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Unrequited Toil
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Book description

Written as a narrative history of slavery within the United States, Unrequited Toil details how an institution that seemed to be disappearing at the end of the American Revolution rose to become the most contested and valuable economic interest in the nation by 1850. Calvin Schermerhorn charts changes in the family lives of enslaved Americans, exploring the broader processes of nation-building in the United States, growth and intensification of national and international markets, the institutionalization of chattel slavery, and the growing relevance of race in the politics and society of the republic. In chapters organized chronologically, Schermerhorn argues that American economic development relied upon African Americans' social reproduction while simultaneously destroying their intergenerational cultural continuity. He explores the personal narratives of enslaved people and develops themes such as politics, economics, labor, literature, rebellion, and social conditions.


'In Unrequited Toil, Calvin Schermerhorn offers a fresh study of slavery, synthesizing what we know about the institution thus far. From the cotton fields to coal mines, he tells the story of American slavery in many forms. His bold and direct language makes this history plain, palatable, and personal. This book will be used for years to come as it offers the perfect overview of US slavery for scholars and the general reader.'

Daina Ramey Berry - author of The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from the Womb to the Grave, in the Building of a Nation

'A distinguished historian of slavery and the slave trade, Calvin Schermerhorn's new synthesis on the history of slavery combines the latest historical literature in the field with his own considerable research adeptly. A highly usable book in courses on slavery and nineteenth-century American history.'

Manisha Sinha - author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition

'Schermerhorn provides an overview of slavery in the US from the Revolutionary era until the end of Reconstruction in the late 1870s. Moving chronologically, the book addresses the major issues that faced enslaved African Americans, such as personal, day-to-day experiences with family, labor, and sexual exploitation, as well as efforts to secure freedom by running away, challenging slavery in the courts, and planning and staging rebellions. … Schermerhorn’s focus is refreshing, as he brings the experiences of enslaved Americans to the forefront, rather than addressing slavery from the realm of white slaveholders. In addition, the author illuminates his narrative with fascinating historical anecdotes, which … support and flesh out his narrative while also creating a readable text. This is a useful work for individuals seeking edification on the subject of US slavery … [and] those looking for a starting point for further research. … Highly recommended.'

T. K. Byron Source: Choice

'Unrequited Toil is an engaging, beautifully composed survey of slavery in the United States. It presents a highly useful and readable account featuring the latest scholarly research, valuable to specialists and students alike.'

Dale Kretz Source: The Journal of American History

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  • Introduction
    pp 1-11


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