John Saillant
Western Michigan University

Slavery in America from the Colonial Era to the Civil War

Teacher's note: This is the syllabus for a seminar I taught at Brown University. I had a visiting appointment in History and Afro-American Studies, and my responsibilities included the early American survey, the two-semester survey in Afro-American studies,and a seminar on slavery. My own specialty is in the interconnections among race, religion, and social thought between about 1750 and 1830. The course was designed to be interdisciplinary and to attract students interested in abolitionism, nineteenth-century slavery, and black spokespeople like Frederick Douglass as well as in early America. My students included History, Afro-American Studies, and American Civilization concentrators as well as graduate students in English who wanted an historical course to match with a field in African American literature.

1. September 6-8: Introduction to Historiographical Issues

2. September 11-15: African Slavery and the Early Atlantic Slave Trade


John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1680 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 1-125, 152-234 (text and reserve).

3. September 18-22: Ideology for and against Slavery


Aphra Behn, "Oroonoko; Or, the Royal Slave" (1688) (text and reserve).
John Gabriel Stedman, Narrative of an Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam (1796) (excerpt from chapter nine, handout).

4. September 25-29: The Case of Colonial Virginia


Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: W. W. Norton, 1975), pp. 213-387 (text and reserve).

5. October 2-6: Eighteenth-Century Black Thought on Slavery


Olaudah Equiano, Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789) (text and reserve).
Lemuel Haynes, "Liberty Further Extended" (1776) (reserve).
John Saillant, "Lemuel Haynes's Black Republicanism and the American Republican Tradition, 1775-1820," Journal of the Early Republic (1994) 14: 293-324 (reserve).
Rafia Zafar, "Capturing the Captivity: African Americans among the Puritans," MELUS (1991-92) 17: 19-35 (reserve).

6. October 11-13: Slavery and Revolution


Gary B. Nash, Race and Revolution (Madison: Madison House, 1990) (text and reserve).

7. October 16-20: "Legitimate" vs. Slave Trade, c. 1800


David Eltis, Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (New York:Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 3-77 (reserve).
Robin Law, "The Transition from the Slave Trade to 'Legitimate' Commerce," paper presented at the UNESCO Conference on the Slave Trade, September, 1994 ( and handout).

8. October 23-27: African Americans in Sierra Leone and Liberia


Floyd J. Miller, The Search for a Black Nationality: Black Emigration and Colonization, 1787-1863 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975), pp. 21-53 (reserve).
John Saillant, "'Wipe away All Tears from Their Eyes': Religion and an African American Exodus to Africa, 1785-1808," paper presented in an earlier form at the Institute of Early American History and Culture Annual Conference, June, 1995, and forthcoming from Plantation and Society (handout).
"'Circular addressed to the Colored Brethren and friends': An Unpublished Essay by Lott Cary, Sent from Monrovia, Liberia, to Richmond, Virginia, 1827," ed. John Saillant, forthcoming from Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (handout)

9. October 30-November 3: Africanism, Americanism, and Permanent Resistance


Michael Mullin, Africa in America: Slave Acculturation and Resistance in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992)(text and reserve).

10. November 6-10: Plantation Slavery


John Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 149-283 (text and reserve).
James Oakes, Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South (New York: Knopf,1990), pp. 137-194 (reserve).

11. November 13-17: Women in the Slave Trade and under Slavery


James F. Searing, West African Slavery and Atlantic Commerce: The Senegal River Valley, 1700-1860 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 129-162 (reserve).
Deborah Gray White, Ar'n't I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985) (text and reserve).

12. November 20: What Was New in Nineteenth-Century Abolitionism?


David Walker, Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America (1829) (text and reserve).

13. November 27-December 1: Abolitionism, Black and White


Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845)(text and reserve).
David Brion Davis, "Reflections on Abolitionism and Ideological Hegemony," in The Antislavery Debate: Capitalism and Abolitionism as a Problem in Historical Interpretation, ed. Thomas Bender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), pp. 161-179(reserve).
Daniel J. McInerney, "'A Faith for Freedom': The Political Gospel of Abolitionism," Journal of the Early Republic (1991) 11: 371-393 (reserve).

14. December ": Emancipation and Reconstruction


Peter Kolchin, American Slavery, 1619-1877 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), pp. 200-237 (text and reserve).

Class Format and Requirements:

This course combines lectures, discussion, and student presentations. When we meet three days a week, as we do most weeks, the Monday and Wednesday classes are lectures, with discussion, and the Friday class is devoted to student presentations, with discussion.

Each student will identify a topic of interest that extends the reading for one week and prepare a class presentation on that topic. Some reading beyond the weekly assignment will be necessary for a presentation. An essay, which need not be an exact transcript of the presentation, is due on the day a student presents. Some possible topics are narratives of Muslims seized in the slave trade, the Christianization of slaves, ethnic origins of Africans seized in the slave trade, the development of slavery in the Caribbean or in any area not treated in detail in the course reading, gender issues in slave society, black slave-holders, the formation of free black communities (urban and Maroon), varieties of labor in a slave system, theories of the "slave personality" or "slave culture," black-white conflict over Colonization and Abolitionism, and any writer of the black Atlantic before 1865 who is not treated in our course. Students should consult with the instructor early in the semester in order to identify a topic that both suits their interests and matches a week's reading.

A final paper is also required; its topic should also be chosen in consultation with the instructor.