Slaves in the Family.

By Edward Ball

Printed: 1998

Publisher: Viking. London

Dimensions 17 × 24 × 5 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 17 x 24 x 5

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In the original dustsheet. Black cloth binding with gilt title on the spine.

  • F.B.A. provides an in-depth photographic presentation of this item to stimulate your feeling and touch. More traditional book descriptions are immediately available.

Explores the slave-holding dynasty of Elias Ball, a South Carolina plantation owner, the history of slave uprisings, scandals, and violence, and the memories of the descendants of those slaves more than one hundred years after emancipation.

Review: National Book Award-winner, Slaves in the Family, is one of the best nonfiction books I have read in the past ten years. Edward Ball comes from a very prominent family of plantation owners in the Charleston Low Country. The patriarch, Elias Ball, immigrated to the colonies in the late 1600’s. Being very prolific when it came to progeny, he soon had children and grandchildren owning over two dozen plantations along the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. After the Civil War, the Ball plantations were sold or lost, one by one. Yet today, the Balls are still very prominent in Charleston Society. Their family tree is well documented, and instead of being plantation owners, they now count lawyers, judges, doctors and priests among their ranks.

In Edward Ball’s first effort, he sets out to find the descendants of the thousands of Ball family slaves. This was no easy task. Many slaves had no last names. Others moved to distant states. Some descendants had no wish to speak with him. Ball also encountered reticence from his own family. The extended family did not like to talk about slavery. On the few occasions when the subject was raised, they all espoused the party line: 1. Balls never mistreated their slaves 2. Balls never separated slave families and 3. Ball masters never slept with female slaves.

Using surviving Ball journals, diaries, ledgers and inventories, Edward was able to contact a good many slave descendants. I found the most moving parts of the book are when Edward’s research validates the oral history of many slave ancestors, and in some cases, helped them to fill in the missing pieces of their genealogical puzzle. Edward’s research also helps him to discover more about his own ancestors. Contrary to Ball oral history, not all Ball plantation owners treated their slaves admirably. Also, slave families were sometimes separated-although mostly due to economic necessity (i.e. when slaves were sold to settle an estate). But what really shocked the author was when he discovered that he had ancestors of color! But save that topic for another book.

The only part of Slaves in the Family that bothered me was Edward Ball’s insistence on being an apologist for slavery. Although slavery was a horrible institution, Ball was in no way responsible for what his ancestors did hundreds of years ago. Still, this is just a minor distraction in an otherwise fabulous book. In addition to reading Slaves in the Family, I also listened to it on tape and enjoyed it just as much the second time around. Edward Ball truly gives us a remarkable effort in his first at bat.

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