This article examines the origins and expansion of "empires for slavery" on the North American continent between the Seven Years War and the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, arguing that historians should rethink the origins, periodization, geography, and dynamics of slavery's growth in the interior of the North American continent through 1815. Slavery was central to British, French, and Spanish efforts to establish territorial hegemony in the interior of the continent in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Consequently, in the forty years between the Seven Years War and the Louisiana Purchase, slavery became one of the central economic, social, and political institutions in the imperial Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi Valleys. By the time of the Louisiana Purchase, these regions were joined in a distinct Mississippi Valley plantation complex that was itself part of a broader Atlantic world of empires, commerce, and slavery. Like its imperial rivals and predecessors, the United States used state support for slavery as a means to secure sovereignty. Furthermore, under American rule, the continuities that characterized slavery and its growth were more significant than the changes wrought by the extension of American sovereignty into the interior of the North American continent. In sum, this article argues that in the interior of the North American continent, the growth of slavery under American rule represented not a sharp break from the past but a significant continuity that stretched back to the 1760s and connected the region's colonial past to its place in the post-1815 American Union.


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pp. 175-206
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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