep costs down.” Hillary Clinton wrote of the practice openly and without any apparent sense of moral conflict. In It Takes a Village, Hillary Clinton writes that the residence was staffed with “African-American men in their thirties,” since “using prison labor at the governor’s mansion was a longstanding tradition, which kept down costs.” It is unclear just how longstanding the tradition of having chained black laborers brought to work as maids and gardeners had been. But one has no doubt that as the white residents of a mansion staffed with unpaid blacks, the Clintons were continuing a certain historic Southern practice. (Hillary Clinton did note, however, that she and Bill were sure not to show undue lenience to the sla…servants, writing that “[w]e enforced rules strictly and sent back to prison any inmate who broke a rule.”

Finally, and still thinking of the present day, They Were Her Property makes clear that essentialist claims to virtue by identity politics devotees are just plain wrong, an important result.

Stephanie Jones-Rogers’ They Were Her Property provides a vivid and textured portrait of the life in the Slave Power, comparable to the Genoveses’ The Mind of the Master Class, albeit broader in scope.


[1] Thank you, FDR.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. a different chris

    During Ken Burns doc every time “Mary Chestnut”‘s voice came on my (very white) skin would literally crawl.

    Now I feel justified in that reaction. The Wiki page, which maybe should be investigated and likely updated, reads or at least read, given my pre-biases, to seem that all of “1000 slaves” were Mr. Chestnut’s. But that is now not a given.

    1. KLG

      History is indeed the stuff of tragedy. But why “Mary Chestnut”? Mary Chesnut (without the first “t”) was a very real person. Did you read Mary Chesnut’s Civil War, edited by C. Vann Woodward? Or was it just Julie Harris’s (well done) southern accent that bothered you?

  2. Plenue

    I always think of stuff like the Federal Writers Project when I see someone like David Graeber ranting about how the government can only create ‘bullshit jobs’. The testimony of slaves has been central to the entirety of the new generation of historiography that is completely demolishing the Lost Cause and Confederate apologetics. Without the New Deal, that testimony simply wouldn’t exist.

    1. False Solace

      > David Graeber ranting about how the government can only create ‘bullshit jobs’

      Citation needed.

      Graeber’s actual argument is that most bullshit jobs are created in the private sector. Wikipedia thinks so too.

        1. Joe Well

          He doesn’t seem to be saying that there will only be BS jobs in a jobs guarantee, and certainly not that most existing government jobs are BS jobs, just that a jobs guarantee runs the risk of creating a lot of BS jobs.

          He seems to be skeptical of the long-term prospects of a jobs guarantee because he is afraid that the government, to meet quotas, will come up with make-work jobs and then use force to compel people to do them.

          I disagree with how strongly he is convinced of that. I think what disproves his fear is that we had a near de facto jobs guarantee in the 1950s and relatively few government-created make-work jobs, and ditto for Japan in the 1990s before austerity. But the WPA doesn’t disprove this fear, because the WPA was not a universal jobs guarantee for all able-bodied adults. In fact, there was very high unemployment in the 1930s. The WPA was a kind of stop-gap.

          1. Plenue

            WW2 was essentially the WPA on steroids. The New Deal was allowed to be kicked into overdrive in the name of waging war.

      1. Plenue

        Yes, he has. I’ve followed him on Twitter. He makes a big deal of the New Deal creating jobs like having people paint rocks white. He’s used this as a means to criticize a federal jobs guarantee over UBI. He’s conflated in his own mind his valid criticisms of actually meaningless positions with the idea of a jobs guarantee.

        1. GERMO

          I know this is off the topic, but Graeber, though an interesting writer a lot of the time, definitely is too distanced from what “work” actually is for a lot of us. His “bullshit jobs” are all that a certain type of person — educated, credentialed elite, that is — sees everywhere. There are millions of us who work on our feet, breaking our bodies, underpaid, but most definitely providing real goods and services while doing so. We’d frankly love a bullshit job where the main problem is boredom, not chronic injury and exhaustion. Graeber thinks of work as something that mostly is done sitting at a desk.

          1. david graeber

            This is silly. I’m from a working class background and I’ve never had a job that involves sitting at a desk, unless you want to count professor. But anyone who’s had a real job knows that the very worst part is having to stand around pretending to look busy even when there’s nothing to do so the boss won’t see you slacking off on “his time.” Basically what I call BSJ jobs are ones that’s ALL you do. So you could say the real message is from a person from a wage-earner background saying to salary earners: “actually, it kind of sucks for you too, doesn’t it?”

            1. Lambert Strether Post author

              > I’ve never had a job that involves sitting at a desk, unless you want to count professor.

              I was never a cook, unless you want to count the time I worked behind a grill.

          2. Joe Well

            I had a BS temp job at a warehouse at least once. We were instructed to load the boxes very, very slowly and very carefully. We almost all fully understood what was happening and complied. Except one coworker who had worked at UPS refused to go along and we couldn’t figure out how to convince him to slow down until he accidentally broke one of the goods. That would have been an acceptable rate of loss under normal circumstances, but we used it as an objective reason to convince him to slow down.

        2. david graeber

          it’s very easy to find one sarcastic joke (replete with satirical meme) and pretend it’s meant to be taken entirely literally, and to better express the author’s opinion than dozens of statements saying the opposite … but honestly, why make up absurdities to argue against? What’s the point? No one would seriously argue that government programs would not create a single worthwhile job, the point is obviously that gov’t programs would create lots of them, as they always have in the past. For every writer’s program, the WPA had hundreds of people painting rocks white.

          The question is: who is better to judge how people can contribute to society? A government bureaucracy, or the people themselves? A jobs guarantee tends to be overwhelmingly favoured by members of the professional managerial classes who feel they should be the ones deciding how people contribute, and whether they are therefore worthy of being given the means to feed themselves and their children. UBI tends to be favoured by those who feel people don’t need a bureaucracy and system of surveillance because they want to, and deserve to be able to, make up their own minds what they have to contribute to the world.

          A JG on top of a UBI would make that easier. But a JG without UBI is just a bunch of bureaucrats or would-be bureaucrats saying “I know better than you do what you’re good for”, even though we know from basically all observable past cases the results are lots of people doing stupid things. (Maybe some people will do stupid things in UBI too, but at least they’ll be stupid things they actually like.)

          1. Joe Well

            Professor Graeber, I have a real-world counter-example.

            In New York City, under the teacher’s contract, it was very, very difficult to fire a teacher with tenure (more than four years experience) unless they did something objectively wrong.

            So, how to get rid of troublemaking reformer types? Or just teachers at the top of the pay scale in non-STEM, non-SPED, non-ESL fields?

            Enter: the rubber room.

            Teachers were forced to show up each day and just sit in a room doing nothing, at their same old salaries and rates of pay. Meanwhile, the New York Times and NY Post dutifully stenographed the central administration’s claims that these people were useless and it was only the evil teacher’s union keeping these parasites on the payroll. Mental health reportedly fell apart for these teachers. The union president was an actual zero-degrees-of-separation Clintonite, so not much opposition there.

            What many rank-and-file, and especially less experienced, teachers wanted was a kind of jobs guarantee. Every teacher would have to be given a teaching position.

            My instinct is that you have totally underestimated the potential for evil in government administration and the watchdog media. Not being allowed to work is just as awful a stick as being forced to work. And if you think that we can all just be entrepreneurs, look at how much entrepreneurship is thwarted in most societies.

            1. david graeber

              what imagined argument of mine is that a counter-example to?
              you think I think we can all just be entrepreneurs????

              1. Keith Newman

                I don’t understand the appeal of UBI. There is so much work to be done. Why in the world would you pay people to do nothing? Examples of critical work: daycare, care for the frail elderly, education, environmental remediation, infrastructure development (including intra and inter city transit), etc, etc. In the US it would probably mean ten million jobs if not more. UBI instead of all those things – really??

                1. Olivier

                  I am glad we are having this discussion. An UBI seems preferable to a JG to me because it is all too easy to see how a JG could degenerate into an insidious form of forced labor (and for a token wage, too: see the one-Euro jobs of Germany, which have done thing but expand the Lumpenproletariat). We would then rue the days when only convicts were exposed to this form of quasi-slavery.

                  A better approach IMO would be to go after the drivers of job disappearance, starting with this insane mania of automating everything, including what does not need to be automated, like checkout lanes in supermarkets. The private sector would scream bloody murder but so what? They are always whingeing anyway.

              2. skippy

                Hay David …

                As one of the original commeters that introduced your name on this blog with Philip and reference your book 5000K of debt endlessly I would ask you to be slightly more forth giving.

                I mean its cool to romanticize about physiocrat’s but how did it work out for Yanis or for that matter Spencer in the long game.

              3. Joe Well

                The NYC example is a real-world limited case of a UBI without a jobs guarantee. UBI without a jobs guarantee means that there will be rubber rooms, where the punishment is a guaranteed income without meaningful work. The media can then use this to undermine the whole program.

                As for people being entrepreneurs, you say people will just create their own work without any central direction. That is called self-employment, or in fancier language, entrepreneurship.

                You seem to be suggesting that UBI will somehow fundamentally change power relations while a jobs guarantee will entrench them. Actual, real world experience shows there is no reason to believe that. Power is distinct from policy.

                What infuriates me is that academia furnishes an example of a jobs guarantee (tenure) that you should certainly be familiar with. In fact, it’s not just a job-guarantee, it’s a title-guarantee and a prestige-guarantee. Is that all BS make-work?

            2. Plenue

              Graeber doesn’t think we’ll all become entrepreneurs. He does think UBI will lead to some sort of creative flourishing, or at least people will be allowed to just do things they like.

              1. Joe Well

                >>people will be allowed to just do things they like.

                In other words, self-employment, the baby step of entrepreneurship.

          2. Plenue

            Does the farmer know you stole his strawman?

            Who are these ‘professional managerial bureaucrats’ advocating for a jobs guarantee? What I’ve actually seen is people suggesting things like an MMT fueled federal fund that is broken down into a descending order of ever more local programs that are directed to local needs, democratically controlled.

            By the way, even just the type of technocratic bureaucracy you’re talking about would be an immense improvement over what exists now (which is essentially nothing). I would love it if the Democrats were talking about such a thing. Then at least the raw concept would be part of mainstream debate.

          3. Plenue

            It isn’t an isolated example. I’ve watched you argue about it at length. To the point that it’s hard to actually see much difference between your ‘satirical’ post and your genuine arguments.

            And if we’re going to talk about observable past cases, UBI was tried. It was an utter failure, at everything other than giving business a defacto subsidy to suppress wages.

    2. Philip Ebersole

      I read David Graeber’s book. He doesn’t claim that letter carriers or librarians are BS jobs. He does claim, accurately, that many governmental administrative jobs are BS jobs.

      Public works projects would not involve BS jobs. A job guarantee program might well be, if you operated under the condition at the guaranteed jobs (1) could not replace any existing jobs, (2) would have to be created on the spot for anyone wanting a job, (3) would be at prevailing wages and (4) would not involve any long-term contracts. I take it that this is what Grabber was getting at in his comment.

  3. Edward

    As I recall, in his will George Washington freed his slaves, but his wife did not honor this stipulation. Slavery lasted more then 200 years, and the details of its practice may have varied with time and geography. I think slavery has similarities with the system of serfdom during the Middle Ages.

    1. Synoia

      Slavery existed on the planet up until the Oxford Movement, in post Napoleonic War era (1820), caused the repeal of slavery.

      1. Edward

        Slavery exists today, both around the world and in the United States. I saw an article a few years ago which claimed there are 50,000 slaves in America.

      2. David

        It existed for quite a long time after that, especially in Africa until the arrival of western colonists. If I remember correctly the last bastion of slavery was Madagascar which lasted until 1916 when the French took control.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Strictly speaking, they were attachments to property – in many historical situations in Europe serfs could be bought and sold, but usually only as part of the land to which they were attached.

      2. Edward

        How familiar are you with serfdom? From Wikipedia:

        As with slaves, serfs could be bought, sold, or traded (with some limitations as they generally could be sold only together with land, with the exception of the kholops in Russia and villeins in gross in England who could be traded like regular slaves), abused with no rights over their own bodies, and could not leave the land they were bound to. Serfs who occupied a plot of land were required to work for the lord of the manor who owned that land. In return they were entitled to protection, justice, and the right to cultivate certain fields within the manor to maintain their own subsistence. Serfs were often required not only to work on the lord’s fields, but also in his mines and forests and to labor to maintain roads.

        There were some notorious female aristocrats such as the Blood Countess:áthory

        Feudalism exists to some extent in South America. The Zapatista uprising was an indigenous uprising against a semi-feudal system where sometimes Mayans could be sold like property. In a talk I attended about the Zapatistas, a priest related a conversion he overheard between some landowner-mothers about strategies their sons could use to rape their maids.

      3. Massinissa

        They were ‘part of’ the land and the land could be bought and sold, so it could be argued that is semantics.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          If serf families could be broken up and each serf family member sold separately to a separate lord on a different piece of land, then the distinction is perhaps semantic. But if serf families could not be broken up and the individual members sold individually from off the land they lived on, then the difference is a real one.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Slavery existed side by side with serfdom. In most European feudal systems there were graded types of serfs, with the lower levels being just barely above slaves in terms of rights. Some argue that US slavery was related to indented servitude and those sentenced to penal servitude in the Caribbean. The latter would have included 17th Century Irish rebels who were arguably used as slaves, although strictly speaking legally they were not – but in reality they could not buy themselves out. As one historian of the period wrote, the distinction between many of those in indented servitude and those in slavery is more obvious to contemporary historians than it would have been to the unfortunates who had to live those lives.

      1. dearieme

        17th Century Irish rebels who were arguably used as slaves

        They weren’t rebels, they were the losing side of a civil war. They were treated as convicts.

    3. dearieme

      in his will George Washington freed his slaves, but his wife did not honor this stipulation

      It was the other way round. He left her the slaves for the rest of her life; she grasped the nettle and freed them.

      1. Edward

        This history is apparently fairly complicated:

        George Washington left instructions in his will to emancipate the people enslaved by him, upon the death of Martha Washington.

        Washington wrote his will several months before his death in December 1799. In the document, Washington left directions for the eventual emancipation of his slaves after the passing of Martha Washington. Of the 317 enslaved people at Mount Vernon in 1799, 123 of the individuals were owned by George Washington and were eligible to be freed as per the terms of the will.

        By law, neither George nor Martha Washington could free the Custis dower slaves. Upon Martha Washington’s death in 1802, these individuals were divided among the Custis grandchildren. By 1799, 153 of the people enslaved at Mount Vernon were part of this dower property.

        In accordance with state law, George Washington stipulated in his will that elderly enslaved people or those who were too sick to work were to be supported by his estate in perpetuity. The remaining non-dower enslaved at Mount Vernon did not have to wait for Martha Washington’s death to receive their freedom. Writing on the subject to her sister, Abigail Adams explained that Martha Washington’s motives were largely driven by self-interest. “In the state in which they were left by the General, to be free at her death,” Adams explained, “she did not feel as tho her Life was safe in their Hands, many of whom would be told that it was [in] their interest to get rid of her–She therefore was advised to set them all free at the close of the year.” In December 1800, Martha Washington signed a deed of manumission for her deceased husband’s slaves, a transaction that is recorded in the Fairfax County, Virginia, Court Records. They would finally be emancipated on January 1, 1801.

        Wikipedia also has this article:

        1. dearieme

          In short,

          George Washington left instructions in his will to emancipate the people enslaved by him, upon the death of Martha Washington = he left her the slaves for the rest of her life.

          In December 1800, Martha Washington signed a deed of manumission for her deceased husband’s slaves = she grasped the nettle and freed them.

          I realise that Americans prefer not to let truth interfere with their foundation myths but this example is just silly. The old bugger didn’t free them; she did.

          it’s just what do they know…: they know when it’s in their interest to lie. They know when their customers would prefer a consoling lie.

    4. russell1200

      George Washington did free his slaves.

      Martha did not free her slaves. I believe she owned more slaves than he did.

  4. John

    I attended college in the south in the 1950s. A fellow student from Florida was sometimes heard to complain, especially toward the end of long evenings of drinking, that, “they took my grand daddy’s slaves.”

  5. PlutoniumKun

    I think fiction is often ahead of scholarship . I have to confess that sword and sandal type film/books are one of my guilty pleasures and many of them – thinking for example of the TV series ‘Rome’ and ‘Spartacus’, often enjoy imaginative leaps by exploring how Roman women would have behaved when around, or in ownership, of slaves, especially given menfolk would frequently be away from the home. Needless to say, they imagine the erotic possibilities too. And its generally, and probably rightly assumed that women would be just as enthusiastic and cruel as slave owners, but possibly in a very different way than men.

    I’ve often wondered why fictional portrayals of the Antebellum South tend to shy away from this (even Quentin Tarantino never bothered exploring this in Django Unchained). Maybe its a little too close to the bone. I’ve never seen it, but I think the film Mandingo is the only one that may have touched on the topic. Apart from that film, all films books set in the period that I can think of tend to portray an almost invisible wall between white womenfolk and slaves.

    1. DJG

      PK: I am currently reading Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene, which traces food, food traditions, and genealogy. He maintains that it is extremely rare among black Americans to find a white woman in their ancestry. He was remarking on the fact that he seems to have a white female ancestor (likely working class or artisan).

      So there was some kind of barrier–likely the horror of bearing a black child and being stigmatized. The child would have been very visible grounds for divorce, and many of these middle-class and upper-middle Southern women couldn’t have afforded to go through a divorce.

      Contrariwise, black Americans can rather easily surmise their white male ancestors–who, of course, almost never married the black women whom they abused sexually.

      PS: And the situation among the Romans is complicated by the fact that Romans often manumitted slaves. Unlike the Greeks, who may never have manumitted slaves. Romans thought of slavery as a temporary condition. Hence, the large number of freedmen and freedwomen in Rome, some of whom had prominent careers of their own.

      1. Joe Well

        >>Romans thought of slavery as a temporary condition

        Umm…citation? (those seem to be in great demand in these comments)

        I think the Roman slaves in the salt mines, in the galleys, and on the great estates would disagree with your idea that slavery was temporary, except that as their lives were temporary. A few freed house slaves who might well have been the master’s offspring are hardly representative.

        1. The Rev Kev

          DJG is correct here. Slavery in Roman was not a simple thing and freedmen did go to have their own careers. Some even became very wealthy as well and many served in the Roman bureaucracy. We think of slavery as a binary thing but as PlutoniumKun (June 24, 2019 at 1:50 pm) points out for a later era, there were all sorts of variations involved. This article here alone shows that slavery was not quite what we thought of it as.

          1. Joe Well

            You are not addressing my comment at all.

            Washington’s slaves were freed. Even the future General Lee’s slaves were freed (per his father’s will).

            What evidence do you have that manumission was more common in ancient Rome than in the antebellum South?

            And Frederick Douglass, for one, was a freed slave who went one to become one of the most prominent Americans of his time.

            1. The Rev Kev

              If the Confederacy pre-1861 were organized with their slavery like the Romans were, you would have wealthy black plantation owners, prosperous and even wealthy black businessmen and you would have a lot of the bureaucracy in the Confederate capital being black slaves. Since the Confederacy were famous for none of these developments, I can only conclude that slavery there was done differently than in Rome.

              1. Joe Well

                The difference was not manumission but race.

                It seems the Romans may not have had a concept of race anything like ours.

                The antebellum South may well have manumitted a far higher % of slaves than Rome (not sure how we’d get the data from Rome).

                But certainly, the Romans did not see slavery as temporary, like indentured servitude, which is what I was addressing. We know that from how many slaves were worked to death. By definition, slavery is never temporary, if not, it would be indentured servitude and not slavery.

    1. Massinissa

      “nor mention of gender or race?”

      I don’t think there were any black slaveowners, but evidence, including photographs, exist of small numbers of Native American plantation slaveowners, mainly among Cherokee and a few other tribes. Among other things, it was an attempt to integrate with white slaveowning society.

      1. Heraclitus

        There were black slave owners. I’ve read of one black man, in Chesterfield County, SC, or nearby, who owned 125 slaves. I’ve forgotten my source, as I read it many years ago. Another many years ago reading, also about SC, told the story of a master’s son who killed a slave by putting dogs onto him. The son was hanged.

        All comparisons I’ve read between the old South and Rome regarding the treatment of slaves favored the South. Except for the Greek teacher slaves, Roman slavery was quite harsh. Marcus Cato was famous for selling his slaves once they could not longer work. This was prohibited in the South by custom. In the North, during Colonial times, laws were passed in every state to prohibit the sale of aged slaves without posting a bond to sustain them. The law was eluded in Pennsylvania when slaves were nominally freed but converted to indentured servants whose legal time of service was extended to the end of their likely working years.

        No one reads Eugene Genovese, anymore, though he was once the Dean of slavery historians. He says in ‘The Political Economy of Slavery’ that all large slave owners had open door policies, so that if the slaves were dissatisfied by their treatment by the overseer, they could come talk to the master. One story Genovese tells is of a master who decided to punish his slaves himself because the slaves had murdered the last two overseers, who punished them more harshly than they felt they deserved. A story on NPR twenty years ago said that indentured servants were treated much more harshly than slaves. In fact, I’ve read recently that most indentured servants did not survive their term of service.

        Corporal punishment was a very common means of punishment in the 19th and into the 20th Century. Serious whippings continued in British schools up until the 1940s, and in American boarding schools until the 1970s.

        Herman Melville was, in the 1850s, head of an organization meant to persuade Sea Captains not to punish their sailors (many of whom were involuntarily pressed into service) with a Cat O’ Nine Tails. It’s motto was, ‘Commodore, put down your lash!’

        1. The Rev Kev

          Roman slavery was more nuanced than that. Yes, Cato did sell slaves that were of not much use but he was despised by his fellow Romans for doing so. And I read that he bullied his neighbours into buying his worn out slaves. And there was also retribution for going overboard in harming slaves.
          There was a rich Roman who had a pool with crocodiles and the authorities heard that he would throw a slave into it for his own and others amusement. A Centurion went around with a bodyguard to this man and asked to see the pool in action. The proud owner ordered a slave grabbed to be carted to the croc pool.
          The Centurion then signaled his men who knocked down the men holding the slave, grabbed the pool owner, and threw him into the croc pool. Case closed. Roman justice could be very swift and just at times.

          1. Joe Well

            >>The Centurion then signaled his men who knocked down the men holding the slave, grabbed the pool owner, and threw him into the croc pool. Case closed. Roman justice could be very swift and just at times.

            I’m calling BS. This sounds like a fable.

            What we do know of Roman jurisprudence is that there was absolutely a rule of law, at least for male citizens of property, and a centurion would not casually murder such a person under any circumstance.

            I don’t know why anyone would predisposed to gainsay the horrors of slavery in ancient Rome. It sounds like a pre-industrial fascist horror show complete with WWII-level conflicts that created deserts and called it peace (and enslaved the survivors).

        2. Plenue

          “Slaves were actually treated quite well in the south!”

          Straight from the Lost Cause playbook.

        3. JBird4049

          A story on NPR twenty years ago said that indentured servants were treated much more harshly than slaves. In fact, I’ve read recently that most indentured servants did not survive their term of service.

          Slaves were an investment like a house or a tool like a truck. They cost about the same as car as well. They could be used as collateral, sold, inherited, gifted, traded like anything. There was a strong incentive to get the property in good shape.

          Indentured servants were temporary, albeit technically not, slaves could not be sold, bought, or used as collateral and were promised a release date. They also had to be supplied with tools at the end of it. There was a strong incentive to use up those tools.

  6. dearieme

    How could anyone ever have assumed that women played little part in owning and managing slaves, buying and selling slaves, and so forth? Idiocy!

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If an assumption is comforting to people, some of those people will make it.

  7. Susan the other`

    The slave trade that brought Africans to the Caribbean and the colonies dates back to the Dutch and German merchants in the 1600s. They did the circuit taking trade goods to Africa, taking slaves as payment from some warlord, trading the slaves for sugar in the islands and tobacco in the colonies, and back home again. Many of the old Hanseatic League of the northern European countries became involved in the slave trade. The Europeans and the British were the first to become outraged by the injustice of slavery and we followed closely behind, arguing for manumission long before the Civil War. The Civil War was not fought over slavery but for control of American commodities produced in the South. The North wanted those raw materials sent to them and not to Europe. And they wanted the South to buy northern goods. It started out as a trade war, not a war to end slavery. The North was almost as corrupt about slavery as was the South. But by 1850 slavery was a vital institution for the South. The responsibility for slavery goes way back and implicates the worst of mercantilism. It was disgusting. But racism always existed. It required no slave trade to manifest itself. That southern belles were given slaves as property and treated them badly should come as no surprise to anyone. They were privileged, arrogant little snots all dressed up in satin gowns, with ringlets and ribbons. It’s especially nice that their breed is also gone with the wind.

    1. Heraclitus

      Susan, I agree with much of what you say above about history. However, the Southern Belles are not only still with us, but they’re an archetype for African American Southern Belles, whom I observe at high school and college graduations down South. There have been some television shows–I don’t watch television, so I can’t name them–that featured African American girls and young women who clearly have absorbed the attitude and assumptions of the Southern Belle, Scarlett O’Hara Division.

      Go to a high end grocery store in a Southern City and you’ll see that magazines like ‘Garden and Gun’, ‘Southern Living,’ and others extol the virtues of plantation life. How many romance novels have been written with the heroine a Southern Belle? Don’t pay attention to the politically correct things people say, pay attention to how they spend their leisure hours. The Plantation is an archetype from which many different types of people have drawn emotional succor.

    2. Light a Candle

      Agree, the Civil War was a trade war between the North and the South and who would have control of the American economy.

      Which is helpful in understanding how badly black people were (and are) treated following the civil war and the ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples.

    3. Plenue

      “But racism always existed. It required no slave trade to manifest itself.”

      Incorrect. The racism came after as a means to justify and excuse the self-evidentantly inhuman, but immensely profitable, slave trade.

    4. JBird4049

      Susan, all of this is kinda true, or better say it leaves out a lot.

      The Civil War was not fought over slavery but for control of American commodities produced in the South. The Southern plantation class consistently pushed for slavery’s expansion. The Trail of Tears, the Mexican American War, the Texas War of Independence, the multiple attempts for American freebooters to conquer Central America as well as suggestions, plans, attempts to do likewise to much of the Caribbean, especially Hispaniola, were all attempts to grab more farmland for slaves to work on. Intensive (cotton) farming Southern style wore out the land.

      The North wanted those raw materials sent to them and not to Europe. And they wanted the South to buy northern goods.True

      It started out as a trade war, not a war to end slavery. Yes/no/maybe? There were multiple issues true, but Abraham Lincoln’s election caused the Southern leadership to seriously overreact. So they pulled their states out of the Union. Slavery had to expand into exhausted farmland or die out. The South was the richest, and the most economically and politically powerful area of the country because of slavery. The wealth and the votes it could get in the national elections due to the 3/5 clause (like in the modern day prison/slave populations, slaves were counted in the Census and Congressional representation and votes in the Electoral College) gave the white population a much stronger position than the rest of the country. Not only was it apparent that the Southern population going to be eclipsed by the North no matter what, that slavery was not going to allowed unending expansion, and the Northern population was intensifiying its oppostion.

      The North was almost as corrupt about slavery as was the South.Yes, which was one of the reasons for the general public’s growning dislike of slavery. Between the roaving gangs of slavers kidnapping anyone black for sale in the South, the bribery and general corruption of the Judiciary needed to keep those kidnapped people, as well as the Southern habit of threatening, beating, shooting anyone who disagreed with them, well.

      But by 1850 slavery was a vital institution for the South.1820? :-)

      The responsibility for slavery goes way back and implicates the worst of mercantilism. It was disgusting.No dispute here, none.

      But racism always existed. It required no slave trade to manifest itself. Hmmm. Sort of. The word slave probably comes from the Slavs who were kidnapped for centuries by the various hordes, the Ottoman Empire, and whoever else wanted some slaves. Slavery and racism though were not really linked until the African Slave Trade and the really horrific, and I really leathal conditions, of the sugar plantations in the Carribean and the plantations of Brazil. Generally there had always been some sort soft racism, but anyone could become a slave, but to justify the Porguese, Dutch, Spanish, British, American, and lastly Brazilian slave system in their horrific majesty and to keep the slave population easier to control using black equals slave method, the evil idea that blacks were inferior was, if not created, strenghten very considerably. After all if you are working people to death it helps to think of them as inferior.

      I have to say that between the transatlantic Abolitionist Movement, the Underground Railroad, as well as the increasely frantic and often leathal efforts of the slavers to stampout resistence does not quite support the materialist view of the antislavery movement. Many, many people and institutions got wealthy using the owning of human beings, but many, many people fought, suffered , and even died fighting against slavery; the “only crazy people like John Brown could be a abolitionist” propaganda is just that.

  8. JEHR

    After having read this book review on enslavement, my mind goes to the incarceration at the southern American border where Mexican children of all ages are kept in really horrid conditions of dirt, lack of things like toothpaste and soap, with older children looking after younger ones. Trump claims it has all happened this way because the Congress will not supply money for these facilities and for the proper administration of the children held there. It may not be enslavement but the treatment certainly is not humane.

    After assessing 39 children under the age of 18, she [a doctor] described conditions for unaccompanied minors at the McAllen facility as including “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.”

    All the children who were seen showed evidence of trauma, Lucio Sevier reported, and the teens spoke of having no access to hand washing during their entire time in custody. She compared it to being “tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease.”

  9. Ember Burns

    “you think you know something, but come to find out you didn’t really know it — what a skin-crawlingly vile institution the Slave Power really was. ”

    Guaranteed, this is what future generations will say about capitalism.

    1. Synoia

      If there are any future generation who can reflect on Capitalism’s contribution to ruining the planet.

      Our system is living proof of why Greed was considered the worst sin.

      The US believes it has no state religion. I beg to differ. It’s Greed. The days for its compulsory worship week are Monday to Friday inclusive, with some exceptions.

      1. Angie Neer

        I think that’s a bit one-sided, Synoia. We also worship violence. Granted, the two are closely intertwined.

    2. Massinissa

      “Guaranteed, this is what future generations will say about capitalism.”

      I don’t know, people don’t usually talk about, say, Feudalism and Serfdom this way, even though they might be slightly worse than Capitalism.

      Also, there could be a variant on the Lost Cause myth, and it might be more successful than the Lost Cause myth was. “Capitalism was the perfect economic system and only failed because of nasty socialists like Bernie Sanders and Cultural Marxists trying to destroy western power and culture. Anything else is Fake History.”

      1. Lukas Bauer

        Worse in some respects, for some (even many), perhaps.

        But at least feudalism did not threaten all of humanity with extinction.

        A minor advantage, more a psychological one: You usually knew who was oppressing you (and where they lived).

  10. Massinissa

    *The United States only won because of its industry and manpower and a willingness to sacrifice the lives of its soldiers;

    Isn’t the first half about winning by industry pretty much true though?

    The second half is BS, I see no evidence that southern troops were committed to battle with any more concern for their lives than northern ones, but the north did have huge strategic advantages in the way of industry, railroads, manpower, and other resources.

    However, the fact that only half of one of those five bullet points was true helps demonstrate the Lost Cause narrative was a steaming pile of crock.

    1. H. Alexander Ivey

      Isn’t the first half about winning by industry pretty much true though?

      Actually not so much in this case. Yes, the North was more industrialized before, during, and after, but the South wasn’t that far behind where it counted. The real question to ask back is how could the South lose, fighting as it did on it’s own home ground, with plenty of slave labour that could have been used.

      1. JBird4049

        The real question to ask back is how could the South lose, fighting as it did on it’s own home ground, with plenty of slave labour that could have been used.

        Easy. The North still had greater population and better industry. It also centralized war production and supply under federal jurisdiction with the focus on supplying the entire Union military. The Southern states were focused on supplying their individual state units instead of supplying the Confederate military even when that meant those Confederate units went unsupplied.

        There was also the fact that the critical railways were more limited and fragmented in the South, the ability to manufacture locomotives in particular and engines in general was limited. There was also the problem of making rifled artillery or reaping rifles. It was doable, but much more limited than the North’s was.

        There was also much resistance in the South among the poor and working class farmers and laborers to fighting and dying for the right of the upper class to remain rich owning slaves while at the same time continuing to undercut their social inferiors’ ability to support themselves.

        There was also a very strong moral push-pull over slavery as in they wouldn’t want their daughter marrying one of them; you might even disown her, but a human being is not a thing to be owned was a widespread feeling. North, South, and in Europe. That did have strong affect on things

        Still, had the Army of Northern Virginia won Gettysburg or Antietam/Sharpsburg, a compromise, if not outright independence might have occurred.

  11. Joe Well

    First of all, please feel free to tear me down viciously in the replies to this comment because for all I know I deserve it. But…

    Is it just me, or is the undercurrent of this the fact that many affluent white (and dare I say, Asian-American) American women of today like to imagine that they are personally somehow part of the identity-oppressed? I’m referring to the vilification of “white straight cisgendered men.” Virtually the only times I have seen that phrase used online, the author was a white or Asian woman. The fact that Trump’s voters were only slightly skewed in favor of men, and in particular that most white women voted for him, shook a lot of them. I read a lot of comments to the effect that they were rethinking their assumption that gender was a major fault line in American politics. But the old attitude hasn’t died completely.

  12. The Rev Kev

    Man, FDR actually had the experiences of 2,000 slaves recorded? And photographed as well? I’ll be goddamned. What a treasure trove. Here are three links about this project for those interested-

    I read in the novel that the pen is a long arm from the grave but it appears that the microphone can also be a long arm from the grave too. As per female cruelty to their slaves- it was a byword that if you were ever captured on a frontier, whether the Afghan or American in the 19th century for example, that you never let yourself be turned over to the women of the tribe.

  13. EGrise

    I grew up in the South around the Lost Cause myth, and it’s taken a long while for me to ferret out the various myths and half-truths that infested my brain as a result.
    One example is Mary Surratt, the Lincoln assassination conspirator, and the firm belief by Southerners then and now that she was innocent or at best a dupe, besotted by the attentions of J.W. Booth.

    In reality, between her contacts and her resources she was a linchpin of the whole operation. I won’t go into details, suffice to say that she was as involved as anyone except perhaps J.W. Booth. But the thing I couldn’t figure is why?

    From what I’ve read (that was not written by Surratt apologists) apparently she hated Lincoln because of emancipation. Why did she hate emancipation? The biggest reason was because she was a small business owner whose businesses depended on slave labor. Between the Surratt inn, tavern and stables “run” by her drunken husband and her own boarding house, she was able to realize a respectable living because she owned slaves who did most of the hard labor (cooking, cleaning, caring for horses, etc.), and without them she probably couldn’t have made the businesses work, thus losing her livelihood and her standing in society.

    So I’m not surprised that lots of Southern women had a stake in slavery and participated in it directly. What does surprise me is that we’re still debating this.

    1. Plenue

      This seems to me yo be something that fell through the gaps and that no one paid much attention to before. But now that someone actually has focused on it, a piece of the puzzle is in place and various related issues suddenly come sharply into focus. And then we collectively slap outr heads and go “of *course* women owned and traded slaves!”

  14. VietnamVet

    The credentialed class throughout history has had to live with itself. Myths, denial and faith are needed to avoid facing the truth of how one’s civilization works. Today committees are formed to examine why the life expectancy is decreasing in the USA and UK. It will never cross their minds that it is due to the rich getting wealthier at the expense of everyone else. Their income is dependent on their complicity with the extortion and endless wars.

  15. caloba

    Quite, Joe Well. I remember a time when UK politics was going to be a kinder, gentler world when a woman assumed power. The along came Mrs T and the story had to be finessed. There seems an almost universal need to be part of some spotless sub-group to which no blame can ever be attached.

    1. Joe Well

      But at least women are more competent and level-headed and less given to careerism…

      …oopsie! Theresa May!

  16. anarcheopteryx

    Another thought that this brings directly to mind is the American (and Canadian) suffragette movement. I’m on a limited internet connection so cannot provide ample citation, but the white women who lead these movements were often racist (yes, even for their time period) and were motivated to demand equal rights under the law in order to forestall black men being given legal person-hood before them. “Surely white women are superior to black men!” would be a natural argument to make if white women have been directly enslaving black men for decades. It is very important to acknowledge that the rights women have now might have been won directly on the backs of black slaves. Of course the fact that there were plenty of black and indigenous suffragettes cannot be ignored either.

    Thanks for the review, I had heard mention of a new book on this topic but hadn’t added it to my to-read list yet.

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