American Dreams of John B. Prentis, Slave Trader
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of Georgia Press
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List of Illustrations
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Writing requires solitude, but it is also, in my experience, a profoundly social, collaborative process. Many people enabled this book. First and foremost, it would not have come into existence without the inspiration of my writing partner, David R. Castillo. ...
Note on the Text
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The documents transcribed in this book present many difficulties of interpretation as a consequence of their sometimes fragile condition, poor penmanship, meager punctuation, and random capitalization. John B. Prentis rarely used periods to mark the end of sentences; he sometimes used commas, colons, or dashes but usually simply ran sentences and phrases together. ...
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In a world that was largely unfree, the Enlightenment visions of liberty, equality, and brotherhood simultaneously inspired alarm and hope. At the heart of conflicting ideologies of governance lay the question of who had the right to control material resources and to profit from human labor. ...
One. Possessive Relations
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Christ's Hospital in London offered terror, excitement, confusion, education, opportunity, and loneliness to the twelve hundred pupils who lived there at the dawn of the eighteenth century. They were called the Blue Coat Boys after the school's uniform: long blue gowns, knee breeches, and yellow stockings. ...
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"Dear Brother, I embrace this opportunity of writing these few lines to you to let you know that I arrived at Norfolk safe" (May 1805, WPFP). So opens John B. Prentis's voluminous correspondence to his family. In May 1805, at the age of seventeen, he set off to study architecture as an indentured apprentice in Philadelphia, stopping in Norfolk to catch a boat that would sail up the Atlantic Coast to the Delaware Bay and into the city of Philadelphia. ...
Three. Brotherly Collusions
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Possessing one slave and a few personal items, twenty-two-year-old John B. Prentis felt dispossessed, bereft, and anxious about his future. Aching with desire to possess his dream of the good life, he decided that Richmond, a familiar city in which his family was known and respected, offered the best prospects for professional success. ...
Four. Slave Trading
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After his financial hardships of 1817-18 and the national economic crash of 1819, the notion that poverty was "a great crime" began to fester in John Prentis's soul. The specter of impoverishment threatened his ideas about who he was and his roles as husband, brother, uncle, employer, and benefactor. ...
Five. Family Values
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For John Prentis, the hardest part of being a slave trader was not figuring out how to deal with escapes and revolts; he found excitement in the chase, pleasure in the hunt. The hardest part was figuring out how to negotiate the tangled webs of "my family, black and white." ...
Six. Wills and Possessions
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In the mid-1840s, the United States vigorously expanded its empire, producing a steady increase in the price of slaves. The momentous annexation of Texas as a slave state in 1845 produced a 21 percent increase in "the price of prime field hands in the New Orleans slave market" (Howe 700). ...
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"All knowledge is, of course, to some extent imaginary," writes Ian Baucom in Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History. "The boast of evidence, however, is that it limits and constrains the promiscuity of the imagination, weds imagination to a liturgy of facts, records, documented events. ...
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Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 27 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2011
Series Title: Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900