Exploitation, violence, the round-abouts of law, and the malleability of religion contributed to the development of the New World, later called the United States of America. Few dare to expose its evil, for centuries ensconced in the collective unconscious, now erupting in our streets.

Fortunate for us, however, one has done so. Author Edward Ball, the sixth-generation-descendant of slave owners and traders near Charleston, South Carolina, combed through copious records of his family’s rice plantations on the Cooper River and produced Slaves in the Family, the 1998 National Book Award for nonfiction.

Through the lens of the author, we glimpse the world of an English rice farmer buying slaves, captured from the West Coast of Africa, to work his water-soaked fields. This all began in 1698 with Elias Ball’s inheritance of the Comingtee plantation. Years of numbing labors, from March through November, eventually produced Carolina Gold that topped the rice market for sales. The resulting profits goaded generations of Ball Masters to buy even more land and slaves until outlawed in 1865, the end of the Civil War.

This annotated narrative also reveals the precarious existence of these slaves, over four thousand of them, perceived as chattel for the fields and as sexual game for their masters. Ball’s meticulous research, including visits to their descendants scattered all over the United States, brings this queasy world to life. Numerous photographs of the Balls and their slaves, of newspaper clippings and maps, and of genealogies reveal even more than the printed words.

Edward Ball and his newly found black relatives found their lives enlarged and enriched through this courageous exchange of stories. They are more than friends.

 

 

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