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Slaves in the Family (FSG Classics)

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Fifteen years after its hardcover debut, the FSG Classics reissue of the celebrated work of narrative nonfiction that won the National Book Award and changed the American conversation about race, with a new preface by the author The Ball family hails from South Carolina—Charleston and thereabouts. Their plantations were among the oldest and longest-standing plantations Fifteen years after its hardcover debut, the FSG Classics reissue of the celebrated work of narrative nonfiction that won the National Book Award and changed the American conversation about race, with a new preface by the author The Ball family hails from South Carolina—Charleston and thereabouts. Their plantations were among the oldest and longest-standing plantations in the South. Between 1698 and 1865, close to four thousand black people were born into slavery under the Balls or were bought by them. In Slaves in the Family, Edward Ball recounts his efforts to track down and meet the descendants of his family's slaves. Part historical narrative, part oral history, part personal story of investigation and catharsis, Slaves in the Family is, in the words of Pat Conroy, "a work of breathtaking generosity and courage, a magnificent study of the complexity and strangeness and beauty of the word ‘family.'"


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Fifteen years after its hardcover debut, the FSG Classics reissue of the celebrated work of narrative nonfiction that won the National Book Award and changed the American conversation about race, with a new preface by the author The Ball family hails from South Carolina—Charleston and thereabouts. Their plantations were among the oldest and longest-standing plantations Fifteen years after its hardcover debut, the FSG Classics reissue of the celebrated work of narrative nonfiction that won the National Book Award and changed the American conversation about race, with a new preface by the author The Ball family hails from South Carolina—Charleston and thereabouts. Their plantations were among the oldest and longest-standing plantations in the South. Between 1698 and 1865, close to four thousand black people were born into slavery under the Balls or were bought by them. In Slaves in the Family, Edward Ball recounts his efforts to track down and meet the descendants of his family's slaves. Part historical narrative, part oral history, part personal story of investigation and catharsis, Slaves in the Family is, in the words of Pat Conroy, "a work of breathtaking generosity and courage, a magnificent study of the complexity and strangeness and beauty of the word ‘family.'"

30 review for Slaves in the Family (FSG Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Fasching-Gray

    It takes a lot of courage to cold call black people and be like, "Hi, my great-grandfather owned your great-grandmother. Can I come over so we can talk about it?" and then actually show up and talk about all the consequences of slavery. It seems like families that can trace their ancestry back to a specific plantation or person are more stable and generally more church-y and so more likely to be forgiving or at least moving past it. But even before that, it takes a lot of courage to even allow y It takes a lot of courage to cold call black people and be like, "Hi, my great-grandfather owned your great-grandmother. Can I come over so we can talk about it?" and then actually show up and talk about all the consequences of slavery. It seems like families that can trace their ancestry back to a specific plantation or person are more stable and generally more church-y and so more likely to be forgiving or at least moving past it. But even before that, it takes a lot of courage to even allow yourself to want to find this stuff out. Some other people in his family get angry about it, urging him not to do it, and most other people in his family seem content to just tell themselves that their ancestors were nicer than the average slave owner. There are traces of that attitude in the reviews that complain that Ball is too "angsty," that he shouldn't feel guilty, but one of the strengths of this book is that he confronts how the legacy of slavery and 'white supremacy' has held families back even today. The book has 3 stories that it kind of bounces around, the first is the story of the author's family and the families they owned, the second is the history of modern slavery and the third is the story of the author's experience, digging around in archives and showing up at Black family reunions and African-American Genealogy clubs. It is also very courageous, or maybe just straight up foolish, to go to Sierra Leone during the civil war there in the 90s and start asking the wealthier families on the coast about their role in the slave trade. Hats off to Edward Ball.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Our book group discussed this last evening. We felt Edward Ball was brave to tackle this topic, despite his unpopularity with his family and some readers. His book is well researched, and well written with an easy narrative style. Our group, very yankee and very white wondered how our discussion would have been different if we had a representative from the south and/or a Black American. The subject of slavery is never an easy one, bringing many emotions and unspoken, unresolved issues to the for Our book group discussed this last evening. We felt Edward Ball was brave to tackle this topic, despite his unpopularity with his family and some readers. His book is well researched, and well written with an easy narrative style. Our group, very yankee and very white wondered how our discussion would have been different if we had a representative from the south and/or a Black American. The subject of slavery is never an easy one, bringing many emotions and unspoken, unresolved issues to the forefront. Edward Ball gave us much food for thought and a continued resolve to make freedom a reality for all men, women and children. We look forward to another book by this author.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    Page 419 (my book) I took a walk on the beach at Sullivan’s Island [South Carolina], the little sandbar at the entrance to Charleston harbor where the slave transports had first touched land….Although the island was once the most important landing place for black people brought to America, there was no museum, no monument, not even a handmade sign. This book is about a man who explores the past of his family’s history. His family, the Ball family, originally moved from England to what is now South Page 419 (my book) I took a walk on the beach at Sullivan’s Island [South Carolina], the little sandbar at the entrance to Charleston harbor where the slave transports had first touched land….Although the island was once the most important landing place for black people brought to America, there was no museum, no monument, not even a handmade sign. This book is about a man who explores the past of his family’s history. His family, the Ball family, originally moved from England to what is now South Carolina, the Charleston area, in 1698. They used slaves to set-up their plantations, in this case for the growing and harvesting of rice. The author provides a vivid portrait of the spread of his ancestors over the generations and how they were affected by the culminating events of American history – American Independence (1776) and the Civil War (1861 - 65). By the time of the Civil War there were several Ball plantations spread out in the greater Charleston area, some having hundreds of slaves. During Independence, which was a prolonged struggle extending beyond 1776 (the British did not let go easily!), many slaves fled the Ball plantations and joined the British because they were promised liberty. Various members of the Ball family chose different sides. The Civil War was a different matter and it ended the slave/plantation era. This was replaced by another system of peonage - share-cropping. The author gives us history at a very personal level. He goes through his family’s plantation documents which recorded the names of slaves (slaves were only given a first name) – those sold or bought, punishments administered usually by an assigned town warden, as the plantations owners did not want to get their clothes sullied. Not only did his ancestors own slaves on plantations, but some set-up trading-marketing companies for the purchasing and selling of slaves in Africa and then South Carolina. The most striking passages in the book are the conversations he has with descendants of slaves. They enlighten him as to the treatment and life their ancestors led long ago. There is a strong oral tradition in black culture where history is passed down from one generation to the next. Here is an extract of a conversation the author had with a Mrs. Frayer who was in her nineties: Page 394-95 “He came under the cover of night?” I said “That’s it,” said Mrs. Frayer, nodding. “That’s what they’all do, and they bury the dead in the night. And my grandmother says, you could hear the people screaming in the night, big fire light, big torch light, buryin’ their dead.” “Enslaved people buried their dead at night?” I asked, leaning in. “They had to, because they got to work in the day,” Mrs. Frayer came back. “They ain’t got time for buryin’ no dead in the day. If you dead, you wait till night for bury.” He also speaks with those of mixed-race heritage. The slave male owners frequently had sexual relations with their female slaves. The author doesn’t really explore the nature of these relationships – at best some were long-term, but they were based on the powerful and dominating position of the male slave owner vis-a-vis the female slave; at worst it was simply rape where the victim had absolutely no recourse to any form of justice. I also found it irritating when the author, at times, referred to the slaves as “workers”, they were “slaves”, not “workers”. Nevertheless, this book sheds much light on the divide of America – and the author must be credited through his many interviews and observations for providing a very personal understanding of this divisiveness that continues to exist in the United States. He also visited Sierra Leone in Africa where many of the slaves were gathered and placed on boats for shipment to South Carolina. I focused much more on the various personalities interviewed – and rather ignored the genealogy (the great, great … grandmother, grandfather) of their past.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Drick

    Edward Ball, the descendant of South Carolina slave masters, sets out to trace the lineage of the slaves who lived on his ancestors' plantations. Through amazing detective work, Ball is able to locate and re-tell the story of many of his family's slaves, some of whom were the offspring of master-slave sexual relations, and therefore distant relatives. Through a combination of meticulous research, general understanding of the history of the times, and imagination, Ball tells the other story of sl Edward Ball, the descendant of South Carolina slave masters, sets out to trace the lineage of the slaves who lived on his ancestors' plantations. Through amazing detective work, Ball is able to locate and re-tell the story of many of his family's slaves, some of whom were the offspring of master-slave sexual relations, and therefore distant relatives. Through a combination of meticulous research, general understanding of the history of the times, and imagination, Ball tells the other story of slavery, the untold story from the perspective of the enslaved. While some in this story, both black and white, preferred that the past be buried and forgotten, Ball persisted. This book made me realize that many whites, including myself, have another part of their family history in the US that is buried and needs to be discovered. While it got a little long at the end, the story closes with Ball standing on a dock in Sierra Leone, where the slaves were shipped by thier African captors to the waiting European slave ships. I found this book on a $1 used book cart, but it was a real find!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Graceann

    Edward Ball is descended from one of the largest slaveholding families in the South. At their busiest, the many plantations owned by the Ball families contained over 1,000 slaves. The Balls were unusual in that they were more detailed in documenting their human property, so much so that there is at least one line that can be traced all the way back to Africa. Anyone who watches "Who Do You Think You Are?" knows how rare that is. It's difficult for me to say how disappointed I was with Slaves in Edward Ball is descended from one of the largest slaveholding families in the South. At their busiest, the many plantations owned by the Ball families contained over 1,000 slaves. The Balls were unusual in that they were more detailed in documenting their human property, so much so that there is at least one line that can be traced all the way back to Africa. Anyone who watches "Who Do You Think You Are?" knows how rare that is. It's difficult for me to say how disappointed I was with Slaves in the Family, because it's clear that Edward Ball's heart is in the right place and that he's trying to work out some issues of his own. However, as one of the descendants of the people his family enslaved says, he can't change what happened when he was on "God's Mantelpiece," and he should not feel personally guilty over it. It's obvious that he does, however, and that makes for some tedious angsting. He not only stresses his own bad feelings about the history of his family, but advises us regarding how we should feel, as well. The sequence where he visits the families of African slave traders and informs them that their ancestors were awful people is particularly cringe-worthy. How is the current generation meant to change what their 5th great-grandparents did? A while ago, I read the excellent "The Hairstons: A Family in Black and White." That book succeeds where "Slaves in the Family" misses the mark; it tells the story of a family's intertwined, complex history with the understanding that while the current members of the family are a result of its history, they are not the cause of it. To paraphrase something wise that I heard a while back, peace comes when you accept that the past cannot be changed. If he hasn't done so yet, I hope that Edward Ball finds peace soon, for his own sake.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    I've got Balls in my line. . .but mine are all in North Carolina, and then trundle down to Georgia before heading to Louisiana and northwest Texas, and former slaves came with them to Texas. My great-grandma, Granny had stories. Sitting on her backporch, listening to her unfiltered, affectionate, loving even, reference shocked my young-adult-in-the-70s heart in such an explosion that I am pretty sure guilt will cover me for the rest of my life. I don't understand how anyone could justify owning, I've got Balls in my line. . .but mine are all in North Carolina, and then trundle down to Georgia before heading to Louisiana and northwest Texas, and former slaves came with them to Texas. My great-grandma, Granny had stories. Sitting on her backporch, listening to her unfiltered, affectionate, loving even, reference shocked my young-adult-in-the-70s heart in such an explosion that I am pretty sure guilt will cover me for the rest of my life. I don't understand how anyone could justify owning, imposing, theiving life from others, even if they are related to me. But in my genealogical journeys, I find it time and again. For that, I study, look for every last terrible corner, and try to find a way to reconcile beyond concocting terrific apologies. History is written by the victors. If this is the history to which we admit, how much more terrible must it have been? 4 stars, not because of subject or even writing - it was all scholarly and heartfelt. It just went on a tad longer than it needed to. This is my 2nd time reading this book - I read it in the the year it first came out.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    This is the second time I've read this book and I was as pleased with it this time as the first time. This is the story of the author's research into his family's past as slave owners and slave traders. Through painstaking research and wonderful storytelling Ball tracks down his ancestors, both white and black, and tells the story of slavery in this country from the point of view of one prominent family. We often think of slavery in terms of the Civil War. It's all Gone With The Wind and Mammy an This is the second time I've read this book and I was as pleased with it this time as the first time. This is the story of the author's research into his family's past as slave owners and slave traders. Through painstaking research and wonderful storytelling Ball tracks down his ancestors, both white and black, and tells the story of slavery in this country from the point of view of one prominent family. We often think of slavery in terms of the Civil War. It's all Gone With The Wind and Mammy and Bette Davis in Jezebel sitting on the porch in hoop skirts listening to the slaves sing spirituals. These are all part of the story, but only part. The wonderful thing about this book is that this story starts with the arrival of the first Ball ancestor in the Americas in Charlestown (later Charleston) in the 1600's and follows the family up into the American Revolution and beyond. One of the Ball daughters was married to Henry Laurens, a delegate to the Second Continental Congress who succeeded John Adams as President of that body. He was also co-owner of a slave trading firm that was responsible for the sale of over 8,000 Africans during his lifetime. The American Revolution was a boon for many slaves who were able to escape their masters to the British side. A number of people were taken back to Britain where they were given their freedom and some were taken to Nova Scotia to start over - it was people from the Canadian group that founded Sierra Leone and one of them was a former Ball slave. The book takes us into the present day and brings together many disparate stories as the author struggles to come to terms with his family history and what it means to him. Along the way he meets many relatives he didn't know he had and is able to help some of these people piece together family trees as they trace their genealogy back through the records to their original slave ancestor. This is not a perfect book and I can understand why some members of the author's family would have preferred he left well enough along, but I am glad he didn't. It is imperative that we all understand our history, acknowledge where we came from, and find the connections between us. They are closer than we think.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lark

    This geneology- laced memoir was very interesting ! I had heard about this book several years ago and just found it. Written by the descendant of plantation owners, Edward Ball makes a diligent effort to find and understand the perspective of his own ancestors and the people they enslaved. I was saddened by the defensiveness of his family - surely we can all agree that slavery is indefensible? The Balls were a people of their time, but every human has a conscience and knowing the wrongs of your a This geneology- laced memoir was very interesting ! I had heard about this book several years ago and just found it. Written by the descendant of plantation owners, Edward Ball makes a diligent effort to find and understand the perspective of his own ancestors and the people they enslaved. I was saddened by the defensiveness of his family - surely we can all agree that slavery is indefensible? The Balls were a people of their time, but every human has a conscience and knowing the wrongs of your ancestors does not make them completely unloveable - although they sure do seem greedy and shallow, they must have had some redeeming qualities as well. Except for the slave dealers. Can't get past the excessive evil there.... I was doubly saddened by the lack of knowledge on the part of the descendants of the enslaved families. Trying to spare their descendants, the former slaves, for the most part, chose not to discuss their lives under slavery. The stories that did make it tell of courage and survival in the most heartbreaking of circumstances - to me they seemed tragic, yet ultimately, very inspiring. It takes a lot of courage and strength to survive in those conditions. The interviews with the descendants of slave suppliers in Africa was a new spin I'd not seen before. Their cheerful, bland shrugging off of any responsibility made me angry - they were sickening. It was somehow even more offensive than the Ball descendants hyper-defensiveness.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    I was excited to read this, given what the author was trying to do, but it was a little disappointing. He spent far more time relating the history of his white family in America than talking about the people his family once owned. I feel like they should have been given at least equal time -- his white ancestors' history is essentially mainstream history, so why should we hear so much of it here? In his preface, Ball talks about the families he met who are descended from Ball family slaves. He s I was excited to read this, given what the author was trying to do, but it was a little disappointing. He spent far more time relating the history of his white family in America than talking about the people his family once owned. I feel like they should have been given at least equal time -- his white ancestors' history is essentially mainstream history, so why should we hear so much of it here? In his preface, Ball talks about the families he met who are descended from Ball family slaves. He says that with some of them, "we spent long hours and months together, sharing stories and emotions, some of the worst of each, and occasionally some of the best." I felt like we got only a smattering of that in the book. That may be because of the reticence of his subjects or their unwillingness to publicize those conversations, but I wanted to hear more from them than I did from the author.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Pamela Mikita

    Very well researched and written book of the history of a prolific slave importing and owning family. Chose it as part of my Black History education. I typically choose authors of color, but made an exception. Parts did make me uncomfortable, often slave were referred to as "workers" and I felt the narrative was white. Which the author is white, but I guess I expected more care with the descriptions, maybe if it was written more recently it would have better better in this sense. Although the au Very well researched and written book of the history of a prolific slave importing and owning family. Chose it as part of my Black History education. I typically choose authors of color, but made an exception. Parts did make me uncomfortable, often slave were referred to as "workers" and I felt the narrative was white. Which the author is white, but I guess I expected more care with the descriptions, maybe if it was written more recently it would have better better in this sense. Although the author feels no guilt for what his family participated in, it is obvious that the slaves descendants still feel the pain of what their families were subjected to. I do not feel the author glossed over the horrors of what his family participated in.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Marty

    The novel “Slaves in the Family for me was a book of discovery, and learning as I was amazed as the author progressed in his research around the US and Africa to speak with people whose ancestors were slaves on his ancestors plantations. This novel details an incredible journey through history about how one man began an empire of plantation life with slave labor. For the author to bring to light the truth was an embarrassment for some of his family and the detailed confirmed discovery for many Af The novel “Slaves in the Family for me was a book of discovery, and learning as I was amazed as the author progressed in his research around the US and Africa to speak with people whose ancestors were slaves on his ancestors plantations. This novel details an incredible journey through history about how one man began an empire of plantation life with slave labor. For the author to bring to light the truth was an embarrassment for some of his family and the detailed confirmed discovery for many African Americans for whom some who did not want to know the details of their ancestors who were enslaved on the Ball family plantations. His research in discovering the written facts of slavery and the distances he traveled crossing the Atlantic to find the source of slavery and speak and meet with those whose ancestors sold thousands of Africans into slavery shows his determination in seeking the facts. I listen to a Youtube video of the author presenting his book at a program in San Diego CA where he details the criticisms he received from readers of white and black Americans voicing their disgust and criticisms with his discovery of the truth and the details of his book. What I learned from reading the novel has peaked my curiosity to research not only the history of my family but to learn more about a period of American history for which no national monuments are erected addressing a horrific episode in the establishment of American. It is novels like Slaves in the family and current movies like 12 years a slave, which Americans reflect, and discuss the truthful facts of American Slavery. The United States of America needs to acknowledge our wrongful beginning’s as a country by first acknowledging the acts allowing the country to survive its horrible establishment with the indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans. The genocides of the indigenous populations and the enslavement of Africans needs be recognized with monuments dedicated to the remembrance of how United States of America began and to never cause any such atrocities ever again. It will be these monuments that will show the world how to heal issues of division within a great country.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    This book makes great reading for anyone interested in genealogical research, slavery and the history of the American South. Edward Ball has made an important contribution to those fields with this extensively-researched look at plantation life near Charleston, SC. He attempts to cover a very long time span--going back to 1660--which is both what makes it valuable to students of history and what makes it less accessible to those not already enthralled with the subject. There are so many Ball rel This book makes great reading for anyone interested in genealogical research, slavery and the history of the American South. Edward Ball has made an important contribution to those fields with this extensively-researched look at plantation life near Charleston, SC. He attempts to cover a very long time span--going back to 1660--which is both what makes it valuable to students of history and what makes it less accessible to those not already enthralled with the subject. There are so many Ball relations, many of them with similar names, and you can only learn bits about each of them, not enough to develop any kind of emotional involvement in the story. Ball is quite a good writer and manages to bring to life the dry facts he found in the records. One of my favorite parts was an aside--"The Curse of the Buzzard Wing", about the spendthrift second wife of one of the Balls and her equally troublesome progeny. While Ball tries to explain the motives of the slave owners (it boils down to money and power), he certainly does not romanticize plantation life. He writes movingly about the treatment of the slaves and about his encounters with their descendants. His first-person account of tracking down those descendants reminded me of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." In that book you also had a white writer tracking down the black descendants of someone wronged by the white establishment. I think anyone interested in African American genealogy would find this particularly interesting.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    This book speaks to me in a very personal way. I, too, come from a southern family, and my ancestors also owned slaves. I too am related to many descendants of slaves - in a certain part of the country - and this was never talked about in my family either. Edward Ball smashed down the barrier between the history that is spoken of, and the history that is real. He covered his story from both sides of the Ball family...from descendants of the slaveowners to descendants of the slaves. Did you know t This book speaks to me in a very personal way. I, too, come from a southern family, and my ancestors also owned slaves. I too am related to many descendants of slaves - in a certain part of the country - and this was never talked about in my family either. Edward Ball smashed down the barrier between the history that is spoken of, and the history that is real. He covered his story from both sides of the Ball family...from descendants of the slaveowners to descendants of the slaves. Did you know that if it was too much of a hassle to whip your slaves, you could pay someone else to do it? I wish I could know that I would reject the notion of owning human beings, no matter when I was born, but perhaps that is wishful thinking? Fascinating, meticulously researched.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    I bought this book in Charleston at the gift store in the Aiken house. Reading it while in South Carolina gave a good context for the historic sites I was seeing. It's taken me a little under a month to finish. At times it was slow moving, but the book was at its best when Ball described conversations with people. He did an amazing amount of research to trace back bloodlines. This is an important book. I felt confused by the end where he goes to Sierra Leone to find the descendants of the slave I bought this book in Charleston at the gift store in the Aiken house. Reading it while in South Carolina gave a good context for the historic sites I was seeing. It's taken me a little under a month to finish. At times it was slow moving, but the book was at its best when Ball described conversations with people. He did an amazing amount of research to trace back bloodlines. This is an important book. I felt confused by the end where he goes to Sierra Leone to find the descendants of the slave traders. This was the only part of the book where Ball seemed to have an agenda. He connected so well with Americans, and not at all with the Africans. The ending felt forced.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Higginbotham

    Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball is an impressive book, demonstrating years of research, interviews and exploration. Ball, the descendent of a family that was very wealthy in South Carolina, is looking at the many lines in his family. The White people who came from England and often married other early settlers in the colonial days. They had many plantations just outside of Charlestown. Ball is also interested in the people these plantation owners purchased who worked the land and kept their Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball is an impressive book, demonstrating years of research, interviews and exploration. Ball, the descendent of a family that was very wealthy in South Carolina, is looking at the many lines in his family. The White people who came from England and often married other early settlers in the colonial days. They had many plantations just outside of Charlestown. Ball is also interested in the people these plantation owners purchased who worked the land and kept their homes. So, he is following these descendants. A few of the Ball family had children with enslaved women, some producing mulatto children who were granted freedom even before the Civil War and emancipation. Ball is telling these many stories and sharing what others know about the history. Of course, many of his father’s generation do not support this exploration, but many in his own age cohort encourage his work. Having recently visited Charlestown, this book brings many issues to light. I’ve also read some of the history of slavery, its expansion to the Alabama and Mississippi, as well as the divisions over the many wars, including the American Revolution. Many in the Ball family were in rice production, a staple for South Carolina, but they have to master how to establish and maintain their plantations, which means purchases many enslaved people. As they family grew and acquired more property, they were among the largest owners in the region. They learned to think about the tribes and their characteristics, often giving people names that reflected their origins, like Angola Amy. As a wealthy family, there are many papers to read, especially by the men who varied in how they kept records, some included more details about the enslaved people than others. The Balls were not the most political family, but got pulled into conflicts when their own wealth is threatened. They made sure that their rice crops could be sold. What does a revolution mean to them? It is complicated. and they did well during the war with England, but also were more likely to be Loyalists, since they linked the war with the English abolishing slavery. Yet, there are many stories among this elite group, as people switch sides. John Laurens, made famous in the musical “Hamilton,” was the son of Henry Laurens, who married a Ball daughter. Henry generated his wealth as a slave trader. His wealth enabled him to educated his son in Europe, where John became more progressive. He wanted to enlist enslaved Black as soldiers, since the British were offering them freedom if they fought against the rebels. Washington liked the idea, but did not want to grant freedom to those Black people who fought for the rebel’s freedom. Yet, as we know from the musical, John Laurens died before the end of the war. Yet, we see how there were conflicts even within families, as people weighed the realities of slavery and their own source of wealth. Many enslaved people did escape and joined the British, meaning that the number of enslaved people decreased during this period of time. Some of the Balls were punished for their actions as Loyalists, but rewarded for the lose of property and relocate to England. Yet, amazing how they were well cared for, but others negotiated their status and remained in South Carolina. Their ownership of people takes on a paternalistic tone, yet, there are many who were quick with the whip. As time progresses and the nation changes, rice production has to compete with cotton after the invention of the cotton gin, which makes production of that crop profitable in the region. Family members take up other businesses, but after expansion of rice in the 18th century, they watch changes in the 19th with expansion to the west and even technological changes in their own backyard. The family is also challenged by the growing succession movement and the Civil War, with people participating both politically and, in the military, but some of the men focused on their plantations. The women also had to plan, often moving inward since islands and territory around Charleston was such a site for struggle. Looking at letters and other papers, Ball does document the impact of the war on the family. Less is known about the people they enslaved, but some did escape, but they are far from the front, so joining the Union army was not easy. Enslaved people on the plantation had been there for generations, in fact many remained with the Ball families and took up sharecropping after the war. Yet, a few do escape and join with the Union. In his research, Ball wants to learn from these Black families and share what he knows. Ball meets people who were descendants of the early enslaved people, who are cordial but some are reserved. Yet, he shared his research so that while names might have been passed down generation, people did not know the African roots of Angola Amy and Priscilla. Ball is filling in pieces for these Black families as they share what they know. There are also the people who are really mixed blood, his cousins who had to negotiate different racial boundaries as mulattos or light skinned across generations. Yet, those who came of age in the 20th century, had to battle segregation and discrimination. There were limited occupations for Black people, even after Emancipation, so some are school teachers, ministers, funeral directors and the like. There stories are amazing, as they retained their humanity. Engaging in the arts, is rough, not only facing educational discrimination, but the challenges of making a living. The artist, Edwin Harleston, does not receive the acclaim his work merits until after his death, but he did paint a historical mural in Fisk with Aaron Douglas. It is within Black institutions that people not only participated, but found a way for them to develop their own dreams. People were active in the NAACP and other efforts for social change. Growing up in NYC, I liked the story of Ray Fleming who leaves the funeral home business and goes to New York in 1957—moving between Harlem and Greenwich Village. He carves out a career in the music business, but has his own low points. The organization of the book is complex, perhaps it follows Ball own learning. Yet we learn about the Civil War around page 322, after we have learned about different branches of the family, including cousins. Yet the war from the family papers tells a sorrowful story. Members of the Ball family differed in how they treated their enslaved people. There are many myths, but diversity is important here. Ball family members encouraged education, even helping with studies and writing letters for house servants so they could keep in touch with love ones. These stories are repeated by descendants. Ball takes responsibility for the action of his family, but while some descendants do not want to think about the past, some welcome his efforts to help them return to their original homes. As a nation that has wanted to forget the past, the book is a different take that can b read in many ways. I find Ball’s trip to Africa, where again tribe members were involved in the slave trade, a bit hard to read. In some ways, Ball forgets the historical context as he wants people to take responsibility. Yet, there are limits on what any generation can do about the past. It is more important to take actions now that seeks to redress the social inequality that results from not only years of enslavement, but a continuation of second-class citizenship.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey Dangelo-Worth

    “…the plantations shadowed my dreams. The Balls live side by side with black families for six generations, but the story, as I knew it, was divided in two. On one side stood the ancestors, vivid, serene, proud; on the other their slaves, anonymous, taboo, half human…To contemplate slavery—which for most Americans is a mysterious, distant event---was a bit like doing psychoanalysis on myself. Did the plantations form part of my identity?” “the dead fed the dreams of the living.” “It didn’t hurt me, “…the plantations shadowed my dreams. The Balls live side by side with black families for six generations, but the story, as I knew it, was divided in two. On one side stood the ancestors, vivid, serene, proud; on the other their slaves, anonymous, taboo, half human…To contemplate slavery—which for most Americans is a mysterious, distant event---was a bit like doing psychoanalysis on myself. Did the plantations form part of my identity?” “the dead fed the dreams of the living.” “It didn’t hurt me, now, but the people before me, and they all gone.” “We’re not responsible for what our ancestors did or did not do,” I said, “but we’re accountable for it.” “But history is in all of us.” Edward Ball is descended from the Ball family who owned a number of rice plantations in South Carolina, and over hundreds of African-American slaves. It was taboo in his family to talk about their slave-owning past, but Edward Ball, in order to possibly understand and redeem the past, sets out to find the story of the plantations and the people who worked there, their descendants, and, at the very end, going to Africa to find the descendants of the slave dealers. Mostly, Ball tracks down descendants of the slaves, some of whom are his kin. The stories are utterly heart-wrenching, powerful, tragic, and fascinating. Stories of loss and triumph. Though he has a tendency to write too many details about the clothes of his interviewees, Ball’s research and the sheer number of interviews is incredibly impressive and fascinating. He obviously feels the sins of his forefathers, but he is careful to present the evidence and feelings of people on all sides. He meticulously tells the story of the Ball family, from the beginnings in England, through the first plantations and the first slaves, through the American Revolution, through secession, the Civil War, and emancipation, through the nadir of race relations, through the Civil Rights movement, to present day. In particular, he follows these descendants of two young women brought to America in the 18th century. Ball, like the reader, desperately wants to understand how so horrible, so vile and evil a system as slavery could ever exist, but, of course, the more real it becomes through the stories of the slaves and slave masters, of their descendants forced to come to terms with it all, the more impossible the past is to understand. All we can do, as Ball realizes, is to know their stories and to beg forgiveness. Amazing, fascinating, moving read that I couldn’t put down and couldn’t stop talking about. Should be required reading for all high school history courses. Grade: A+

  17. 5 out of 5

    Greg Carlson

    Certainly not perfect, but I think it could have a slightly positive impact for some beginners out there, in spite of itself? The author at the time of writing this book clearly still had a lot of growing to do, but I can appreciate the he seems at least to be /trying/ to take baby steps. That’s as nice as I can get. The book is written clumsily and jumps around or meanders often. I think at times it strays too far into the history of his own white family and the society of the enslavers, at the Certainly not perfect, but I think it could have a slightly positive impact for some beginners out there, in spite of itself? The author at the time of writing this book clearly still had a lot of growing to do, but I can appreciate the he seems at least to be /trying/ to take baby steps. That’s as nice as I can get. The book is written clumsily and jumps around or meanders often. I think at times it strays too far into the history of his own white family and the society of the enslavers, at the expense of reckoning in more detail with what they did to the people they enslaved and the society that the enslaved and emancipated people created around themselves, which seemed to me to be the intended point of the book. Often, the Black people in this book end up feeling like plot devices for his own horn-tootin’ growth journey on display for his own profit. Also, sometimes the ways he phrases things or thinks he’s saying something profound made me wanna heave the book at a wall. But again, he’s on a journey. I am trying to give him grace that he doesn’t deserve, but here I am. After all, he clearly comes from an extremely messy and problematic background, but he’s just not doing enough. It’s a hard read, it took me a long time to get through, but I think we need many more books in this vein that dig deeper and grapple with the gritty details of a history so fraught with so many intentional gaps. I would love to know more about the families that he managed to find, and more about the work of uncovering those connections and the family trees he built from that research, which only really got mentioned in small portions of the book. The family trees themselves were relegated to the back of the book and never referenced directly in the text. All in all, I know an awful lot about the intimate lives of slave owners and sellers and their profiting descendants after reading this (and it’s not regularly a super endearing or flattering account), but I’m left wondering an awful lot about the victims and their families, who still seem underrepresented. I doubt I would have kept reading if I’d have known at the outset that he was not going to go much further past basically saying “I found some of them!!” He even had the audacity to basically excuse himself in the end, and it ended up feeling sentimental, performative, and alarmingly revisionist. The more that time goes by, the more this book upsets me. I keep coming back and docking it more stars.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    Such a fascinating book! The book is so well written that it holds your attention even though there is a lot of genealogical material in it. Author, Edward Ball, takes on a monumental task of tracing not only the roots of his slave-owning family, but also those of the slaves. Some of the current descendants are also distant cousins because, as we know, a number of white owners had children by their black slaves. Ball has done an amazing amount of research & his family kept meticulous records con Such a fascinating book! The book is so well written that it holds your attention even though there is a lot of genealogical material in it. Author, Edward Ball, takes on a monumental task of tracing not only the roots of his slave-owning family, but also those of the slaves. Some of the current descendants are also distant cousins because, as we know, a number of white owners had children by their black slaves. Ball has done an amazing amount of research & his family kept meticulous records concerning the plantations & slaves they owned. What makes it interesting is that he contacts current descendants of slaves his forbearers had. As you might expect, he encounters some hostility, but some are interested in learning about their family history. Ball must have a gift for making a connection, because he makes friends with some of the families & he learns things that have been passed down through the slave-family line about other slaves & their masters. The book it isn't a "quick" read. I'd say it is dense reading. Ball's excellent writing and how he intersperses family stories and his experiences meeting current descendants keeps you wanting to learn more. There is quite a bit of our nation's early history, too because the Ball family was large and influential. So the larger history is interesting to me. There are quite a few pictures, maps and drawings, too. My serendipity is that we are planning a trip to Charleston soon, and though I didn't know about the Ball family's roots in the U.S being in South Carolina, I will have a better perspective of their history. Edward Ball is a new writer to me and I chose the book for the subject matter. (I think I read a reference to it when reading Jon Mecham's Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power) However, I enjoyed Ball's writing, and I was glad to learn of his other books. I intend to read some of them.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brandee

    I put off reading this for awhile even though I have had it a few months. I wondered if I could stay focused all the way through because it seemed like it would be a tedious read and I wanted to really be able to give it the respect it deserves. So, I took the plunge and it was incredible. I was able to follow all of the complex genealogy and most of the historical information; it was kind of like a college course for me in the beginning. I learned a lot, and then the emotions came--it was hard I put off reading this for awhile even though I have had it a few months. I wondered if I could stay focused all the way through because it seemed like it would be a tedious read and I wanted to really be able to give it the respect it deserves. So, I took the plunge and it was incredible. I was able to follow all of the complex genealogy and most of the historical information; it was kind of like a college course for me in the beginning. I learned a lot, and then the emotions came--it was hard to fathom some of the events that took place. Even though this is history and documentary, it read very suspensefully and kept me interested throughout. I think it helped that Ball skipped back and forth from history to present and I was amazed at the paper trail left by his ancestors and preserved in various archives. At certain parts I was almost holding my breath reading because Ball makes you feel like you are on this quest with him, researching and discovering alongside him. Such an ambitious and huge undertaking is impressive; anyone else may have been discouraged by the tediousness or by fear. I was thinking that one of the best ways to reflect on my impressions of this book was to remember what a descendant of one the Ball slaves said to the author in one of their meetings: that one of the only things able to remedy the past is to minister love...which is really true. Then I looked down to my daily planner(a Momagenda), and the quote I read for that day was, "...love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity." And I saw it was attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. And that it was perfect.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christina Dudley

    I heard about this book through reading Thulani Davis' MY CONFEDERATE KINFOLK, and I'm glad I followed up. Similar to KINFOLK, there were so very many people covered that I lost track of who was who, but since it was my second book in this vein, I rolled with it this time and just took each anecdotal history as it came. As a descendant of the oppressors, rather than the oppressed, Ball's tone is understandably gentler than Davis'--who occasionally could get rather acid (again, understandably), a I heard about this book through reading Thulani Davis' MY CONFEDERATE KINFOLK, and I'm glad I followed up. Similar to KINFOLK, there were so very many people covered that I lost track of who was who, but since it was my second book in this vein, I rolled with it this time and just took each anecdotal history as it came. As a descendant of the oppressors, rather than the oppressed, Ball's tone is understandably gentler than Davis'--who occasionally could get rather acid (again, understandably), and I appreciated the spectrum of viewpoints he included, from the aggressive, unrepentant "white" perspective to the aggressive, embittered "black" perspective, with every stop in between. Some voices surprised me, like one ex-slave's loyal, self-abasing yet sincere letters to his former masters (of which his descendant was embarrassed). Or the descendants of African slave traders Ball looks up in Sierra Leone! (Why has no one written a novel about them yet?) The most squirmy moment comes when Ball attends a concert of white planter descendants in full-on GONE WITH THE WINDish regalia, singing slave spirituals. Eek. Twitch. But longer than they will stay in my mind (I pray), I'll remember the moments of reconciliation and healing. When Ball is able to give one family names and facts and origins of their forbears. When, with an elderly descendant of a Ball slave, he visits the dilapidated former slave cabin in which she was born. Finally, this book would be great for fans of Charleston, the American Revolution, and the Civil War. Recommended.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ellee

    This book by Edward Ball took me a week or so to read. Though some parts are a little dry, the subject matter is very compelling. Growing up, Ball knew his family had at one time owned slaves, but the family did not encourage conversation on this topic. Needing to know more, he began researching and trying to find the descendants of the slaves his family had owned. Not all greeted him with open arms and some of his own family members were hostile. Through the process he found several people who This book by Edward Ball took me a week or so to read. Though some parts are a little dry, the subject matter is very compelling. Growing up, Ball knew his family had at one time owned slaves, but the family did not encourage conversation on this topic. Needing to know more, he began researching and trying to find the descendants of the slaves his family had owned. Not all greeted him with open arms and some of his own family members were hostile. Through the process he found several people who are very likely related to him. The book discusses slavery on the rice plantations of South Carolina and larger issues of the slave trade, changing political climates, etc..., but the focus is on this man's family and the families they owned. The family stories he tells and the way he connects families through history - his own and those of others -draws the reader through a dark period of American history that still evokes strong emotions today. Recommended - I am not aware of any other book quite like this. And for a fairly thorough portrait of what slaveholders and slaves thought about their lives, this provides a pretty good perspective that acknowledges bias, but tries very hard to overcome that bias. Does not turn a blind eye to outrages committed by whites (his own family included), but the message is one of family and of hope.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    I was totally impressed by what the author did. It must have been difficult, especially when he wasn't well received. Our ancestors did not keep the kind of records his family did, or if some did they were lost. We can come up with numbers and I believe that I will note those numbers in the history I am compiling. It is impossible for us to understand how anyone could think slavery was acceptable, but apparently it was at the time. To not record it is to deny the truth and there has been too muc I was totally impressed by what the author did. It must have been difficult, especially when he wasn't well received. Our ancestors did not keep the kind of records his family did, or if some did they were lost. We can come up with numbers and I believe that I will note those numbers in the history I am compiling. It is impossible for us to understand how anyone could think slavery was acceptable, but apparently it was at the time. To not record it is to deny the truth and there has been too much denial. I guess I should relate here that the book was a gift from my granddaughter, Zoe. We were to discuss it during her last visit. I finished the book just before she arrived, but she wasn't ready yet.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    I had a personal reason for reading this book. I (a white woman) found out that my great grandfather was the son of a black woman & white slave owner) that had worked and her family had worked on a plantation for decades. I have tried without results to find more of their lives. This book is about a descendant of a slave owner contacting the descendants of the slaves that worked the plantation. Although not particularly well written, this strikes at my very core and I feel more connected. I want I had a personal reason for reading this book. I (a white woman) found out that my great grandfather was the son of a black woman & white slave owner) that had worked and her family had worked on a plantation for decades. I have tried without results to find more of their lives. This book is about a descendant of a slave owner contacting the descendants of the slaves that worked the plantation. Although not particularly well written, this strikes at my very core and I feel more connected. I want to feel and know my great,great grandmother and her heritage and reading this book is a good first step in that pursuit.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Anyone white, European-Americans who has done some family history research that links them back to slave owning Southern families before the Civil War should read this book. I wish many descendants of slaves could read this book and know that their distant cousins can indeed experience some of the emotional toll of the diabolical system that harmed so many people--yet inadvertently brought us the many cultural riches that gleam in the American fabric.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gill

    This award winning (national book award) was sheer pleasure to read. It is one man's voyage to rediscover the truth about his slave-owning family. Going on this voyage with him offers a fascinating glimpse into our nation's history, and teaches us that here really is no such thing as 'black' or 'white' This award winning (national book award) was sheer pleasure to read. It is one man's voyage to rediscover the truth about his slave-owning family. Going on this voyage with him offers a fascinating glimpse into our nation's history, and teaches us that here really is no such thing as 'black' or 'white'

  26. 5 out of 5

    Caeru

    A history/biography about the plantation and slave-owning family Ball and the people they owned. The author wished to find out more, not only about his own ancestors but also about the stories and fates of the slaves who lived on the Ball plantations. Very interesting and engaging read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne Mixon

    Edward Ball's ancestors were the proprietors of some of the largest rice growing plantations in South Carolina and as a bonus unusually meticulous record keepers whose documents are deposited in easily accessed repositories. Ball's plan for the book was to explore the impact of the legacy of slavery and the plantation culture on the Black and White descendants. He reconstructs the history of America in brief as it relates to South Carolina and his immediate family and the slaves they owned. He f Edward Ball's ancestors were the proprietors of some of the largest rice growing plantations in South Carolina and as a bonus unusually meticulous record keepers whose documents are deposited in easily accessed repositories. Ball's plan for the book was to explore the impact of the legacy of slavery and the plantation culture on the Black and White descendants. He reconstructs the history of America in brief as it relates to South Carolina and his immediate family and the slaves they owned. He finds a really remarkable number of Black descendants of the slaves from the Ball plantations and goes to meet them, some of whom he establishes are his cousins. Some of the White relatives are unhappy about the project; some of the Black ancestors are similarly consternated. But Edward Ball must be a really charming guy because he pulls it off. In the end, he goes to Africa to confront the complicit slave sellers there and performs a really moving ceremony of reconciliation and remembrance for the dead. The only caveat is that there is a lot of genealogy. The book really moves when he tells stories, but my eyes blurred reading about how Aunt so and so married Uncle so and so and their children were x, y and z. You need all of that, but it did slow things down.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Edward Ball has traced his family history back to the 1700's, when his relatives were slave owners in South Carolina. His research has led him to realize that he is in fact related to descendants of slaves. He reaches out to members of this extended family with mostly good results. The results are both extremely interesting and touching. Edward Ball has traced his family history back to the 1700's, when his relatives were slave owners in South Carolina. His research has led him to realize that he is in fact related to descendants of slaves. He reaches out to members of this extended family with mostly good results. The results are both extremely interesting and touching.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sandra Rebholz

    I think everyone needs to read this book. If this was required reading in schools maybe we could start healing the deep wounds of racism in this country. This book was amazing in that the ancestors of the Ball plantations could meet and talk and try to mend some wounds of the past that were neither sides faults. The love in this book seems to overcomes all else. I hope that's what people see. I think everyone needs to read this book. If this was required reading in schools maybe we could start healing the deep wounds of racism in this country. This book was amazing in that the ancestors of the Ball plantations could meet and talk and try to mend some wounds of the past that were neither sides faults. The love in this book seems to overcomes all else. I hope that's what people see.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jane Milrod

    excellent

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