Most historians of slavery in the Americas treat masters of color who owned their own kin as an oddity, a scribal error, or as a topic to evade. Most others conclude that ruthlessly capitalistic owners reserved such behavior for slaves unrelated to them, and owned their own kin as slaves in name only, with the intention of providing protection and eventual manumission. This article considers several cases of close-kin ownership, particularly in Suriname, and explores the role of coercive economy in families emerging from enslavement, arguing that the capitalistic values of slaveholding pervaded families approaching freedom, often informing both their economic behavior and their interpersonal relations.
This introduction reviews the historiographical trajectory of the “slave community” and “resistance” paradigms and argues that the assumption of group solidarity underpinning them continues to inform much of the current-day scholarship on slaves and free people of African descent in the hemispheric Americas. After briefly reviewing the four contributions to this journal issue, this article proposes as an alternative the “unsentimental approach” to slavery studies and points to a number of recent publications that collectively stand as a harbinger of this historiographical seachange, one that does not shy away from evidence of economically exploitative slaveholding among free people of African origin, intra-slave violence, or alliances that linked enslaved and free people of African descent to other groups.