Fall 2018 catalog cover

The Penn Press list for fall 2018 includes hardcover releases, first-time paperbacks, and ebook editions intended for scholars, students, and serious general readers worldwide. Click here to explore our forthcoming books, grouped by subject area.

The Alchemy of Slavery
Human Bondage and Emancipation in the Illinois Country, 1730-1865

M. Scott Heerman

272 pages | 6 x 9 | 12 illus.
Cloth Sep 2018 | ISBN 9780812250466 | Add to cart $45.00s | Outside N. America £35.00
Ebook Sep 2018 | ISBN 9780812295337 | Add to cart $45.00s | £29.50 | About
A volume in the series America in the Nineteenth Century
View table of contents and excerpt

"M. Scott Heerman provocatively muddies the waters, demonstrating how slavery survived in 'free' Illinois all the way through the Civil War. His reinterpretation does much to link the history of Middle America to the global history of slavery."—Christina Snyder, Penn State University

"M. Scott Heerman offers much-needed and close scrutiny of the Illinois Country, a region that, because it straddled empires, labor systems, freedom, and slavery, opens up new understandings along a number of fronts, not least of which is the relationship between slavery's many iterations and the kind of freedoms those slaveries engendered. This book joins a growing body of scholarship that considers slavery and its legacies to be a national (versus a southern) problem, and which illuminates slavery as a historical process as opposed to a static and singular institution."—Susan Eva O'Donovan, University of Memphis

In this sweeping saga that spans empires, peoples, and nations, M. Scott Heerman chronicles the long history of slavery in the heart of the continent and traces its many iterations through law and social practice. Arguing that slavery had no fixed institutional form, Heerman traces practices of slavery through indigenous, French, and finally U.S. systems of captivity, inheritable slavery, lifelong indentureship, and the kidnapping of free people. By connecting the history of indigenous bondage to that of slavery and emancipation in the Atlantic world, Heerman shows how French, Spanish, and Native North American practices shaped the history of slavery in the United States.

The Alchemy of Slavery foregrounds the diverse and adaptable slaving practices that masters deployed to build a slave economy in the Upper Mississippi River Valley, attempting to outmaneuver their antislavery opponents. In time, a formidable cast of lawyers and antislavery activists set their sights on ending slavery in Illinois. Abraham Lincoln, Lyman Trumbull, Richard Yates, and many other future leaders of the Republican party partnered with African Americans to wage an extended campaign against slavery in the region. Across a century and a half, slavery's nearly perpetual reinvention takes center stage: masters turning Indian captives into slaves, slaves into servants, former slaves into kidnapping victims; and enslaved people turning themselves into free men and women.

M. Scott Heerman teaches history at the University of Miami.

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