Synopses & Reviews
In Claims of Kinfolk
, Dylan Penningroth uncovers an extensive informal economy of property ownership among slaves and sheds new light on African American family and community life from the heyday of plantation slavery to the "freedom generation" of the 1870s. By focusing on relationships among blacks, as well as on the more familiar struggles between the races, Penningroth exposes a dynamic process of community and family definition. He also includes a comparative analysis of slavery and slave property ownership along the Gold Coast in West Africa, revealing significant differences between the African and American contexts.
Property ownership was widespread among slaves across the antebellum South, as slaves seized the small opportunities for ownership permitted by their masters. While there was no legal framework to protect or even recognize slaves' property rights, an informal system of acknowledgment recognized by both blacks and whites enabled slaves to mark the boundaries of possession. In turn, property ownership-and the negotiations it entailed-influenced and shaped kinship and community ties. Enriching common notions of slave life, Penningroth reveals how property ownership engendered conflict as well as solidarity within black families and communities. Moreover, he demonstrates that property had less to do with individual legal rights than with constantly negotiated, extralegal, social ties.
What did it mean, Penningroth asks, for people who were property to have property? The answers to this deceptively simple question utterly transform our understanding of the meaning of property in the South, the history of family and community in slavery, and the centrality of African history to American history.(Walter Johnson, New York University, author of Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market)
The Claims of Kinfolk makes a fine, original contribution to comparative nineteenth-century African American history. I'm particularly grateful for Penningroth's economic analysis of slave property in materia as well as cultural and personal terms. He opens up our narrow assumptions about the lives of enslaved and emancipated people, in both the New and Old Worlds. (Nell Irvin Painter, Princeton University author of Southern History across the Color Line)
"Provides a provocative analysis of African-American property. . . . Breaks new ground and enlivens old debates. . . . Will require historians to rethink their assumptions about the social and economic history of the South and African Americans in the nineteenth century."
Georgia Historical Quarterly
"An important new look at the economic framework of slavery and the transition to freedom."
Penningroth uncovers an extensive informal economy of property ownership among slaves during the antebellum and post emancipation periods, connecting slaves' economic activity with their social relationships and family and community life. Includes a comparative analysis of slavery and slave property ownership along the Gold Coast in West Africa.
About the Author
Dylan Penningroth is associate professor of history at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.He was awarded the 2000 Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians.