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William H. Williams operated a slave pen in Washington, DC, known as the Yellow House, and actively trafficked in enslaved men, women, and children for more than twenty years. His slave trading activities took an extraordinary turn in 1840 when he purchased twenty-seven enslaved convicts from the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond with the understanding that he could carry them outside of the United States for sale. When Williams conveyed his captives illegally into New Orleans, allegedly while en route to the foreign country of Texas, he prompted a series of courtroom dramas that would last for almost three decades. Based on court records, newspapers, governors' files, slave manifests, slave narratives, travelers' accounts, and penitentiary data, Williams' Gang examines slave criminality, the coastwise domestic slave trade, and southern jurisprudence as it supplies a compelling portrait of the economy, society, and politics of the Old South.Read more
- Provides the first study of a shipment of convict slaves, delving into previously unexplored legal issues surrounding the slave trade
- Offers a comprehensive portrait of the Antebellum era by situating the slave trade within the economy, society, and politics of the time
- Draws on a variety of resources, including court records, newspapers, governors' files, slave manifests, slave narratives, travelers' accounts, and penitentiary data
- Winner, 2021 Leadership in History Award, Large Press category, American Association for State and Local History
Reviews & endorsements
'In Williams’ Gang, Jeff Forret takes a journey through some of the dark and often convoluted paths traveled by domestic slave traders and their human merchandise. Taking time along the way to introduce readers to some of the elaborate financial and legal infrastructures that governed and facilitated the domestic slave trade, Forret tells a once infamous but largely forgotten story about the Washington, DC slave trader William H. Williams and the enslaved Virginia convicts he imported illegally to Louisiana. Built on an impressive mountain of archival research and relayed with vivid prose, it is a story Williams himself surely wished would never have been one to tell at all.' Joshua D. Rothman, University of AlabamaSee more reviews
'An expert autopsy of crime and punishment in the Old South with striking relevance for today. Leading historian of Southern history Jeff Forret meticulously narrates the ordeals of twenty-seven Black Virginians, whose enslavement was compounded by convictions and whose transport to Louisiana at the hands of a Washington, DC slave trader led to a dozen years each in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Forret shows the guts of a horrific injustice that supports ongoing structural violence against African Americans.' Calvin Schermerhorn, author of Unrequited Toil: A History of United States Slavery
'… meticulously researched and superbly crafted … This is a vivid and absorbing account of the exploitation of human beings whose suffering meant profit for others, all of which is part of our nation’s history.' Roger Bishop, BookPage
'… demonstrate(s) the riches awaiting us in narrating the hitherto untold and complex stories of slavery and emancipation in the United States.' Manisha Sinha, Times Literary Supplement
‘Williams’ Gang is simply excellent and a must-read for anyone who wishes to know more about the history of the post-Revolutionary War slave trade in America, or the slave trade coming out of Washington, DC.' George W. Reid, The Journal of African American History
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- Date Published: January 2020
- format: Hardback
- isbn: 9781108493031
- length: 482 pages
- dimensions: 235 x 159 x 30 mm
- weight: 0.82kg
- availability: In stock
Table of Contents
Introduction: the slave depot of Washington, DC
1. An ambush
2. The Yellow House
3. Sale and transportation
4. Mobile to New Orleans
5. Legal troubles
6. The Millington Bank
7. State v. Williams
8. Slave trading in 'hard times'
9. Politics of the slave pen
11. The Louisiana State Penitentiary
Epilogue: the legal legacy of the domestic slave trade.
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