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Black Slaveowners: Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860 Paperback – March 1, 1995

4.3 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Paperback, March 1, 1995
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Editorial Reviews


The subject is unique: free black slave masters in South Carolina from 1790-1860 are revealed in a study which tells how Afro-Americans played slave master roles in South Carolina. Free blacks embraced slavery as a viable economic system: census figures, tax returns, and newspaper ads contribute to details on how Afro-American masters participated in the caste system. -- Midwest Book Review

About the Author

Larry Koger holds an M.A. in history from Howard University and lives in Washington, D.C.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: University of South Carolina Press; First edition thus. edition (March 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570030375
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570030376
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #920,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Personally, I found this book fascinating. This is a very uncomfortable subject for African-Americans and sympathetic whites, but it is a story that needs to be told. Admittedly, Larry Koger is heavy on graphs and the census, but it is important to show just who was involved in this business. Whenever an historian deals with subject matter as controversial as this, you need as much documentation as you can to prove your point.

Basically, the book shows slavery in its complexity that is often missing from books in films that are either by the political left OR right wing. We learn of William Ellison, a free black who eventually owned 63 slaves in Sumter County in 1860, whose sons actually tried to join the Confederatre Army! (they were rejected, for VERY obvious reasons)!

There is also the tale of the traitor Peter Desverneys, infamous to us black history fans as the "man" who "spilled the beans" on the Denmark Vesey slave rebellion. We learn that Peter was not only freed for life after this, but bought and sold slaves of his own afterwards!

I could go on and on, but read the book and see for yourself. As A Black South Carolinian, I grew up hearing a number of African-Americans claim that some of their ancestors were actually slave owners (why they would brag about this could form another book about indentification with one's oppressors, but that's another story). In either case, it's a story you are not likely to hear about on a widespread basis, but it is important in understanding the length of the tragedy and delusion caused by the transatlantic slave trade.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A comprehensive and thoroughly researched book that examines an important aspect of American slavery that is often lost in today's remembering of the past. Koger's book looks at Black slave owners and argues that Black slaveowners were motivated by financial gain and just as invested in the slave system as whites and were not primarily motivated by benificence (though, as he points out, many undoubtedly were). He also examines the effects of interrace sexual relations that produced a class of light-skinned mulattos who, as a group, were often given financial assistance from their white fathers in the form of land and slaves and so formed the elite of the colored community and who often consciously excluded dark skinned black men from their associations (such as the Brown Fellowship) as an attempt to align themselves with upper-class whites by scorning the blackness of the slave caste. He then looks at how these various schisms between brown and black and slave master and slave played out in the attempted slave uprising of Denmark Vesey which failed because by no means were all Blacks anxious to overthrow the slave system. Indeed, several of them remained heavily invested in its maintenance right up until the fall of Charleston.

However, I would be remiss if I did not point out that this book is not an enjoyable read. Far from it. The style is rigid and the presentation of evidence is redundant. He occasionally tries to break out by attempting flashes of poetic eloquence, but they are so terrible that it's actually a relief when he slips back into dry pedantry. It's tedious, ponderous, and dull, but it is also one of the only books that examines this crucial subject of American History that has been obscured by time and politics. And for that it is worth your time.
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Format: Paperback
This subject is an important one to explore, but there must be a more interesting way to do it. The book is primarily a quantitative study that must have been the author's master's thesis. Names are transcribed from census records, and the difficulties in quantifying black slaveowners is explored. However, the author does nothing to take the reader beyond documented fact. Readers looking for a poignant journey should look elsewhere.
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Format: Paperback
It would not surprise me if this book/topic was considered controversial. Therefore, let me preface my review with a few comments.

I originally became interested in this topic during college, where as a history major one of my professors discussed the existence of free black slave owners in our area. Since I was pursuing a degree in history, I obviously had an interest in history and was really taken back because I had never heard of this topic and could not fathom how it could be true. I did some independent research and discovered that there was documentation of its existence in southeast Texas. I always intended to undertake more reading on the subject but didn't. Then, I read The Known World by Edward P Jones and my interest was piqued again.

According to Koger's work there were more than 10,000 slaves owned by free blacks in Louisian, Maryland, South Carolina, and Virginia. In this work Koger examines and documents the existence of free black (usually mulattos) who owned slaves in South Carolina during the 1800's and lays out the motivations for doing so. Often free blacks would purchase family members in order to grant manumission. However, when South Carolina passed a law that both houses had to approve an application for manumission (which was seldom done) family members would remain "slaves" but with a reunited family. However, this was not the only setting under which black slaveowners occured. There were cases where the purchase of slaves was done for the same "economic" reason that whites purchased slaves. I stated earlier that I couldn't fathom how this could occur. My thinking was, "how could blacks knowing the cruely that existed under this system participate in this sort of oppression.
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