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Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America Paperback – March 31, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0674002111 ISBN-10: 0674002113 Edition: 2nd Printing

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; 2nd Printing edition (March 31, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674002113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674002111
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 5.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #112,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

When Americans look at slavery, they conjure up images of tired black bodies picking cotton from sunup to sundown under Southern skies. That image is partly true, but, as the noted history professor Ira Berlin details, the lives of slaves in America's racist system were complex and diverse. "Viewing slavery through the perspective of what slaves did most of the time," Berlin writes, "provides a means to draw some fundamental distinctions and find some essential commonalities among the various experiences of North America."

Berlin reveals the color-caste codes of the Afro-Creoles of the Chesapeake, the survival of African culture in the South Carolina-Georgia-Florida coastal area, and the intermingling of Africans with French and Spanish in the Mississippi Delta area. He weaves a woeful and wondrous tale of the mores, occupations, conflicts, wars, and rebellions that made up the ongoing relationships between masters and slaves. Many Thousands Gone is an excellent companion to Philip D. Morgan's Slave Counterpoint, revealing the influence the "peculiar institution" of slavery had on those of African and European descent alike. --Eugene Holley Jr. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The history of slavery in North America is not as simple, clear-cut or tidy as is often believed. That is the message of this impeccably presented history of American slavery from 1619, when John Rolfe brought "twenty Negars" to the Jamestown colony, to the 1820s, when the spirit of emancipation began to take hold in the North. Berlin, a history professor at the University of Maryland, shows how at different times and at different places, slavery was a very different thing. He makes a great distinction, for example, between slave societies such as the Carolina low country in the 17th century (in which both the economy and the social structure was built upon slavery) and societies with slaves (the lower Mississippi of the same era) where slavery was only part of a more complex structure. He shows how slavery was different for those born in the West Indies, Africa and North America, and for those serving in urban settings (which encouraged a certain entrepreneurial spirit) and in rural. These distinctions have continuing resonance, as Berlin shows that once a society with slaves became a slave society, all blacks?free or not?could come to be regarded as slaves: in short, how an economic system became racism. Although the prose is serviceable more than anything else, the book holds many surprises gleaned from the facts, whether in its portrait of New York as a major slave city or its descriptions of free enterprise at work among slaves. The economic and historical research presented here is impressive. But what gives the book an additional dimension is its deftly employed social insights.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 42 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
To most Americans, including most scholars, slavery in the USA is usually thought of as chattel slavery associated with the plantation economies of the Antebellum South. This is a book on slavery in North America in the two centuries prior to the antebellum period. Berlin takes pains to present slavery over this extended period of time as historically dynamic and regionally diverse. Berlin is excellent at showing how changes in the Atlantic economy, political events such as the American Revolution, and international diplomacy all contributed to changes in the world experienced by slaves and slaveholders. This is true history from below emphasizing the experience of slaves. Berlin is particularly good at exploring the rich regional diversity of the slave experience in North America. This will simply be the standard book on this topic for decades to come. Written with grace, some passion, and an excellent bibliography.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By events3 on August 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
Ira Berlin's MANY THOUSANDS GONE records the first two centuries of slavery in the present day United States AFTER European settlement. More thought-provoking and less dogmatic than Eugene Genovese's ROLL, JORDAN, ROLL, Berlin more fully makes the distinction between the various forms the system of slavery took in different regions and at different times in the period before Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin put new vigor into the old institution.
The book is broken down into three main parts: Societies with Slaves (or the Charter Generation), Slave Societies (or the Plantation Generation) and the Revolutionary Generation (ending in approximately 1810 to 1820). Within each of these time frames, the book looks at the peculiar ways in which the institution of slavery developed in Virginia and the Upper South, South Carolina and the Lower South, the North and the Lower Mississippi Valley (Louisiana and Florida). Further, each such chapter focuses on the evolution of slavery in each region within each generation.
The book compares indenturement (and apprenticeships) with slavery and also describes how the influx of Africans from interior Africa swamped the Atlantic Creole populace, contributing to the idea of racial superiority (of whites) and the development of ideas about miscegnation as a polluter of racial purity. The charter generation and later "creolized" generations were more likely to be able to win or purchase freedom whereas each influx of non-creolized Africans contributed to the "Africanization" of the black populace and to harsher restrictions on slaves and other black & biracial persons.
The book looks at de facto property-ownership among slaves and the development of the slave economy and its importance in the greater economy.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By rcule on May 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book added a great deal to my knowledge of the first two centuries of slavery in North America. Berlin's primary document research is marvelous and the details that he was able to find out about slave life during this period are astounding. Berlin found out that the process of dehumanizing slaves was one that took time and varied from region to region, and he goes into specific economic and cultural factors that played the role in establishing and keeping slavery in the states.
Often the creation of the peculiar institution and the diversity of slave life is glossed over in textbooks. They ignore the important role that economic factors play from region to region. Berlin argues that the north did not have fewer slaves because northerners were more conscientious or less racist than southerners(as many would like to think), but because the majority of them simply could not profit as well from slave labor.
An excellent scholarly work that shows wide diversity in the lives of slaves durring the first two centuries of its existance.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Randall L. Wilson on March 17, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The myth of slavery derives from the powerful images of the miniseries Roots; the notion that black people were simply swept out of their African lives, degraded and sometimes killed on the harsh way to America and then put to work on a cotton plantation without power of any sort.

Ira Berlin, in this beautifully written and thoroughly researched history of the first two hundred years of American slavery, "Many Thousands Gone", blows apart that myth. He says that slavery had great variety, based on geographic, economic and generational factors. The first generation of slaves in America were creoles, born of white and African American parents. They frequently lived along the sea and interacted with people of all walks of life, were traders and often spoke multiple languages. These slaves frequently stayed with their families, knew and utilized the courts to petition for freedom, they worked with their slave-owners to grow crops and to negotiate payment for their eventual freedom. This changed with subsequent generations who were plucked from central Africa and did not have the same experience with the white world. While slaves in these subsequent generations lost the power to negotiate the terms of their slavery with their slaveholders, they were able to grab autonomy in other ways. They grew and sold goods in cities, they purchased their freedom, though often at a high price. They escaped and formed maroon armed communities.

A few other factors also played a significant role in determining the virulence of slavery, specifically geography and economics. Some crops like cotton and tobacco were well suited to the plantation systems and in areas where those crops grew well, the slave system was particularly harsh. History was another factor.
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