Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New England Bound Slavery and Colonization in Early America by Wendy Warren (2016 forthcoming, nonfiction)

Lory of Emerald City Book Review is hosting a brilliant year long event, Reading New England in which participants are asked to post on literary works  set in New England or nonfiction relating to the area.  She has given us a lot of great suggestions and has organized the event around reading themes for each month.  To participate all you have to do is read and post on one New England related book and link it up on Reading New England Home Page.  Lory has given this a lot of thought and I think a lot of wonderful posts will come from participants.

New England was first settled by those seeking the freedom to practice religion their way.  It should be noted that this does not mean they wanted full freedom for all to worship or not as they pleased.  It meant they wanted a community where they could impose their own beliefs on all, where witches could be burned, the land of aboriginal inhabitants taken and people could be held in slavery.
New England developed into the home of America's first homegrown great writers and thinkers.  

Recently I was offered a review copy of a forthcoming book that looked tailor made for the challenge, New England Bound Slavery and Colonization in Early America by Wendy Warren. 

In American schools students are taught that slaves were held in the south, the Confederate States but New England was slave free.  At the time of the American Civil War (1861 to 1865) this was largely, not entirely though, true.  This was not out of moral superiority but arose from economic factors.  
Warren does a very good job of explaining the role of slaves in the New England economy.  Most slaves were owned by families who had at most a few slaves, not the vast numbers in the south and the West Indians.  New England was not suited to large scale plantation holdings. She also details the use of Indians as slaves, another matter not covered in most classes and standard histories. Huge numbers of Indians were enslaved.  Warren gives a brief overview of the slave trade from Africa to England.   She explains how African slaves were required for American to have begun.  There is a deep paradox that a country who trumpets freedom was built on slaves. After reading Warren's book you will see American history in a different way.  It should be noted that Brazil had many more slaves than America, Slaveholding was a common practice in Africa, Indian tribes had slaves, slaves were common in Europe.  I mention this to place the themes of this book in global perspective. 

Slaves in New England formed family bonds, one of the great tragedies for a slave  was to be sold away from his family.  Owners wanted slaves to multiply, if your mother was a slave then the child was also.  The  puritanical structures of the culture of New England seemed to have prevented the massive sexual abuse of slaves found elsewhere as a man found guilty of having sex with a female slave could be severely punished.

The biggest theme or main point of this book is to establish the slave owning connection of New England to the sugar plantations of the West Indies.  A slave in the West Indies had on average one to two years of life expectancy from the harsh conditions, the diseases and the terrible frequency of accidents.  Making sugar was a very dangerous business and slaves paid this price.  Warren explains that many of the West Indian Sugar plantations were owned by New England business men.  The plantations bought supplies from New England and merchants from New England sold sugar to improve their holdings, buy more slaves to grow more sugar in turn requiring more merchandise and supplies from New England. I was, for example, surprised to learn slaves in the West Indies were fed largely on putrefied fish from New England fleets.

Warren talks illuminatingly about the intrinsic connection between slavery and colonization.  Without slaves New England would not have been a viable colony.  Colonization and slavery have always been a pair, Warren makes it very clear how America originated as a slave state.  

Bound for New England is a very well written book.  I learned a lot from it.  Just remember as you read works by authors from New England, they are writing on the graves of millions of silenced voices who might have produced great literature in dozens of African languages.   

I recommend this book very highly to all interested in American history and think it should be required reading for those teaching American history.  

It was good to see the link between New England and the West Indies, learn about the  enslavement  Indians, over all the preferred slave was one of African descent born in America, and see the importance of slavery to the very start of America so clearly delineated.

Mel u

From the Publisher's release 

The most important work on seventeenth-century New England in a generation. 

In the tradition of Edmund S. Morgan, whose American Slavery, American Freedom revolutionized colonial history, a new generation of historians is fundamentally rewriting America’s beginnings. Nowhere is this more evident than in Wendy Warren’s explosive New England Bound, which reclaims the lives of so many long-forgotten enslaved Africans and Native Americans in the seventeenth century. Based on new evidence, Warren links the growth of the northern colonies to the Atlantic slave trade, demonstrating how New England’s economy derived its vitality from the profusion of slave-trading ships coursing through its ports. Warren documents how Indians were systematically sold into slavery in the West Indies and reveals how colonial families like the Winthrops were motivated not only by religious freedom but also by their slave-trading investments. New England Bound punctures the myth of a shining “City on a Hill,” forcefully demonstrating that the history of American slavery can no longer confine itself to the nineteenth-century South.
down Contributor Bio(s)
Wendy Warren received her PhD in history from Yale University and is currently an assistant professor in the Department of History at Princeton University. She lives in New Jersey.

1 comment:

Lory said...

This looks like an amazing, important book. How vital indeed it is to consider the buried, silenced voices of our region.