Soul By Soul : Life Inside The Antebellum Slave Market Essay

Soul By Soul : Life Inside The Antebellum Slave Market Essay

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When reading about the institution of slavery in the United States, it is easy to focus on life for the slaves on the plantations—the places where the millions of people purchased to serve as slaves in the United States lived, made families, and eventually died. Most of the information we seek is about what daily life was like for these people, and what went “wrong” in our country’s collective psyche that allowed us to normalize the practice of keeping human beings as property, no more or less valuable than the machines in the factories which bolstered industrialized economies at the time. Many of us want to find information that assuages our own personal feelings of discomfort or even guilt over the practice which kept Southern life moving along for hundreds of years. Walter Johnson, the author of Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market, tells a different narrative.
In Soul By Soul, Johnson introduces a new perspective on slavery. Through historical documents and transcriptions of personal accounts, he attempts to create a glimpse into the more economically driven side of slavery. Johnson uses excerpts from these documents to paint a picture of what it was like to be involved with the slave trade in New Orleans. Most importantly, he attempts to tell the story from several different perspectives—that of the slave owner, the slave trader, and even the slaves themselves. The picture Johnson paints is not the one we are used to of slaves on plantations and in “big houses,” working in the fields and serving their masters, nor is it the darker idea of the punishments those slaves received for taking even a tiny step out of line. Instead, Johnson shows us an even darker, bleaker side of slavery—the reduction of human being...


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...stand, sometimes leave the reader with too much information to process. The subject of slavery as part of the Southern economy is important to understand, but occasionally the sheer amount of information included in the book is exhausting to read. Luckily, Johnson has structured his book well and divided the information into smaller sections that have defined “stopping points,” allowing the reader to take a break to process the information being presented.
All in all, Soul by Soul is a compelling account of what really went on inside the slave markets of New Orleans, told from several historical perspectives that allow the reader to get a glimpse of what life was truly like in the situation and time period. I personally would recommend this book to anyone, especially those interested in learning more about the economy of the domestic slave trade in the United States.

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