Slave Cloth and Clothing Slaves: Craftsmanship, Commerce, and Industry

by Madelyn Shaw


“In 1860 the federal census counted nearly four million enslaved men, women, and children across the American South, most of them born in the United States, and the majority working in the cotton fields of the lower South. Clothing that enormous population was an industry in itself—indeed, several industries—connecting many segments of the American economy with the institution of slavery. In the absence of an authoritative, period account describing these industries, our understanding of the complex processes and systems required to clothe enslaved individuals in the early South must be gleaned from surviving letters, memoirs, extant objects, and other documentation.”

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