by Marc Howard Ross
Philsaxdelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018. Pp. xiv, 306 .
Illus., biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0812250389
Slavery Above the Mason-Dixon Line
While perhaps not “forgotten”, the existence of slavery in the North into the early nineteenth century, is certainly neglected. Prof. Ross (emeritus Bryn Mawr) opens by observing that the subject gained greater public notice with the discovery that, while President, George Washington kept nine enslaved people in his Philadelphia home, literally next door to the “Liberty Bell”. Washington looms large in this work, as Ross uses this revelation to do several things.
Firstly, Ross explores the history of slavery in the North. Although slavery never assumed the importance in any northern state that it did across the South, being slavery minor – virtually non-existent – in some northern states, it was certainly more important no in several other states, such as New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania. But while the role of slavery in the norther economy and society was less than and rather different from its importance in the life of the South, there were also many similarities, even unto some large slave-based plantations.
Ross’s treatment naturally includes a discussion of the complexities of abolition in the North, which began in what is now Vermont during the Revolutionary War, and continued into the 1840s, and the role of the freed people in northern society, where in some states they possessed more rights than in others. Running through Ross’s work is also the question of how to remember and commemorate this history, with discussions of the preservation of African burial grounds and other historic sites.
Slavery in the North is a work worth reading by and American, and is certainly essential for those with an interest in slavery and abolition, and those dealing with tu quoquo arguments by Neo-Confederates, who often make some remarkably fantastic charges.
Note: Slavery in the North is also available in several e-editions
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