Freedom and Bondage Along the Ohio RiverUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Early American Studies
328 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 7 illus
- Published: October 2017
- Published: May 2013
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In 1787, the Northwest Ordinance made the Ohio River the dividing line between slavery and freedom in the West, yet in 1861, when the Civil War tore the nation apart, the region failed to split at this seam. In Slavery's Borderland, historian Matthew Salafia shows how the river was both a physical boundary and a unifying economic and cultural force that muddied the distinction between southern and northern forms of labor and politics.
Countering the tendency to emphasize differences between slave and free states, Salafia argues that these systems of labor were not so much separated by a river as much as they evolved along a continuum shaped by life along a river. In this borderland region, where both free and enslaved residents regularly crossed the physical divide between Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, slavery and free labor shared as many similarities as differences. As the conflict between North and South intensified, regional commonality transcended political differences. Enslaved and free African Americans came to reject the legitimacy of the river border even as they were unable to escape its influence. In contrast, the majority of white residents on both sides remained firmly committed to maintaining the river border because they believed it best protected their freedom. Thus, when war broke out, Kentucky did not secede with the Confederacy; rather, the river became the seam that held the region together.
By focusing on the Ohio River as an artery of commerce and movement, Salafia draws the northern and southern banks of the river into the same narrative and sheds light on constructions of labor, economy, and race on the eve of the Civil War.
Introduction: Listening to the River
Chapter 1. Origins of the Border between Slavery and Freedom
Chapter 2. Crossing the Line
Chapter 3. Slaveholding Liberators
Chapter 4. Steamboats and the Transformation of the Borderland
Chapter 5. Politics of Unity and Difference
Chapter 6. Fugitive Slaves and the Borderland
Chapter 7. The Nature of Antislavery in the Borderland
Chapter 8. The Borderland and the Civil War
"[This book] is engagingly written, the individual stories are compelling, and Salafia weaves them all together to give readers a real sense of time and place. Slavery's Borderland deserves a wide readership for it offers much insight into how racism became embedded in American culture."—American Historical Review
"Rather than seeing the Ohio River as a flowing borderline separating slavery from freedom, Salafia's work revises historians' well-worn assumptions to explore how cross-river connections sustained a region economically and-at least among whites-socially during the first half of the nineteenth century. . . . How long will it be before we have a reconsideration of the entire borderland between slavery and freedom from the colonial period to the post-Civil War era? Salafia's book has given the field an approach-and a regional start-for how that work might be done best."—Journal of the Early Republic
"Slavery's Borderland directs our attention from states defined by arbitrary political borders to fluid regions defined by networks of people interacting within a shared landscape. Avoiding the usual tendency to emphasize differences between slave Kentucky and free Ohio and Indiana, Matthew Salafia shows systems of labor evolving along a continuum that straddled the Ohio River. A fresh and long overdue perspective."—Andrew Cayton, Miami University
"Matthew Salafia brings the growing literature on the variety within American slavery and the 'many Souths' into conversation with the rich literature on the Old Northwest, and adds to all of these the uniqueness of slavery in the Ohio valley and its relationship with servitude across the river. By placing the river at the center, Slavery's Borderland transcends not only state histories but also regional histories."—Matthew Mason, Brigham Young University