Charles Ball, Slavery in the United States: A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Charles Ball, a Black Man, who lived forty years in Maryland, South Carolina and Georgia as a slave, under various masters, and was one year in the nave with Commodore Barney during the late war. New York: John S. Taylor, 1837.

One of the very best entries in the large genre of the slave narrative was written by Charles Ball. Published twice in the nineteenth century, under two different titles, Ball’s testimony—including a gripping account of not one but two escapes from the Deep South—remains an invaluable first-person account of the domestic slave trade in the early nineteenth century.

This trade victimized Ball in its very early stages, when it was known more as the "Georgia trade" than as the trade to the Deep South, which ultimately wrenched around one million people from their homes in the older slave states. Recent (and burgeoning) scholarship on the slave trade—all of which draws on Ball's descriptions of the early form and effects of this interstate human trafficking—has placed this coerced Great Migration at the center of the antebellum African American experience, replacing the plantation that stood at the center of earlier scholarship. After all, the trade affected not only the million or so people sold, but also their kinfolk left behind. Moreover, the threat of sale hung with menacing uncertainty over every slave—sold or not—in the United States. Ball’s narrative offers a compelling description of the human drama involved in all of this. It matches better-known slave narratives both in the adventure of his escapes and the power of his testament to slave resistance.

Matthew Mason

Matthew Mason is assistant professor of history at Brigham Young University, author of Slavery and Politics in the Early American Republic (2006), and coeditor of Edward Kimber's The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr. Anderson (2008).

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