Book Review: Slavery in the North: Forgetting History and Recovering Memory


by Marc Howard Ross

Philsaxdelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018. Pp. xiv, 306 . Illus., biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0812250389

Slavery Above the Mason-Dixon Line

While perhaps not “forgotten”, the existence of slavery in the North into the early nineteenth century, is certainly neglected. Prof. Ross (emeritus Bryn Mawr) opens by observing that the subject gained greater public notice with the discovery that, while President, George Washington kept nine enslaved people in his Philadelphia home, literally next door to the “Liberty Bell”. Washington looms large in this work, as Ross uses this revelation to do several things.

Firstly, Ross explores the history of slavery in the North. Although slavery never assumed the importance in any northern state that it did across the South, being slavery minor – virtually non-existent – in some northern states, it was certainly more important no in several other states, such as New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania. But while the role of slavery in the norther economy and society was less than and rather different from its importance in the life of the South, there were also many similarities, even unto some large slave-based plantations.

Ross’s treatment naturally includes a discussion of the complexities of abolition in the North, which began in what is now Vermont during the Revolutionary War, and continued into the 1840s, and the role of the freed people in northern society, where in some states they possessed more rights than in others. Running through Ross’s work is also the question of how to remember and commemorate this history, with discussions of the preservation of African burial grounds and other historic sites.

Slavery in the North is a work worth reading by and American, and is certainly essential for those with an interest in slavery and abolition, and those dealing with tu quoquo arguments by Neo-Confederates, who often make some remarkably fantastic charges.


Note: Slavery in the North is also available in several e-editions

StrategyPage reviews are shared with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close