Author: Ned and Constance Sublette
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Date of Publication: October 1, 2015
Date of Review: November 3, 2015
There’s no getting around it, “American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-breeding Industry” is a difficult book to read because of the weight of the subject. Ned and Constance Sublette write a compelling history of slave breeding without holding back. While some school textbooks gloss over slavery, the Sublettes sugarcoat nothing. Though I found “American Slave Coast” to be well researched and appropriately confrontational, I also found it to be too long. I will say, it was well organized—you could easily skip to the sections that most interest you—but I wasn’t prepared to read nearly 700 pages on slavery.
It’s a given that slavery in America was evil, abhorrent, and demeaning, but “American Slave Coast” moves beyond the standard rhetoric, focusing on “a history of the United States as seen from the point of view of the slave trade.” Slavery was a business, and slaves were both property and currency. Slave owners could take out a loan with slaves as collateral and payment. Wealth was determined by how many slaves one owned, and the quality of the slaves, both in their work abilities and their breeding abilities.
The reader learns that “Jefferson, who legally owned more than six hundred people during his lifetime, proactively made sure that importation of persons would indeed be prohibited as of the earliest constitutionally permissible date,” because “ending the African slave trade was protectionism on behalf of Virginia.” Once African slave trade was banned, slaves in the United States became commodities—if you can’t import slaves, then you must create them at home.
As the U.S. expanded west, slave owners saw a growing enterprise in “forced mating.” As the cheaper African market was outlawed, “homegrown” slaves were at a premium. Slave traders advertised the “breedability” of female slaves, noting their childbirth successes. To bolster their point, the Sublettes include facsimiles of advertisements.
While “American Slave Coast” is well written and organized, at 663 pages of text, it is also too long. That said, the Sublettes sacrifice brevity for over-documentation, which is a researcher’s dream. For me, “American Slave Coast” became overwhelmingly long; by chapter 24, “The French Revolution in America,” I found myself thinking, “am I really only halfway through with this book?”