FOR RELEASE: Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Groundbreaking History of the Slave Trade Published by University of Arkansas Press
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A new book from the University of Arkansas Press sheds light on an important topic that has been largely overlooked in the history of the slave trade. Freebooters and Smugglers: The Foreign Slave Trade in the United States after 1808, by Ernest Obadele-Starks, shows the extent to which slave smuggling and trafficking persisted after the government passed the Abolition Act in 1808.
In 1891 a young W.E.B. DuBois addressed the annual American Historical Association on the overlooked subject of the enforcement of slave trade laws: “If slave labor was an economic gold, then the slave trade was its strong right arm. Northern greed joined to Southern credulity was a combination calculated to circumvent any law, human or divine.” The law was specifically passed to end the foreign slave trade. However, as Obadele-Starks shows, thanks to profiteering smugglers like the Lafitte brothers, who gave up their New Orleans-based wine import business to smuggle, and the Bowie brothers, John and Rezin, who devised perhaps the most successful smuggling scheme on the American frontier, the slave trade persisted throughout the south for a number of years after the law was passed.
Freebooters and Smugglers examines the tactics and strategies that the adherents of the foreign slave trade used to challenge the law, and reassesses the role that Americans played in the continuation of foreign slave transshipments into the country right up to the Civil War. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, professor emerita of history at Rutgers University, says that this book “fills a gaping hole in the scholarly literature about a very important subject, transcending the strong inclination of historians to confine themselves to simplistic counting and literal mindedness in their use of documents and databases.”
Ernest Obadele-Starks holds a joint appointment as an associate professor of history at Texas A&M University-College Station and Texas A&M University at Qatar. He is the author of Black Unionism in the Industrial South and has written several articles examining various political and social aspects of the African American diaspora.
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