About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America

Greetings from the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s virtual author lecture with Joshua D. Rothman, author of The Ledger and the Chain.

Before we begin, though, I’d like to tell you about two upcoming programs you can view on our YouTube channel.

On Thursday, April 29, at noon, Jon Grispan will discuss his new book, The Age of Acrimony. This work charts the rise and fall of 19th-century America’s unruly politics and reveals our divisive political system’s enduring capacity to reinvent itself.

And on Thursday, April 29, at 7 p.m., Karen Tumulty will discuss Nancy Reagan’s role as partner to the President, which she profiles in her new book, The Triumph of Nancy Reagan.

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A ship’s manifest in the National Archives records the list of names: Joseph Roach, age 23; Edward Woods, 45; Sarah Robinson––and child––25, 14; John Little, 5. These four and 44 others were transported from Baltimore to Mobile in 1844 for, as the printed form declares, “the purpose of being sold or disposed of as slaves.”

The slave trade was big business in the pre–Civil War United States. The buying and selling of persons took place in city centers across the country, including the nation’s capital. A slave pen sat just a stone’s throw from where the National Archives Building is now.

In The Ledger and the Chain, Joshua D. Rothman reveals to us the pervasiveness of the domestic slave trade in America and its role in the growth of the United States.

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Joshua Rothman is professor and chair of the Department of History at the University of Alabama. He is the author of the award-winning books Flush Times and Fever Dreams and Notorious in the Neighborhood. Rothman has also written nearly a dozen professional articles that have been in the New York Times, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and other venues. He has held fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the Huntington Library, the American Philosophical Society, and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. Rothman is also the co-director of “Freedom on the Move: A Database of Fugitives from North American Slavery" and co-editor, with Heather Cox Richardson, of the online magazine We're History.

 Tonight’s moderator is Rachel L. Swarns, a journalist, author, and professor who writes about race and race relations as a contributing writer for the New York Times. Swarns spent 22 years as a full-time correspondent for the New York Times and is currently an associate professor of journalism at New York University. Her book American Tapestry, which explored the ancestry of Michelle Obama, was ranked as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012 by the New York Times Book Review. Swarns also serves as an academic adviser to the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, DC.

Now let’s hear from Joshua Rothman and Rachel Swarns. Thank you for joining us today.