And it’s got a pun in the title! A not very funny pun. Hrm, a slavery pun does feel a little gross.
Anyway, this was a finalist for the Pulitizer this year and so my local library picked up a copy and put it on Overdrive. It was a relatively short listen (read) and offers a sober, straight-forward assessment of New England colonies’ role in the slave trade. One of my favorite books ever is Changes in the Land by William Cronin, which details the New England colonies’ role in deforestation and this book has a similar goal and effect of challenging the mythical history of the puritans. Like other works by Sacvan Bercovich, Perry Miller, and their like, this book basically suggests that the New England had a significantly larger role in the establishment and perpetuation of the slave trade than is generally discussed, that their positioning themselves as moral leaders in this country is fraught, even and especially by their terms, and that historical alternatives were both argued for and available at the time.
Some moments that made me think through this: apparently there was a specific need for laws in Connecticut to stop people from “freeing” their older slaves when they were not particularly useful to them anymore to keep from having to pay for their care. There was a fairly popular sentiment that slavery was not only the will of God, but also a mark of meekness/suffering that could help ensure promising afterlife…an old argument to be sure, but one especially nefarious given Calvinist doctrine of the Elect and the Preterite limited salvation. What else? Oh, the old gem of not wanting to free slaves because of how mad slaves would be at them. But what was especially interesting was looking into the history of the enslavement of Indians in New England.
Overall, this is well-researched and carefully argued, but it’s not wonky or too specific. It’s history meant to be read and it’s quite readable.