[The Great Stain] provides a moving, eyeopening account of the complexity and horror of human bondage. The testimony of slaves is particularly powerful . . . Essential. For all public, general, and undergraduate collections.”
InThe Great Stain, Noel Rae brings together first-hand accounts of 300 years of slavery in America.In the historical discussion, we often talk about the institution of slavery. We examine the debate over the legal question concerning slavery and its expansion in the United States, its role in the origin and conduct of the Civil War, butworkssuch asThe Great Stainbring us back to the human level, allowing us to hear what the institution meant for an individual.”
Many histories have been writtenofslavery in America, but far too few have lettheparticipants, and particularlythevictims, speak so directly for themselves. Rae has helped to fill that historical vacuum in this important work, andthevoices are intense, eloquent, and haunting.
Through adept use of historical documents and artful storytelling, Rae examines nearly 300 years of American slavery and attempts to answer the question: “What was it like?” . . . To allow narrative voices, black and white, to come through, Rae draws on a remarkable assemblage of documents . . . as well as oral histories of former slaves and excerpts from the writings of free persons who lived in the South, such as the sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké, and visitors to the South, such as seminal landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The result is a uniquely immediate, multivoiced, specific, arresting, and illuminating look at life under slavery in America.
Noel Rae expertly assembles the most consequential accounts from the era of the American slave trade. Drawing on a wide range of sources, he frames a vivid and comprehensive picture of a period in American history about which many only have a vague understanding.
Eyewitness testimonies to the culture and commerce of slavery, America's original sin.Slavery was, in the words of a Southern circumlocution, a "peculiar institution." In America, it was also an institution extending deep into the past, two centuries and more before the Civil War that ended it. In this gathering of personal, firsthand accounts, coupled with smart commentary, popular historian and editor Rae (People's War: Original Voices of the American Revolution, 2011, etc.) looks into that past. Near the beginning of the book is a tale by a slave trader in Africa who purchased captives from "a country called Tuffoe"—perhaps Togo—for "the value of twenty shillings sterling for every man, in cowries…and ten shillings for a woman, boy, or girl." During the American Revolution, the British promised freedom to slaves only to return them to their masters in defeat given that the terms of surrender mandated that "any property obviously belonging to the inhabitants of these states…shall be subject to be reclaimed." Within a couple of generations, by the account of a touring British journalist, the slave economy was at its apex. And it was extremely costly, tying up an enormous quantity of capital that would otherwise have gone into hiring labor and enriching the economy as a whole, by virtue of which "the whole country would have been advanced at least a century beyond its present condition." That's a fascinating premise, one of many that arise from this overstuffed book. It's certainly a more fruitful one than the notion of the "lost cause," which Rae traces to another journalist, a Southerner named Edward Pollard, who lamented the supremacy of the Northern cause and people, who were "coarse and inferior in comparison with the aristocracy and chivalry of the South." Given the culture's apparent need to readjudicate that conflict, this book and its wealth of documents and reports make a welcome, ready reference.Essential for students of American slavery and antebellum history.
Rae (Witnessing America) covers the complete story of American slavery from the start of the transatlantic trade in the 15th century to slavery's end with the close of the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Participants' accounts show the realities of people being exchanged for goods; meanwhile, slavers faced illnesses and mutinies at sea. The most valuable and relevant documentation came from the slaves themselves. The author notes that during the early period there was a dearth of slave recollections as illiteracy was fostered as a means of control. He insists, nevertheless, that as the 19th century progressed, a number of slaves defied their owners and covertly learned to read and write. Thus the themes of resistance grew in number and intensity in the antebellum period. The absconding of Martha Washington's personal slave, Oney Judge, is an unforgettable read, and the violent killing of Robert E. Lee's cruel overseer by a former bondsman may seem to some readers a justice too long deferred. The final Civil War chapter follows several engagements in which undersupported black troops distinguished themselves in battle. VERDICT Highly recommended for U.S. colonial, middle period, and Civil War scholars, and general readers.—John Carver Edwards, formerly with Univ. of Georgia Libs.