Sunday, September 24, 2006

Land of the Free

From a review of David Brion Davis's Inhuman Bondage in the London Telegraph: "The story Davis tells is strikingly at odds with traditional accounts. Those used to thinking of New World settlement in terms of a widening of horizons and a breaking free from European constraints will be surprised to learn that, before 1820, African slaves outnumbered European settlers by a ratio of more than five to one. This is not to deny that some Europeans did find the experience liberating, although it is worth remembering that many of them arrived themselves as indentured servants or transported criminals, and so were hardly in a position to feel liberated. The picture is certainly very different from that painted by those who like to think of early America either as a refuge for the oppressed or a gigantic adventure playground. If numbers are what count, the “typical” American settler was neither a swaggering conquistador nor a Bible-quoting Puritan but a miserable African slave toiling on a sugar plantation."

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