This talk considers the emergence of the American “negro cloth” industry in the 1820s and 1830s. At the intersection of material culture studies, business history, and comparative slavery, this talk traces the circuits of social knowledge that complemented the circuits of capital in the simultaneous expansion of the factory and the plantation. Enslaved men and women played a collaborative role in the design of particular textiles, and their preferences for some products and critiques of others structured patterns of labor hundreds of miles away. The research is drawn from a larger study underway on the interregional trade in plantation provisions: Northern-made hats, hoes, shoes, shovels, and even whips manufactured for use on Southern slave plantations.
Seth Rockman is associate professor of History at Brown University. His 2009 book Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore won several awards, including the Merle Curti Prize from the Organization of American Historians. Rockman's essay on the Jacksonian Era appears in the recent American History Now volume published by the American Historical Association. His findings on North-South economic ties have been previewed in the New York Times "Disunion" blog and the Bloomberg News "Echoes" blog. Rockman serves on the governing board of Brown University's Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.
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