The article focuses on the concomitant rise of melodrama and the abolitionist movement in the late eighteenth century and how these cultural discourses evolved in conjunction with one another into the mid-nineteenth century. While melodrama as a popular mode of theatre is often seen as populist, we argue that the form of melodrama works to contain any objections to slavery that might threaten domestic and national orders. Tracking the sites and sights of slavery from Colman’s early Inkle and Yarico through his Africans and Morton’s The Slave to Boucicault’s Octoroon, we first show how much of the institution of slavery was, in fact, staged and then explore how these plays subordinate potentially disturbing images of the trade to a domestic plot that restores traditional family values and underwrites the order of empire.