Slaves in the Family

by Edward Ball

Hardcover, 1998

Status

Available

Publication

Farrar Straus & Giroux, (1998)

Description

Journalist Ball confronts the legacy of his family's slave-owning past, uncovering the story of the people, both black and white, who lived and worked on the Balls' South Carolina plantations. It is an unprecedented family record that reveals how the painful legacy of slavery continues to endure in America's collective memory and experience. Ball, a descendant of one of the largest slave-owning families in the South, discovered that his ancestors owned 25 plantations, worked by nearly 4,000 slaves. Through meticulous research and by interviewing scattered relatives, Ball contacted some 100,000 African-Americans who are all descendants of Ball slaves. In intimate conversations with them, he garnered information, hard words, and devastating family stories of precisely what it means to be enslaved. He found that the family plantation owners were far from benevolent patriarchs; instead there is a dark history of exploitation, interbreeding, and extreme violence.--From publisher description.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Clif
This book is written by a descendant of a South Carolina slave holding family who used his family's records to search for and find many of the living descendants of the slaves who had been owned by his ancestors. The narrative tells the stories of his search and his many interviews, and along the way he also tells the history of slavery in America. As best I can tell, the book tells things like they really were and doesn't try to protect his family's reputation. It's interesting to note that many of the slave descendants he interviewed were his distant cousins. Strong research and writing lead to stunning results in this story that won the National Book Award. I have to confess that I listened to an abridged audio version of the book which was the only audio format available. (The audio version didn't show up in a search of current publications.) I found the book interesting and easy to listen to.… (more)
LibraryThing member ilive2read
A brave quest on Ball's part to try and uncover his ancestors' part in the ownership of slaves as well as their mixing of blood lines. He encounters resistance and anger from his living relatives both Black and White. Well written throughout it got a little slow about two thirds of the way through but I recommend it especially for fellow Southerners who may be grappling with the same questions with which Ball grappled!… (more)
LibraryThing member patricia_poland
Ball tackles the mystery of his South Carolina ancestors' involvement in slavery. Contains some very moving accounts between author and descendants of those slaves. An eye-opener into plantations and owning slaves it is too bad that the average person researching their African-American roots won't have access to the wondrous resources that Ball had. Small time "plantation" owners (those who owned 5 or fewer slaves) probably didn't keep the extensive financial accounts that Ball's ancestors did. However, these same researchers and anyone searching southern roots would do well to read this book. Not only will you discover possibilities for your own resesarch you will also learn much about slavery and come away with admiration for one man's quest to uncover his own family's intertwined history with slavery and his desire to at least begin to 'set things right'.… (more)
LibraryThing member allison.sivak
A huge study that tries to map the familial paths taken by the author's ancestors, some of whom were slaves owned by his other ancestors. Ball is descended from an old, formerly very prosperous Charleston family. He uses the extensive archives of the family's lives and business dealings to connect the troubling family histories to today's descendants. He writes that we cannot be responsible for the past, but that we must be accountable. Bell's way of being accountable is to pursue the writing of black people's histories, and by contacting descendants of the Ball slaves to gather their stories and hear their conclusions on slavery's legacy.

The people he interviewed have a range of responses: some angry, some interested, some sorrowful. Some thank him for his efforts, regardless of their own emotions about the past. Most seem to be moved by learning more about their own family's histories. This book was unusual to me in that Ball wrote the physical and affective details about the interviews he conducted. Although the author appears to be composed in these interviews most of the time, even in the face of anger, I thought this was an attempt to keep the writing from focusing on himself rather than on the black Americans he speaks with. It served as an attempt to let the interviewees' own questions and statements be, to not dismiss them through his own fear or guilt. This made the book a model piece of research, in my mind. Ball doesn't flinch when he writes of his archival research that documents people as chattel, and he doesn't flinch when he tries to understand how a white American could take accountability for how the past may have benefited him as a descendant of early Americans, and disadvantaged other descendants at the same time.
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LibraryThing member ksmyth
Ball is a southern writer, and he located the former slaves that lived on his ancestor's plantation, near Charleston, including those that had blood ties to his family.

This book is mostly about atonement, apology and forgiveness, was highly controversial, and won a National Book Award. I read this book a few summers ago. It didn't resonate with me, and I'm not sure why.… (more)
LibraryThing member Doozer
A great combination of memoir and history. A good read.
LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
This is the second time I've read this book and I was as pleased with it this time as the first time. This is the story of the author's research into his family's past as slave owners and slave traders. Through painstaking research and wonderful storytelling Ball tracks down his ancestors, both white and black, and tells the story of slavery in this country from the point of view of one prominent family.

We often think of slavery in terms of the Civil War. It's all Gone With The Wind and Mammy and Bette Davis in Jezebel sitting on the porch in hoop skirts listening to the slaves sing spirituals. These are all part of the story, but only part. The wonderful thing about this book is that this story starts with the arrival of the first Ball ancestor in the Americas in Charlestown (later Charleston) in the 1600's and follows the family up into the American Revolution and beyond. One of the Ball daughters was married to Henry Laurens, a delegate to the Second Continental Congress who succeeded John Adams as President of that body. He was also co-owner of a slave trading firm that was responsible for the sale of over 8,000 Africans during his lifetime.

The American Revolution was a boon for many slaves who were able to escape their masters to the British side. A number of people were taken back to Britain where they were given their freedom and some were taken to Nova Scotia to start over - it was people from the Canadian group that founded Sierra Leone and one of them was a former Ball slave.

The book takes us into the present day and brings together many disparate stories as the author struggles to come to terms with his family history and what it means to him. Along the way he meets many relatives he didn't know he had and is able to help some of these people piece together family trees as they trace their genealogy back through the records to their original slave ancestor.

This is not a perfect book and I can understand why some members of the author's family would have preferred he left well enough alone, but I am glad he didn't. It is imperative that we all understand our history, acknowledge where we came from, and find the connections between us. They are closer than we think.
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LibraryThing member MerryMary
A fascinating nonfiction book wherein the author (3 or 4 generations descended from a long-term plantation family in North Carolina) begins the task of tracing all the families that lived on the numerous plantations owned by his extended family. He takes us back to the First Elias (dating back to the American Revolution) and traces not only his family but the slaves he bought and what the records show happened to them.

The Ball family kept incredible records and passed them down religiously, so the daily lives of white and black figures is accessible, as well as stories of auctions, births, deaths, and transfers between one plantation and another. The author is able to track several black families to the modern day and meet them for exchanges of stories and pictures. Inevitably, he also finds at least one black family line that branches off from his own (master/slave offspring) and meets his cousins. The interviews are remarkable for their honesty and variety of reactions. He meets everything from warm welcome to somewhat cold resentment. The author himself is a warm and caring man who shares willingly whatever he finds, and writes honestly and fairly about everyone he finds or meets. There are many many photographs. Needless to say, I liked this book a lot. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member dreplogle
Absolutely remarkable work, especially in light of the recent South Caroline shootings. This is a highly readable account of the growth of slavery in one man's family.

South Carolina, and Charleston in particular was the major port where Africans were brought in to be sold as slaves. The author, who grew up knowing his family had large plantations and was part of a family who used to be very wealthy. But he was never taught about his family gained and kept that wealth. This is his investigative journey to finding out that his ancestral family was one of the largest slaveholders in the country, having up to 4000 slaves. As luck would have it, h is family kept records of their business, archived in several collections, and the author was able to piece together a history, and a genealogy of his white ancestors, and their black holdings. The author also seeks out the black and mulatto descendants of his family's plantations.

While we as Americans, know about slavery in our history, this work brings us closer to understanding it, and how it worked and the impact it left. This copy of the book which I received through the GoodReads program, is a 2014 revised edition of the 1998 work. It won the National Book Award, and I don't think enough superlatives can be attached to it. It was a work taking a lot of courage and understanding.
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LibraryThing member dreplogle
Absolutely remarkable work, especially in light of the recent South Caroline shootings. This is a highly readable account of the growth of slavery in one man's family.

South Carolina, and Charleston in particular was the major port where Africans were brought in to be sold as slaves. The author, who grew up knowing his family had large plantations and was part of a family who used to be very wealthy. But he was never taught about his family gained and kept that wealth. This is his investigative journey to finding out that his ancestral family was one of the largest slaveholders in the country, having up to 4000 slaves. As luck would have it, h is family kept records of their business, archived in several collections, and the author was able to piece together a history, and a genealogy of his white ancestors, and their black holdings. The author also seeks out the black and mulatto descendants of his family's plantations.

While we as Americans, know about slavery in our history, this work brings us closer to understanding it, and how it worked and the impact it left. This copy of the book which I received through the GoodReads program, is a 2014 revised edition of the 1998 work. It won the National Book Award, and I don't think enough superlatives can be attached to it. It was a work taking a lot of courage and understanding.
… (more)
LibraryThing member VhartPowers
I can only imagine how challenging it must have been to write this book and organize it. That being said, from a readers perspective, it was challenging to keep up with all the different family members and the time periods, because the author kept vacillating. I suppose he had to with each family. I think it would have been better for the pictures to coincide with the story of each member instead of having the pictures in three sections.
The book is comprised by a great deal of research including family oral history. I think anyone whom has worked on genealogy can attest that sometimes the oral history proves more accurate. I know personally an ancestor's grave stone got the date wrong based on the information in his son's book.
However, this book also has a lot of the authors opinions and presumptions/assumptions depending on the information.
There were some areas that especially stuck out for me:
pg. 223, a letter from elder Laurens to his son (at university in a northern state) tells his son of what he thinks George Washington's opinion would be about the blacks as soldiers; he'd want them as soldiers, but would balk at their freedom, because the owners would never accept a deal that would rob them of their property.
pg. 252, the caste system of France and redistribution of wealth destroyed them. (have we learned nothing from history?)
pg. 290 the author mentions the Irish have the same slave story of you could be bought, sold, whipped and/or raped.
pg. 308 The Northern tax (Tariff of 1828) (a catalyst of the civil war. (not mentioned in the book is the other tax in 1832 further enraging the southern states).
pg 346 according to Mary Ball's memoirs she and the other women in the family were first very frightened of the invasion of the Federal troops. They found that the (white) men were quite polite and asked for things. However, the black Federal troops came in and looted, smashed the fine China, tried to find the silver and even burned the plantation houses.
pg. 364 A Rev. Peter Wishers was interviewed and quite frankly it seems as though the author was trying to agitate him. The reverend wouldn't bit though and the author said he had black guilt. Then continues to say this man didn't even have a connection to his family. So why did Mr. Ball include this interview? I'm glad he did though, it showed how badly he behaved.
pg. 436 Muslim blacks in Africa explained their families sold people from other tribes, but sometimes even their own tribe for money. (greed)
pg 442 they said it was a long mistake by their ancestors. (however slavery still exists in Africa and in Sierra-Leone where these people were from. So their ancestors long mistake has not been corrected).
Overall it was a good book.


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LibraryThing member Familyhistorian
This is a very well researched family story that doesn't back down from the dark corners of this family's past. It is a good example how one family's history can be fascinating when it looks squarely at reality. In this case the research uncovers what happened between slaves and slave owners and how those events in the past led to hidden connections in the present.

I liked the scope of this story. I wish that I could find a common theme to unite as much of my family's story as Ball has done. I would like to be able to work as many generations and lines into one book as he has in Slaves in the Family .
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Language

Original language

English

Barcode

8392
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