Cover image for Generations of captivity : a history of African-American slaves
Generations of captivity : a history of African-American slaves
Berlin, Ira, 1941-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
374 pages : maps ; 25 cm
Prologue : slavery and freedom -- Charter generations -- Plantation generations -- Revolutionary generations -- Migration generations -- Epilogue : freedom generations.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E441 .B47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E441 .B47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E441 .B47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ
E441 .B47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E441 .B47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Ira Berlin traces the history of African-American slavery in the United States from its beginnings in the seventeenth century to its fiery demise nearly three hundred years later. Most Americans, black and white, have a singular vision of slavery, one fixed in the mid-nineteenth century when most American slaves grew cotton, resided in the deep South, and subscribed to Christianity. Here, however, Berlin offers a dynamic vision, a major reinterpretation in which slaves and their owners continually renegotiated the terms of captivity. Slavery was thus made and remade by successive generations of Africans and African Americans who lived through settlement and adaptation, plantation life, economic transformations, revolution, forced migration, war, and ultimately, emancipation. Berlin's understanding of the processes that continually transformed the lives of slaves makes Generations of Captivity essential reading for anyone interested in the evolution of antebellum America. Connecting the "Charter Generation" to the development of Atlantic society in the seventeenth century, the "Plantation Generation" to the reconstruction of colonial society in the eighteenth century, the "Revolutionary Generation" to the Age of Revolutions, and the "Migration Generation" to American expansionism in the nineteenth century, Berlin integrates the history of slavery into the larger story of American life. He demonstrates how enslaved black people, by adapting to changing circumstances, prepared for the moment when they could seize liberty and declare themselves the "Freedom Generation." This epic story, told by a master historian, provides a rich understanding of the experience of African-American slaves, an experience that continues to mobilize American thought and passions today.

Author Notes

Ira Berlin was born in New York City on May 27, 1941. He received a bachelor of science degree in chemistry in 1963, a master's degree in history in 1966, and a Ph.D. in history in 1970, all from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle and Federal City College in Washington before becoming a professor at the University of Maryland in 1974.

He wrote numerous books including Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, and The Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States. He also edited several books including Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation with Marc Favreau and Steven F. Miller. He died from complications of multiple myeloma on June 5, 2018 at the age of 77.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Although American slavery is generally thought of as dominating and being dominated by the culture, politics, and economics of the South, Berlin charts the dynamic quality of American slavery by placing it into the changing context of American history and various generations overall. The experience of the original settlement population adapting to their new environment produced what Berlin calls the chartered generation. Most often associated with slavery is plantation life and the plantation generation, which reflected the western and southern expansion of the nation as cotton became king of the economy. Following the plantation generation was the revolutionary generation, when worldwide views on slavery and freedom influenced domestic politics and culture. Berlin reflects on the contrasts between the southern experience of slavery and the north's experience and challenges with its freedmen. The Chesapeake, or upper south, was for a period the region that dominated the internal slave trade and facilitated further regional redistribution of slaves. Finally, Berlin examines the migration generation, the substantial shift in the black population to the north and west. --Vernon Ford

Publisher's Weekly Review

Eminent historian Berlin revisits and extends by a century the territory of his honored and groundbreaking Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in America (1998), incorporating the "vast outpouring of new research in this field" in the brief period since its publication and mirroring that book's structure. In 150 or so pages here, Berlin recapitulates the argument of his earlier, prize-winning work, delineating "the making and remaking of slavery" as a matter of "Generations": the "Charter Generations," who managed "to integrate themselves into mainline society during the first century of settlement, despite their status as slaves and the contempt of the colony's rulers"; the "Plantation Generations," living in a world where "blackness and whiteness took on new meaning," who managed "to forge new communities as `Africans,' an identity no one had previously considered or even knew existed"; and the "Revolutionary Generations," beneficiaries, victims, and participants in both the "revolutionary ideology [and] evangelical upsurge" of the period. Berlin, president of the Organization of American Historians and an editor of the Remembering Slavery project, is attentive to place as well as time, and focuses first on New Netherland, the Chesapeake, and the North, followed by variants in Florida, the Lower Mississippi Valley and Low Country South Carolina. New to this book are "the Migration Generations," who suffered a Second Middle Passage with the accelerated transcontinental "transfer" of slaves between 1810 and 1861. An epilogue introduces the "Freedom Generations," reaching into the 1860s. While preserving the terrible complexity and diversity of North American slavery, Berlin offers a compact scholarly account of the transformation of a society with slaves into a slave society. He reveals without condescension or simplification the inspiring social structures that arose from a horrific history. While it may not get the attention of Many Thousands, this book follows up with grace and determination. (Mar. 15) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Over the past 20 years, Berlin's work has redefined how scholars approach the study of slavery and freedom in America. His scholarship on slavery and race (especially his award-winning Many Thousands Gone) and his complete command of the enormous literature on slavery now come together to inform this compelling history. Here Berlin carefully delineates the ways slavery varied according to time and place and compares slavery in the Americas, mapping the migrations of peoples from Africa to America and then across the South in its various incarnations, discovering within slave life the roots of African American religions, family, folkways, foodways, crafts, and more. His book reminds us that the generations after emancipation still resonated with the culture of those once held in captivity. Essential.-Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Berlin's insightful scholarship demonstrates that US slavery was a complex, constantly changing institution that differed a great deal over time and place. This new work summarizes the rich history presented in the author's brilliant Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (1998) and extends the account to the Civil War and emancipation. Berlin (Univ. of Maryland) makes a strong case that slavery changed more rapidly in the 50 years preceding the Civil War than at any previous time. Tens of thousands of slaves were transported in a "second middle passage" to the cotton and sugar plantations of the southern interior. Unlike the older seaboard South, slavery grew in size and economic importance in the western interior. This had great impact on black life as relations with masters changed, slave family relationships were redefined, and slaves embraced Christianity as never before. General readers and serious students alike will benefit from this compelling and easy to read account, which includes 79 pages of footnotes that reference the best in recent scholarship, tables on slave and free black populations, and maps. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All university libraries and public libraries with strong collections in US history and culture. R. Detweiler California Polytechnic State University--San Luis Obispo

Table of Contents

Prologue: Slavery and Freedom
1 Charter Generations
2 Plantation Generations
3 Revolutionary Generations
4 Migration Generations
Epilogue: Freedom Generations