On Slavery
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On Slavery's Border

Missouri's Small Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865

Title Details

Pages: 368

Illustrations: 16 b&w photos

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 12/01/2010

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3683-1

List Price: $34.95


Pub Date: 12/01/2010

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3636-7

List Price: $120.95


Pub Date: 12/01/2010

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3736-4

List Price: $34.95

Subsidies and Partnerships

Published with the generous support of Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

On Slavery's Border

Missouri's Small Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865

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On Slavery’s Border is a bottom-up examination of how slavery and slaveholding were influenced by both the geography and the scale of the slaveholding enterprise. Missouri’s strategic access to important waterways made it a key site at the periphery of the Atlantic world. By the time of statehood in 1821, people were moving there in large numbers, especially from the upper South, hoping to replicate the slave society they’d left behind.

Diane Mutti Burke focuses on the Missouri counties located along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to investigate small-scale slavery at the level of the household and neighborhood. She examines such topics as small slaveholders’ child-rearing and fiscal strategies, the economics of slavery, relations between slaves and owners, the challenges faced by slave families, sociability among enslaved and free Missourians within rural neighborhoods, and the disintegration of slavery during the Civil War. Mutti Burke argues that economic and social factors gave Missouri slavery an especially intimate quality. Owners directly oversaw their slaves and lived in close proximity with them, sometimes in the same building. White Missourians believed this made for a milder version of bondage. Some slaves, who expressed fear of being sold further south, seemed to agree.

Mutti Burke reveals, however, that while small slaveholding created some advantages for slaves, it also made them more vulnerable to abuse and interference in their personal lives. In a region with easy access to the free states, the perception that slavery was threatened spawned white anxiety, which frequently led to violent reassertions of supremacy.

Mutti Burke provides a deeply researched and thorough account of slaveholding practices in Missouri, the first general study of slavery in that border state since Harrison Trexler's 1914 account . . . She weighs conflicting evidence to tell an important and neglected story in impressive fashion.


On Slavery's Border is an excellent and needed examination of how slavery functioned in yet another time and place. Burke further adds to our understanding of the differences inherent within slavery and how slavery adapted to fulfill the needs of both the enslaved and the enslavers.

Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Highly original and beautifully crafted, On Slavery’s Border intervenes meaningfully and helpfully into some of the most important scholarly conversations about southern slavery. Mutti Burke tackles a region of the antebellum South rarely examined, and the dividends are rich. From her, we learn a great deal about the dynamics of slavery on small-slaveholding farms. This is a book that will be read with enormous profit by historians of the Old South specifically, of slavery generally.

—Mark M. Smith, author of How Race is Made: Slavery, Segregation, and the Senses

Her work is by far the most thorough treatment of slavery in Missouri to date, and the exceptional nuance and detail she brings to her analysis of the master-slave relationship will make it one of the most informative of a short list of works on slavery on small farms and in border states.


On Slavery’s Border considerably advances our understanding of the slave South(s). Taking seriously long-standing calls for greater attention to slavery in non-plantation areas, Mutti Burke paints an intimate portrait of slaveholding in a state where slaveholders of small means predominated. Showing what this meant for how slaves, slaveholders, and nonslaveholders related to each other, socialized, built communities, and constituted family and kin networks, this book expands and fundamentally alters the historiographical landscape. Here slaves commonly endured hiring out and abroad marriages and slaveholders just as commonly saw their sons put behind the plow; here slavery was at once intimate and intensely violently. As historians turn increasingly to the global and transnational dimensions of American slavery, On Slavery’s Border reminds us of the continued importance of the local.

—Thavolia Glymph, author of Out Of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household

On Slavery’s Border tackles two important and understudied subjects: the history of slavery in the South’s border states and the nature of small-scale slavery. It is full of original, interesting, and useful insight about many topics—from the forced and voluntary migrations that created Missouri’s patterns of slavery, to white gender ideologies that resembled those of the midwestern farming communities to the north and east, to the labor, leisure, and familial interactions that shaped the material and affective worlds of whites and African Americans. I am very enthusiastic about On Slavery’s Border and expect that its audience will include historians of slavery and of the South; historians specializing in African American history, family history, and the study of women, gender, and sexuality; and, of course, both scholarly and popular readers interested in Missouri history.

—Leslie A. Schwalm, author of Emancipation’s Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest


Missouri Conference on History Book Award, Missouri Conference on History

About the Author/Editor

DIANE MUTTI BURKE is an assistant professor of history at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.