Edward Ball Slaves in the Family

ISBN 13: 9780671581213

Slaves in the Family

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9780671581213: Slaves in the Family
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In 1698, Elias Ball traveled from his home in Devon, England, to Charleston, South Carolina, to take possession of his inheritance: part of a plantation and twenty slaves. Elias and his progeny built an American dynasty that lasted for six generations, acquiring more than twenty Plantations and enslaving close to four thousand Africans and African Americans until 1865, when Union troops arrived on the lawns of the Balls' estates to force emancipation.

Edward Ball, a descendant of Elias, has written a nonfiction American saga that is part history, part journey of discovery. Ball chronicles the lives of the people who lived in his ancestors' lands: the violence and the opulence, the slave uprisings and escapes, the white and black heroes of the American Revolution, the mulatto children of Ball masters and "Ball slaves," and the culminating shock of the Civil War. He reconstructs the genealogies of slave families—from the first African captives, through ten generations, to the present—and travels to Sierra Leone to visit a prison from which his family once bought workers.

Most remarkable of all, Ball has traveled all over the United States to meet descendants of Ball slaves (who number between 75,000 and 100,000 living Americans). In a series of memorable encounters, Ball hears from black families—some of whom are his blood kin—their stories, passions, and dreams, and reveals how the effects of slavery live on in black and white life and memory. Slaves In the Family is a microcosm of America's defining national experience, a story of people confronting their inescapable common history.

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Writer Edward Ball opens Slaves in the Family with an anecdote: "My father had a little joke that made light of our legacy as a family that had once owned slaves. 'There are five things we don't talk about in the Ball family,' he would say. 'Religion, sex, death, money and the Negroes.'" Ball himself seemed happy enough to avoid these touchy issues until an invitation to a family reunion in South Carolina piqued his interest in his family's extensive plantation and slave-holding past. He realized that he had a very clear idea of who his white ancestors were--their names, who their children and children's children were, even portraits and photographs--but he had only a murky vision of the black people who supported their livelihood and were such an intimate part of their daily lives; he knew neither their names nor what happened to them and their descendents after they were freed following the Civil War. So he embarked on a journey to uncover the history of the Balls and the black families with whom their lives were inextricably intertwined, as well as the less tangible resonance of slavery in both sets of families. From plantation records, interviews with descendents of both the Balls and their slaves, and travels to Africa and the American South, Ball has constructed a story of the riches and squalor, violence and insurrection--the pride and shame--that make up the history and legacy of slavery in America.

From the Publisher:

"EVERYONE SHOULD READ AND LEARN FROM THIS LUMINOUS BOOK...Like Alex Haley's Roots, through which African American history came into national focus...Slaves in the Family has the potential for creating a perceptual shift in the American mind...The book is not only honest in its scrupulous reporting but also personal narrative at its finest."

--San Francisco Chronicle

"BALL IS A FIRST-RATE SCHOLAR-JOURNALIST...He's also a good detective, tracking down the many descendants of Ball slaves from New York to California and back in the South and coaxing them, often with some difficulty, to tell their stories...Outside Faulkner, it will be hard to find a more poignant, powerful account of a white man struggling with his and his nation's past."

--The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"A MASTERPIECE...REMARKABLE...It is a work about slaves in the family. But it is also a large omnium gatherum of enchanting fireside anecdotes, secrets teased out of reluctant fragments from the remote past, the real lives of blacks and whites whose stories had been lost in the disintegrating churn of time until Edward Ball's patient reconstructions."

--The Raleigh News & Observer

"A TOUR DE FORCE...The heart of this remarkable book consists of his sleuthing
--tracking down and interviewing the descendants of former Ball slaves across the country...Part oral history, this unique family saga is a catharsis and a searching inventory of racially divided American society."

--Publishers Weekly (starred and boxed review)


--The Boston Sunday Globe

"There is much to admire in Ball's very willingness to challenge the generations of silence in his white family and to search out black kin whose reactions he had every reason to fear. And there is much to learn as well from a book that reminds us that slavery possesses not just a national and cultural significance but, for many Americans, a very direct and personal immediacy, even in the late 20th century. In naming the names...Ball contributes to at least partly reclaiming the humanity slavery worked to obliterate. He reminds us that slavery was not just about economics or politics or even abstract questions of morality, but most essentially about the millions of human being imprisoned within its chains."

--The New York Times Book Review

"Not since Alex Haley's Roots has there been such a pure act of recovery of the African American experience...It is a work of breathtaking generosity and courage, a magnificent study of the complexity and strangeness and beauty of the word 'family.' "


"If Cold Mountain was closer to a nature study than a Civil War story, this book is the real thing: a narrative with runaway slaves, night patrols, plantation lords, wastrel heirs, and a loony widow...A fascinating domestic history."

--The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Not since William Faulkner wrote his masterpiece Absalom, Absalom! in 1936 has any writer rendered a more hauntingly poignant exploration of the dark roots and bitter fruits of slavery in America."

--The Baltimore Sun

"This book, a brilliant blend of archival research and oral history, tells what [Ball] found
--a painful past relieved by the presence of vivid individuals."

--The New Yorker


--The Christian Science Monitor

"Powerful...Edward Ball is a writer who possesses both skill and bravery...A book that is an amazing amalgamation of history, detective work, sociology and personal catharsis. It covers not only the days of slavery, but investigates the intertwined lives of blacks and whites into the 20th century. Ball's history is impeccable...Slaves in the Family deserves wide readership. It is a fine portrait of how the legacy of an evil institution still resonates in the collective memories of black and white Americans."

--The Chattanooga Times

"Fascinating...Ball is an accomplished portrait artist, delivering characters in quick, pointed strokes. His ear is perfect also, able to discern a Southern accent that is more cotton than rice. Most importantly, Slaves in the Family accomplishes something that the currently fashionable but little-yielding 'dialogues' on race cannot seem to; it underscores the complexity of blood and manners as an aspect of race in this country."

--New York Post

"An exposé of the original black/white divide in this country, as embodied in one extended family and the people they owned...By daring to zero in on his own family's trade, Ball breaks hundreds of years of silence from white people
--the only way to begin this dialogue between black and white people."

--The Village Voice

"A fascinating and important work that should be read by as many Americans as possible."

--The Washington Times

"[An] unblinking history not only of his ancestors but also of the people they held as slaves...It reminds us of our common humanity and of the ties that still bind us, no matter what the wounds of the past."

--The Philadelphia Inquirer



"This is a powerful personal memoir of a spiritual as much as an anthropological journey into history. One of Ball's white relatives feared that the author's probing into taboo matters would 'dig up my grandfather and hang him.' The larger meaning of the book lies not in condemnation or retribution so much as in the ways Ball recovers and respects a buried past. A stunning, dangerous book for each generation to ponder; highly recommended."

--Library Journal (starred review)

"Ball's impressive detective work and the black voices it records build a monumental and extraordinary case history of the rise and fall of America's most shameful institution. Together, their searing, soul-searching grappling with past sins strikes deep at the heart of the country's enduring racial division."

--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"An informative, ruminative, and inspirational page-turner."

--Booklist (starred review)

"[Slaves in the Family is] much more than bare history...It's the human encounters, and the live, breathing juxtaposition of past and present, that give [Ball's] book its vibrancy and importance."

--Detroit Free Press

"Remarkable, candid...Utterly compelling...A powerfully valuable testament."

--The State (Columbia, SC)


--New York Daily News

"Part historical narrative and part personal odyssey, this extraordinarily accessible and creative narrative should be read by anyone with an interest in African-American or southern history."

--The Post and Courier

"A remarkable look at how slavery lives on in our nation's memory and experience, and, perhaps, an important step toward racial harmony."

--In Review (Nashville)

"A pageantry of passions and struggles, Slaves in the Family is an unprecedented chronicle that is part history, and part the author's incredible journey towards the revelation and reconstruction of the genealogies of the slaves in his family's plantation. And ultimately the startling discovery of the slaves in 'his' family."

--African Sun Times

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

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Edward Ball
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Ball, Edward
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio (1998)
ISBN 10: 067158121X ISBN 13: 9780671581213
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