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Slaves in the Family Paperback – December 29, 1998


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Writer Edward Ball opens Slaves in the Family with an anecdote: "My father had a little joke that made light of our legacy as a family that had once owned slaves. 'There are five things we don't talk about in the Ball family,' he would say. 'Religion, sex, death, money and the Negroes.'" Ball himself seemed happy enough to avoid these touchy issues until an invitation to a family reunion in South Carolina piqued his interest in his family's extensive plantation and slave-holding past. He realized that he had a very clear idea of who his white ancestors were--their names, who their children and children's children were, even portraits and photographs--but he had only a murky vision of the black people who supported their livelihood and were such an intimate part of their daily lives; he knew neither their names nor what happened to them and their descendents after they were freed following the Civil War. So he embarked on a journey to uncover the history of the Balls and the black families with whom their lives were inextricably intertwined, as well as the less tangible resonance of slavery in both sets of families. From plantation records, interviews with descendents of both the Balls and their slaves, and travels to Africa and the American South, Ball has constructed a story of the riches and squalor, violence and insurrection--the pride and shame--that make up the history and legacy of slavery in America. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA-A compelling saga, Ball's biographical history of his family stands as a microcosm of the evolution of American racial relations. Meticulously researched, and aided by the fact that the South Carolina Ball families were compulsive record keepers, the story begins with the first Ball to arrive in Charleston in 1698. The family eventually owned more than 20 rice plantations along the Cooper River, businesses made profitable by the work of slaves. In the course of his research, the author learned that his ancestors were not only slave owners, but also that there was a highly successful slave trader company in his background. He was able to trace the offspring of slave women and Ball men (between 75,000 and 100,000 currently living) and locate a number of his own African-American distant cousins. Although records indicate that the author's forebearers were not by any means cruel or vicious owners, his remorse for these facets of his family history is clear. In the course of his research, he visited Bunce Island, off the coast of Sierra Leone, to see the fortress from which his ancestors loaded terrorized men, women, and children onto slave ships. Their story represents that of many African Americans. This book helps readers to visualize, if not understand, the slave legacy still enmeshed in this country today. Despite its length, this is an important, well-written slice of history that will be of interest to young adults.
Carol DeAngelo, Garcia Consulting Inc., EPA Headquarters, Washington, DC
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 505 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1st edition (December 29, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345431057
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345431059
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (140 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #651,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I could not wait to read this book after reading a review in Time magazine.
Connie R Taylor
I couldn't put this book down and highly recommend it to anyone interested in U.S. history, slavery, U.S. cultural history, or genealogy.
Carolyn Cuskey
Mr. Ball is a great writer and did a fantastic amount of research to write this book.
J. Branch

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Sheryl Katz VINE VOICE on September 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
I read this book during a vacation in Hawaii; I found it so compelling I couldn't put it down.
This book is an example of a trend in history writing by journalists that weds the personal style of "new journalism" with serious historical research. The book is both a "personal" account of the Ball family ownership of slaves and a well-researched and thoughtful history of slavery in the United States.
Some readers have commented that the book was difficult to read; I thought the writing was elegant and easy to follow - much easier to digest than academic writing. Some readers have felt the book was superficial or self-indulgent on the part of the writer. I didn't find it to be either - the winding of the story made sense and like a good plot led naturally from one part to the next. The research underneath the story was thorough, and the analysis was thoughtful.
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia K. Robertson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 17, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
National Book Award-winner, Slaves in the Family, is one of the best nonfiction books I have read in the past ten years. Edward Ball comes from a very prominent family of plantation owners in the Charleston Low Country. The patriarch, Elias Ball, immigrates to the colonies in the late 1600's. Being very prolific when it came to progeny, he soon had children and grandchildren owning over two dozen plantations along the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. After the Civil War, the Ball plantations were sold or lost, one by one. Yet today, the Balls are still very prominent in Charleston Society. Their family tree is well documented, and instead of being plantation owners, they now count lawyers, judges, doctors and priests among their ranks.
In Edward Ball's first effort, he sets out to find the descendants of the thousands of Ball family slaves. This was no easy task. Many slaves had no last names. Others moved to distant states. Some descendants had no wish to speak with him. Ball also encountered reticence from his own family. The extended family did not like to talk about slavery. On the few occasions when the subject was raised, they all espoused the party line: 1. Balls never mistreated their slaves 2. Balls never separated slave families and 3. Ball masters never slept with female slaves.
Using surviving Ball journals, diaries, ledgers and inventories, Edward was able to contact a good many slave descendants. I found the most moving parts of the book are when Edward's research validates the oral history of many slave ancestors, and in some cases, helped them to fill in the missing pieces of their genealogical puzzle. Edward's research also helps him to discover more about his own ancestors.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Robekah on June 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
'Slaves In The Family' is amazing. The research Edward Ball was able to do for this book was tantemount to a sisyphean feat. By tracing the heritage of several slave decendants back to the mid 1600s, he fullfilled something so profound for those families, almost no words can describe it. Most African Americans in this country are resigned to the fact that we'll never know who our great, great, grandparents were, where in Africa our ancestors once lived, or who we are beyond stolen people. To be able to say 'I've traced my heritage as far back to a relative named Binah, which is a common name in Sierra Leone, so my people are probably from there' is one of the most spiritual, life-altering pieces of information an African American (who is searching) can be given. In my personal experience, there has always been lack of understanding of myself. I can read and study and dance and commune, and on one level that is all of the knowing I need. But is that because that satisfies my soul, or because that's all the knowing I'm likely to get in this lifetime? Whatever the case, all my life there's been this yearning to know who my people are, and it's a yearning I've heard echoed in my sisters and brothers all over the country. Edward Ball is also a brilliant story teller. There are times when I'm reading, that I have to remind myself that it's non-fiction. Not only because it's so well written, but because I'm so far removed from the brutal, chattle existence my acestors survived, it is often times impossible to reconcile on the D train to Brooklyn that this country (and on a larger scale - the world) has a continually unpleasant history of treating fellow human beings deplorably, and in some instances, ungodly.Read more ›
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 3, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This book is a moving and emotionallly powerful exploration and confrontation by one South Carolina-born writer with the moral consequences of the actions of his slave-owning and -selling ancestors. "Slaves in the Family" recounts Edward Ball's painstaking research into the history of his family, the first of whom settled near Charlestion at the end of the 17th century. He learns that his ancestors not only owned slaves,but that 2 family branches were large-scale slave traders, importing human beings directly from West Africa, He searches out descendants of slaves who lived on Ball family plantations, preparing careful geneologies and scrupulously identifying and acknowledging black families as descended from his own white ancestors as well as slave women on the plantations. This is the source of the title; he and these black people are members of the same family.
Ball goes further than any other work I have seen in following the historic trail all the way to Sierra Leone, searching not only for descendants of some freed Ball family slaves who settled there, but for African families whose ancestors were sellers of other Africans. Ball's reports of his meetings with these African families are some of the most moving passages in the book. He is not the only person who must struggle to acknowledge evil done by family members in the past. I highly recommend reading this book,especiallly for white folks,as a major contribution to the attempt to reconcile and heal the scars of Americans' shared racial tragedy.
Cheryl B
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