Comprising personal accounts from an intensely consequential chapter in our country’s history, The Great Stain tells the story of American slavery from its origins in Africa to its abolition with the end of the Civil War.
In this “essential” (Kirkus) new work, Noel Rae integrates firsthand accounts into a narrative history that brings the reader face to face with slavery’s everyday reality, expertly weaving together narratives that span hundreds of years. From the travel journals of sixteenth-century Spanish settlers who offered religious instruction and “protection” in exchange for farm labor, to the diaries of poetess Phillis Wheatley and Reverend Cotton Mather, to Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted’s book about traveling through the “cotton states,” to an 1880 speech given by Frederick Douglass, Rae provides a comprehensive accounting of parties from throughout the antebellum history of the nation. Rae also draws on a wide variety of accounts from less distinguished individuals: a surgeon describes the brutal treatment and squalid conditions onboard a slave ship as he made his daily rounds to collect the dead; an Englishman visiting Haiti observes violent uprisings as, separated from the population on the mainland, slaves were able to overpower their captors.
Most significant are the texts from and interviews with former slaves themselves, ranging from the famous Solomon Northup to the virtually unknown Mary Reynolds, who was sold away from her mother and subsequently bought back not for sentiment or kindness, but because after losing her daughter, the family’s wet nurse began to waste away from grief. Surpassing a dispassionate listing of atrocities, Rae places the reader within the era.
Drawing on thousands of original sources, The Great Stain tells of repression and resistance in a society based on the exploitation of the cheapest labor and fallacies of racial superiority. Meticulously researched, this is a work of history that is profoundly relevant to our world today.