Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and "Race" in New England, 1780-1860 (Paperback)Joanne Pope Melish (author)
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Following the abolition of slavery in New England, white citizens seemed to forget that it had ever existed there. Drawing on a wide array of primary sources-from slaveowners' diaries to children's daybooks to racist broadsides-Joanne Pope Melish reveals not only how northern society changed but how its perceptions changed as well.
Melish explores the origins of racial thinking and practices to show how ill-prepared the region was to accept a population of free people of color in its midst. Because emancipation was gradual, whites transferred prejudices shaped by slavery to their relations with free people of color, and their attitudes were buttressed by abolitionist rhetoric which seemed to promise riddance of slaves as much as slavery. She tells how whites came to blame the impoverished condition of people of color on their innate inferiority, how racialization became an important component of New England ante-bellum nationalism, and how former slaves actively participated in this discourse by emphasizing their African identity.
Placing race at the center of New England history, Melish contends that slavery was important not only as a labor system but also as an institutionalized set of relations. The collective amnesia about local slavery's existence became a significant component of New England regional identity.
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Number of pages: 320
Weight: 539 g
Dimensions: 235 x 156 x 18 mm
"Disowning Slavery brims with ideas: it is an exciting and argumentative book."* Journal of American History *
"Fifteen years in the making, this is an unusually mature and finished first book. It is also a major contribution to the study of the construction of American national identity."* Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science *
"In this ambitious and often compelling study, Joanne Pope Melish seeks to explore in detail, and then to reconfigure, our sense of the meaning of 'gradual' emancipation in New England.... Her relentless vision of New England Americans 'disowning' the enslaved history, and displacing it on the South, illuminates in a new and important way the history of race and regionalism that we must rethink again."* Journal of Southern History *
"In this wonderfully observed history, Melish's keen truth-giving shows a new picture of the past, in turn giving us a different perspective on the turbulent race relations of our country today."* Providence Sunday Journal *
"Joanne Pope Melish argues that the need to portray a virtuous North battling the slave-holding South during the Civil War resulted in the creation of a 'mythology of a free New England' in the antebellum period and that the notion persists to this day.... She makes the case that slavery was far more important to New England's economy than is commonly recognized by historians."* New York Times *
"Melish's book makes an important contribution to the literature on slavery and abolition and fills a significant gap in our understanding of how slavery in New England affected both that region and the nation.... This is a terrific book, one that all scholars of slavery, abolition, and the early republic absolutely must read."* H-Net Reviews *
"Melish's determination to put the history of local slavery at the core of New England racial attitudes has produced a highly nuanced picture of the gradual emancipation process that goes well beyond anything of its kind.... A tremendous achievement that will have an impact across a wide historiographical spectrum."* Connecticut History *
"Melish's searching analysis compels a reconsideration of many aspects of the conventional narrative of antislavery within both white and African-American communities.... This is an important book, one that commands a reconsideration of many of our assumptions about the meaning of emancipation, the development of racial ideologies, and also about antislavery itself."* Reviews in American History *
"Melish's work is original, important... a fascinating work that opens new interpretations of emancipation and race in New England."* William and Mary Quarterly *
"Painstakingly researched, filled with new information and astute analysis, this book is a major contribution to our knowledge of New England slavery and a valuable addition to the understanding of race relations in the United States."* American Historical Review *
"The work is an invaluable contribution to the emerging picture of slavery and emancipation in the American North. Pope Melish has made it difficult for New Englanders ever to see their history quite the same way again."* Law and History Review *
"Joanne Melish sheds more fresh light on the significance of slavery in the North than any other historian I can think of. Disowning Slavery is a brilliant book."-- David Brion Davis, author of The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution