RICHMOND WAS NOT only the capital of Virginia and of the
Confederacy; it was also one of the most industrialized cities
south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Boasting ironworks, tobacco
processing plants, and flour mills, the city by 1860 drew half of
its male workforce from the local slave population. "Rearing Wolves
to Our Own Destruction" examines this unusual urban labor system
from 1782 until the end of the Civil War. Many urban bondsmen and
women were hired to businesses rather than working directly for
their owners. As a result, they frequently had the opportunity to
negotiate their own contracts, to live alone, and to keep a portion
of their wages in cash. Working conditions in industrial Richmond
enabled African-American men and women to build a community
organized around family networks, black churches, segregated
neighborhoods, secret societies, and aid organizations. Through
these institutions, Takagi demonstrates, slaves were able to
educate themselves and to develop their political awareness. They
also came to expect a degree of control over their labor and lives.
Richmond's urban slave system offered blacks a level of economic
and emotional support not usually available to plantation slaves.
"Rearing Wolves to Our Own Destruction "offers a valuable portrait
of urban slavery in an individual city that raises questions about
the adaptability of slavery as an institution to an urban setting
and, more importantly, the ways in which slaves were able to turn
urban working conditions to their own advantage.
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