Old Age and American Slavery

Cambridge Univ. Nov. 2023. 424p. ISBN 9781009123082. $39.99. HIST
Age, like gender, is a meaningful category for analyzing the history of enslavement in the United States, says Doddington (American history, Cardiff Univ.; Contesting Slave Masculinity in the American South). By revealing what he found when he scoured plantation records, legislation, court proceedings, contemporary debates, and polemics, he demonstrates that age determined crucial and multiple aspects of the experiences of enslaved people and their enslavers. Changes consequent on the decline of body and health, along with social and cultural constructions of aging, affected dynamics at every turn and between and among Blacks, whites, their families, and communities. Moving from the aftermath of the American Revolution to the Civil War, the book interrogates the shifting social significance and impact of “old age” within hierarchies of power, illustrated by enslavers selling, abandoning, or neglecting older people, all to cut their costs and responsibilities. It was part of the tensions inherent in society’s shaping of narratives and notions of oppression, paternalism, intergenerational relations, resistance, and group solidarity.
VERDICT This engaging and vast range of historiography exposes fresh layers of the complex, conditional, and contested interactions that differentiated the lived experiences of enslavers vs. the enslaved. An essential read for all students of the history of enslavement in the United States.
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