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Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  857 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews

Today most Americans, black and white, identify slavery with cotton, the deep South, and the African-American church. But at the beginning of the nineteenth century, after almost two hundred years of African-American life in mainland North America, few slaves grew cotton, lived in the deep South, or embraced Christianity. Many Thousands Gone traces the evolution of black s

Kindle Edition, 512 pages
Published (first published March 4th 1998)
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Ebony Thomas
Dec 07, 2012 Ebony Thomas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best accounts of slavery from the first North American colonies to the Revolutionary War. It upended some of what I've always believed about slavery in the United States and filled in many gaps in my historical knowledge. Berlin's distinctions between societies with slaves and slave societies; between Atlantic creoles and saltwater slaves; between creolization and Africanization; and discussion of the agency and sheer ingenuity displayed by the charter, plantation, and revolut ...more
Joseph Stieb
Ira Berlin’s expansive Many Thousands Gone surveys the history black slavery in North America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Berlin has three major goals in this book. His first goal is to account for the geographical variations in slavery over four major regions of North America. His second goal is to explain changes in slavery and slave culture in these regions over time by dividing the first two hundred years of slavery into three generations. He achieves these first two goals, painting a vi ...more
Kirk Battle
Jun 28, 2013 Kirk Battle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's a good social history of slavery and breaks down a lot of nuances between the different regions, cultures, and periods while Atlantic slavery developed. It also totally ignores the economics and business side of this process, instead occasionally indicating that this was profitable or that plantation owners rarely had the money to actually feed and take care of their slave populations. It makes for a frustrating but solid read.

Written by Ira Berlin, the first 100 pages deal with distinguish
Ira Berlin's "magisterial synthesis" of slavery in North America does the important work of historicizing and thus complicating the institution of slavery. By dividing slavery into three generations and across four different geographical terrains (North, Chesapeake, Lover Mississipi Valley and the Lowcountry (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida), Berlin reorients the historical narrative away from more popular discussions of the antebellum period, and places both slavery and constructions of race i ...more
Jul 02, 2015 Beth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came across this book while visiting the slavery museum in Charleston. It was fascinating and excruciatingly well-researched. I think I had always mistakenly thought of slavery as one universal experience, but there was a lot of diversity of experience over time and in different regions of the country. What surprised me the most was the resilience and competence of the generations of slaves, despite the horrible circumstances -- continually striving for whatever bit of freedom or independence ...more
Nov 10, 2010 Bradley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hi-597
Masterful synthesis. Enjoyed, in particular, the book's accounts of life along the West African coast and of urban slavery generally. Nevertheless, the central thesis of the book namely that negotiation was at work between slaves and masters is a bit overstated. We must not forget that the "negotiated" relationship was ever one-sided. Though I'm ecstatic that historians are returning agency to slaves, I worry that they do so at the expense of the brutal realities at work. Still, the treatment of ...more
Eric Michael Burke
In American popular consciousness, the thought of African slavery consistently conjures a stable set of images: expansive fields of cotton, gin mills, whipping posts, and somber spirituals; the auction block, mounted horsewhip-toting overseers, and the humble slave cabin. In recent years even popular culture has returned to the drama of the antebellum “Old South” in films like 12 Years a Slave (2013) and best-selling novels like Toni Morrison's Beloved (2004). While the importance of engaging wi ...more
Jul 07, 2008 Debbie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
Easily one of the best histories of American slavery during colonial times. If your image of slavery is the plantation and the large cotton fields, pick this book up and read. Berlin reveals the complexities of slavery over time and place. He also has the virtue of being a clear and interesting writer.
Jan 14, 2008 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone, even non-history buffs
Recommended to Anna by: Prof. Sheehan-Dean
One of the best "had to" reads from college. Berlin is very well received in the antebellum history world. This book is a surprisingly informative and objective look at slavery in the United States. He also goes into great detail of the plight and success of free blacks before the Civil War.
Jul 28, 2008 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, race
Really, a very good history book. Documents how slavery changed over several generations of British colonies and then American government: specifically, the rigidification of enslavement, and its link to race.
John Beeler
Jul 03, 2007 John Beeler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Berlin captures the story of undocumented slaves. Sometimes he stretches what little sources exist, but I like stretching.
Matthew Linton
Ira Berlin's "Many Thousands Gone" is a synthetic history, which seeks to examine the regional differences between the North, Chesapeake, Lower Mississippi Valley, and Upper South (primarily South Carolina) during the first two-hundred years of slavery. Berlin's most significant contribution to the history of American slavery is the distinction between societies with slaves and slave societies. Societies with slaves count slaves among their population,but they are not the primary means of produc ...more
David Bates
May 22, 2013 David Bates rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ira Berlin’s Many Thousands Gone focuses more on the variations and development in the institutions of slavery as the driver of racial attitudes. Observing that it has become somewhat ubiquitous to understand race as a social construction, Berlin employs the contrasting development of slavery in different regions to make the point that it is a historical construction, involving shifting conditions which strengthened or weakened the position of masters and slaves as they continually renegotiated ...more
Feb 19, 2015 Charlotte rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very educational read chosen by Professor Jennison Watson, at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro!
Apr 08, 2016 Jan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Most of us were taught that slaves were brought from Africa, lived on plantations, and were treated well or poorly based on the nature of their Masters. Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, debunks our received wisdom about slaves and slavery. He argues that slavery was “constantly made and remade” (p. 4) by the slaves themselves through negotiations with their masters regarding the terms of their servitude. Slaves also negotiated within the legal ...more
Nov 02, 2014 Joshua rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you stepped ashore in Charles Town, South Carolina during the early eighteenth century you would have seen black women hawking their wares, black stevedores unloading and loading ships, and other black men tending the forge, repairing ships, and cobbling fine shoes. You might have also noticed a variety of Africans donning the sartorial appearance of Anglo-Americans—displaying pocket watches, gowns, and wigs. Despite their skilled craft and sophisticated appearance many of these men and women ...more
Mar 18, 2011 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't actually read this whole thing, but I read five or six chapters, mainly all the information on slavery in the North. This is a great book to keep in mind, maybe not to sit down and read all the way through in one go, but as a reference with information on many different eras and geographic areas of slavery. Berlin is very thorough, he separates slavery in North America into distinct regions (North, Mississippi River, Upper South, etc) and different 'generations' of slaves. He further an ...more
Kristen Tunison
Aug 31, 2016 Kristen Tunison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very good overview of slavery in North America. This will help to clear up any previous assumptions (based on ideas about antebellum Southern slavery) about slavery and how it was carried out in its initial phases in North America.
Doris Raines
Apr 07, 2016 Doris Raines rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: doris-shelf
This. Is. And. Amazeing. Story. This. Is. Where. The. Frist. Real. Music. Comes. From. For. Every. Shovel. For. Every. Song. And. Hole. They. Was. Digging. Still. They. Was. Not. Alone. The. Sad. Part. About. This. Story. Was. The. Graves. They. Was. Digging. Was. It. There. Own. Still. Life. Must. Go. Own. Doris.
This is an excellent overview of the first two hundred years of slavery in the American colonies. The book covers a very broad topic, comparing slavery in the various regions of North America, and is rather repetitious, especially when showing the similarities between slave cultures and experiences. That being said, it is a wonderful place to start if you are interested in learning about the origins of slavery in the United States. Berlin's notes include a long list of sources which are useful i ...more
Aug 24, 2015 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read
2014 - Seven years later this book holds up a bit better on second (albeit grad school style) reading. I guess I've had to plow through far more less compelling reads by this point. It's been interesting reading this in conjunction with:
-Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom
-Parent, Foul Means
-Hatfield, Atlantic Virginia
-Fischer, Suspect Relations

Eltis, The Rise of African Slavery is soon to follow...

2007 - Necessary background info, but not told in the most captivating manner...

Feb 03, 2013 Ken rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Berlin does an excellent job distinguishing the complexities of the first two hundred years of slavery in North America. By dividing the book by both generations and geography, Berlin brings a unique voice to each section of his work.

I will defiantly consult this again as reference material if I need to look up a specific group/time period, but the organization of the book does not naturally lend itself for a great cover to cover read.
Sep 30, 2014 tysephine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I studied labor systems in colonial North America and I have to say, out of all the books I read for my degree, this one was the best. Berlin's depiction of slavery in the American colonies was inspired and his research was diligent. I could not recommend this enough for students of slavery, race relations, colonial America, labor, and so on. This book made reading for my comps a joy.
May 30, 2013 Kuva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very informative, clear book about the differences in slavery from region to region and how slavery in each place changed over time. This is a good book for someone with a substantial interest in slavery, as it is pretty long and very detailed, but essential reading for anyone specializing in African-American history or studying American history at an advanced level.
Dan Slaughter
Apr 16, 2013 Dan Slaughter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's amazing the amount of sheer detail this man includes in this book, yet he creates a vivid, gripping, almost narrative-like, story of early American history and especially *how* Blacks came to be slaves -- history seldom as plainly exposed as it is here.
Feb 16, 2009 Eli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ira Berlin is teaching a class at UMD on the role of slavry in the establishment of the University. The book is a well-organized and rigorous history of slavery in the U.S. up to the Revolutionary period.
Not too much to say about this one. Read it for school. Great info on slavery in North America and it's evolution in different parts of the country. Kind of dry reading but very informative.
May 18, 2015 Bfisher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reminded me very much of "Albion's Seed" in the sense of telling the slave side of the colonial generations, as David Hackett Fischer told the story of the white colonists.
Jul 21, 2008 Cynthia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Berlin presents a compelling look at the many facets of slavery. I read this for a class on slavery.
Aug 06, 2008 Ram rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
OK, Ira: when are you going to have another idea?!
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“There seems to have been little stigma attached to such unions: after Francis Payne's death, his white widow remarried, this time to a white man. In like fashion, free black women joined together with white men. William Greensted, a white attorney who represented Elizabeth Key, a woman of color, in her successful suit for freedom, later married her. In 1691 when the Virginia General Assembly ruled against such relationships, some propertied white Virginians found the legislation novel and obnoxious enough to muster a protest.36” 0 likes
“Some patrons acted from respect or friendship for their clients, others from a sense of noblesse oblige, and yet others because the free people's gratitude could be profitable. Vulnerable black people paid premium prices for goods and services that white men and women bought cheaply.
Landlords who rented land to black planters often exacted higher rents from them than they did from white tenants, just as employers who hired free black”
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