Bond of Iron: Master and Slave at Buffalo Forge

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A study of African-American workers empowered and partly liberated by their skills.
At Buffalo Forge, an extensive ironmaking and farming enterprise in Virginia before the Civil War, a unique treasury of materials yields an "engrossing, often surprising record of everyday life on an estate in the antebellum South" (Kirkus Reviews).

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
Brings to touching, disturbing light aspects of the complex economic and emotional relationships that existed between slave and master.— Michael Dorris
Wall Street Journal
Perhaps the clearest picture of slave life ever. . . . A big window on a world that shaped our own.— David Shribman
New York Times Book Review
Enriches our understanding of the human as well as the larger social and economic meaning of American slavery.— Drew Gilpin Faust
Michael Dorris - Los Angeles Times
“Brings to touching, disturbing light aspects of the complex economic and emotional relationships that existed between slave and master.”
David Shribman - Wall Street Journal
“Perhaps the clearest picture of slave life ever. . . . A big window on a world that shaped our own.”
Drew Gilpin Faust - New York Times Book Review
“Enriches our understanding of the human as well as the larger social and economic meaning of American slavery.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is an original, unusually detailed contribution to the study of slavery. Dew, who teaches American Studies at Williams College, draws on extensive records to portray the slave system at an ironworks near Lexington, Va., in the decades preceding the Civil War. He begins with owner William Weaver, who purchased Buffalo Forge in 1814; born in 1781 to a German Baptist family opposing slavery, Weaver nevertheless found slaves far more productive than white laborers. Recognizing that slaves could sabotage his business, he controlled them not through threats but through rewards, paying for their ``overwork'' at a rate artisans earned. Another example Dew provides of this ``complex give-and-take'' between slaves and master is how Weaver gave a valuable slave he proposed to buy the right to veto his own sale. Dew closely reconstructs the texture of slave life at Buffalo Forge, which provided, after the Civil War, some of the few work opportunities for freedmen. Certain details may interest historians more than general readers, but Dew makes accessible to all the essential dignity of the slaves he studies here. Photos not seen by PW. (May)
Library Journal
Dew (history, Williams Coll.) reveals fascinating details of an unusual master-slave relationship. Buffalo Forge, near Lexington, Virginia, was a thriving enterprise from 1812 to the Civil War. Owners William Weaver and his nephew-in-law Daniel Brady kept meticulous personal records that illuminate the lives of Sam Williams, Tooler, Henry Towles, Harry Hunt, and Garland Thompson and their families, skilled artisans and slaves. Weaver cannily permitted his slaves to ``overwork'' to earn money and credit to purchase luxuries like white flour, sugar, store-bought furniture, and clothing, thus motivating his workers while helping them transcend their status as slaves. Fortuitously, Dew was able to locate both written records of Buffalo Forge and oral narratives of descendants of Brady and Thompson. He skillfully weaves historical minutiae into a lucid and seamless narrative. Recommended for regional history collections, informed lay readers, and scholars in the field.-- Jamie S. Hansen, Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia
Dew (history, Williams College) describes working and living conditions for slave families at the Buffalo Forge, an ironmaking and farming enterprise in Virginia. He traces patterns of accommodation and resistance, and elucidates the interaction between white and black that constituted the master-slave relationship. Dew draws on detailed records kept by the forge's owners describing epidemics, industrial accidents, slave genealogies and slave-naming practices; records from the Freedman's Bureau Marriage Register; and a three-volume journal kept by one of the Forge's owners. Includes a few b&w photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393313598
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/1995
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 1,493,328
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles B. Dew is Class of 1956 Professor of American Studies at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts.

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