Soul by Soul Walter Johnson


Soulby Soul Walter Johnson

Soulby Soul Walter Johnson

Slaveryhas been one of the most fundamental occurrences in the history ofhumanity. Indeed, this is one of those phenomena that changed thecourse of history and whose effects continue to be felt years afterit was abolished. As expected, a large number of scholars andresearchers have written scholarly works in an effort to explain itsdifferent aspects. For a large number of these works, the main basisis the cotton and tobacco plantations in which the individualsworked. However, this is the not the case for Walter Johnson’s book“Soul by Soul”.

Thisbook outlines the slavery story in Antebellum America throughdeparting from the cotton and tobacco plantations and venturing tothe slave market, or rather the heart of slave trade in the country.Johnson modifies the statistics pertaining to the chilling trade tohuman drama of buyers and sellers and slaves, who are undertaking thenegotiation process that would change the live of each of them. Thisis accomplished through taking the reader into the slave market inNew Orleans, which was the biggest in the country where more than ahundred thousand women, children and men were packaged, given pricetags and, eventually, sold (Johnson, 1999, pp. 12). The reason forfocusing on slave markets is the fact that it lowered human beingsinto commodities that had price tags. This book is particularlyinterested in the story pertaining to slave showrooms that took upabout 100 slaves and in which accounting, appraisals and back-roomdealings among other activities were conducted. Johnson attributesthis humiliating trade to mercantilism in which colonial importsundertook the servicing and stocking of metropolitan centers andderived profits that were secured for monopoly granting state itselfand state-sponsored companies (Johnson, 1999, pp. 14).

Itis worth noting that business entities that had government ties andwell-connected leaders often gained state favors and privileges, aswell as be offered special monopoly licenses that allowed them todominate trade in goods such as coffee, cotton, indigo, tobacco andrice, and later on the slaves (Johnson, 1999. Pp. 16). Of particularnote is the fact that even the 1808 ban on international slave tradedid not result in the softening or reduction of slavery rather ittriggered the formation of new manifestations and shapes of the viceparticularly as the populations of slaves increasingly moved to thelower South.

Earlychapters of the book examine the fundamentally incommensurableperspectives that slaveholders and slaves took with regard to therelationship between slave trade and the broader system of slaverywhile following the philosophical variation via the practicalcontests that were common in the history of slave trade. Thesubsequent chapters in the book, on the other hand, treat thecontested bargains that buyers, slaves and traders made in theauction houses and showrooms. It is noted that traders would feed theslaves as a way of packaging them up, dress them appropriately andoil their bodies (Johnson, 1999, pp. 47). However, they eventuallydepended on the slaves to be valuable commodities. Further, the slavebuyers usually stripped naked the slaves and questioned every aspectpertaining to their past in an effort to obtain more honest answersthan they obtained from the traders. It is noted that theexaminations, in turn, offered information that the slaves could useto shape these sales to their advantage.


Johnson,Walter. 2000.&nbspSoulby soul: life inside the antebellum slave market.Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: Harvard Univ. Press.