ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



The arrival of tens of thousands of slaves in the late 17th century and early 18th century

 redefined the meaning of race, heightened the level of violence

and led to ”a sharp deterioration in the conditions of slave life.”



Books by Ira Berlin

Slaves without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South  / Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation

Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in Mainland North America  /  Slaves without Masters / Free at Last

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Generations of Captivity

A History of African American Slaves

By Ira Berlin 


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.

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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.

–Publishers WeeklyAlthough 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 , Booklist (ALA)


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 and his complete command of the enormous literature on slavery now come together to inform this compelling history. [Generations of Captivity] reminds us that the generations after emancipation still resonated with the culture of those once held in captivity. Essential.

Library Journal

Generations of Captivity

A History of African American Slaves

By Ira Berlin

Table of Contents


Prologue: Slavery and Freedom


1. Charter Generations


2. Plantation Generations


3. Revolutionary Generations


4. Migration Generations


Epilogue: Freedom Generations 












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The Charter Generations–those Africans arrived in the New World not only as slaves but also as sailors or indentured servants, and who were sometimes able to purchase their freedom and enjoy moderate prosperity (17th century).

The Plantation Generation–who became part of and made possible the emergence of a plantation society (largely tobacco and rice) along the Chesapeake in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (18th century).

The Revolutionary Generation–who both benefited from (in the north) and suffered because of (in the south0 new ideals of freedom and liberty brought on by the American and Haitian Revolutions (19th century)

The Migration Generation–who witnessed and enacted the most profound and traumatic change in the nature of American slavery. This generation of African Americans saw the expansion of the young republic and the rise of cotton as the great cash crop of the South–and with these the need for a great, captive labor force. A pattern of forced migration into the interior and Deep South uprooted and drove apart families, and brought about the antebellum world with which most of us are familiar (19th century).

The Freedom Generation–those who lived through the horrors of the Civil War to ultimately experience the victory of emancipation–and with it, the first bittersweet taste of hard-won freedom (19th century).

Harvard University Press; 374pp; ISBN 0-674-01061-2; 25 March 2003 (pd); $29.95

Source: Generations of Captivity    


Ira Berlin

Distinguished University Professor Ph.D. University of Wisconsin, 1970 US History, African-American History, Slavery

Ira Berlin has written broadly on the history of slavery and emancipation in the United States and the larger Atlantic world. His first book, Slaves without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South (1975) won the Best First Book Prize awarded by the National Historical Society. Berlin is the founder of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project, which he directed until 1991. The project’s multi-volume Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation (1982, 1985, 1990, 1993) has twice been awarded the Thomas Jefferson Prize of the Society for History in the Federal Government as well as the J. Franklin Jameson Prize of the American Historical Association for outstanding editorial achievement, and the Abraham Lincoln Prize for excellence in Civil-War studies. 

In 1999, his study of African-American life between 1619 and 1819 entitled Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in Mainland North America was published by Harvard University Press was awarded the Bancroft Prize for the best book in American history by Columbia University; Frederick Douglass Prize by the Gilder-Lehrman Institute; Owsley Prize by the Southern Historical Association, and the Rudwick Prize by the Organization of American Historians. That same year, the Humanities Council of Washington named Ira Berlin Outstanding Public Humanities Scholar of the Year. He is currently president of the Organization of American Historians.

Professor Berlin has published a monograph, an edition of his own essays, several editions of articles, and three co-edited volumes of documents in the Freedman and Southern Society Project. His monograph, Slaves without Masters, won the Best First Book Prize of the National Historical Society. The Wartime Genesis of Slavery and The Destruction of Slavery both won the Founders Award of the Valentine Museum in Richmond and the Jefferson Prize of the Society for History in the Federal Government. The Black Military Experience won the J. Franklin Jameson Prize of the American Historical Association. Free at Last won the prestigious Lincoln Prize. Professor Berlin has also written numerous articles and chapters in scholarly works. He sits on a number of editorial boards, has consulted for programs like Ken Burns’ Civil War, and has held office in national historical organizations. He has held an NEH Junior Fellowship, has been a Fulbright Senior Scholar in France, and lectured as a Ford Foundation Fellow. He has also served as Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Acting Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 9 October 2011 




Home  Wilson Jeremiah Moses  

Related files:  Generations of Captivity Reviews   Charles B. Dew Review  Many Thousands Gone