A study of African-American workers empowered and partly liberated by their skills.
This is an original, unusually detailed contribution to the study of slavery. Dew, who teaches American Studies at Williams College, draws on extensive records to portray the slave system at an ironworks near Lexington, Va., in the decades preceding the Civil War. He begins with owner William Weaver, who purchased Buffalo Forge in 1814; born in 1781 to a German Baptist family opposing slavery, Weaver nevertheless found slaves far more productive than white laborers. Recognizing that slaves could sabotage his business, he controlled them not through threats but through rewards, paying for their ``overwork'' at a rate artisans earned. Another example Dew provides of this ``complex give-and-take'' between slaves and master is how Weaver gave a valuable slave he proposed to buy the right to veto his own sale. Dew closely reconstructs the texture of slave life at Buffalo Forge, which provided, after the Civil War, some of the few work opportunities for freedmen. Certain details may interest historians more than general readers, but Dew makes accessible to all the essential dignity of the slaves he studies here. Photos not seen by PW. (May)