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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
October 2023
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Book description

Old Age and American Slavery explores how antebellum southerners, Black and white, adapted to, resisted, or failed to overcome changes associated with old age, both real and imagined. Slavery was a system of economic exploitation and a contested site of personal domination, both of which were affected by concerns with age. In examining how individuals, families, and communities felt about the aging process and dealt with elders, David Stefan Doddington emphasizes the complex social relations that developed in a slave society. In connecting old age to the arguments of Black activists, abolitionists, enslavers, and their propagandists, the book reveals how representations of old age, and experiences of aging, spoke to wider struggles relating to mastery, paternalism, resistance, and survival in slavery. The book asks us to rethink long-standing narratives relating to networks of solidarity in the American South and it illuminates the violent and exploitative nature of American slavery.


‘This book offers compelling evidence that the rhetoric and realities of old age decline shaped enslaved people's self-understandings, relations with each other, and resistance to slavery as well as conflicts among enslavers. David Doddington demonstrates that no understanding of slavery can be complete without attention to old age.’

Corinne Field - author of Equal Adulthood: Gender, Race, Age, and the Fight for Citizenship in Antebellum America

‘Most previous research on slavery and age has focused on enslaved children. By moving the elderly to the forefront, Doddington further advances age as a worthwhile category of analysis, with fresh insights into the differences that the passing years made in the lives of the enslaved.’

Jeff Forret - author of Williams’ Gang: A Notorious Slave Trader and his Cargo of Black Convicts

‘In this masterful and timely study, David Doddington explores the perceptions and effects of physical aging on the institution of slavery in the antebellum South. Old Age and American Slavery alters our understandings of the life cycles of the enslaved as well as the exploitative power relationships that undergirded bondage.’

Damian Alan Pargas - author of Freedom Seekers: Fugitive Slaves in North America, 1800–1860

‘This engaging and vast range of historiography exposes fresh layers of the complex, conditional, and contested interactions that differentiated the lived experiences of enslavers vs. the enslaved. An essential read for all students of the history of enslavement in the United States.’

Thomas J. Davis Source: Library Journal

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