Mr. Wells makes a significant contribution to the literature of American slavery with a powerful book ... an often harrowing narrative fueled by solid research ... If Mr. Wells does not quite prove his indictment against 'Wall Street,' he certainly demonstrates that commercial interests ignored these abuses ... Mr. Wells takes a fresh, bottom-up approach, detailing horrific, unjustified seizures that provoked little objection from Gotham’s establishment ... Mr. Wells offers wrenching case studies from two successive eras ... Mr. Wells brings the kidnapping gang to life, too ... The individual kidnapping stories retain their ability to shock ... These stories are so poignant, the outcomes so monstrous, that they require no narrative flourishes, and Mr. Wells’s workmanlike prose creates an almost clinical mood that perfectly suits what amounts to a grim forensic accounting of both abuse and acquiescence. Mr. Wells persuasively demonstrates that the inhumanity of slavery was neither restricted by geography nor restrained by law. Slavery poisoned all of American culture and exacted a devastating toll on black New Yorkers while members of the original Kidnapping Club lived out their days unmolested.
... an eye-opening history of antebellum New York. Wells...meticulously details two of New York City’s dirtiest secrets: the city’s illicit backing of the illegal transatlantic slave trade and the Kidnapping Club that helped reinforce it ... There are many villains in this thoroughly researched and fascinating history, including police officers Tobias Boudinot and Daniel Nash, Judge Richard Riker and Mayor Fernando Woods. Yet The Kidnapping Club is more than a story of villainy. It’s also a history of heroes ... Most important of all, The Kidnapping Club restores the names of the abducted: Ben, Hester Jane Carr, Isaac Wright, Frances Shields, John Dickerson and countless others whose lives were destroyed and humanity erased—until now.
In The Kidnapping Club, the historian Jonathan Daniel Wells describes the circle of slave catchers and police officers who terrorized New York’s Black population in the three decades before the Civil War. They snatched up children, as well as adults, and sold them into slavery ... Wells conjures the pungent atmosphere of Manhattan in the early 19th century ... Wells writes, one senses, not to memorialize the missing, but to reopen their cases — to make a larger argument about recompense ... This is history read with a sense of vertigo, suffused with the present...
In The Kidnapping Club, Wells shows how the 'booming and prosperous metropolis' of antebellum New York City profited from the rendition to the South of escaped slaves who sought freedom in the North ... his narrative dissects the tragic effects of an organized group of local police officers, merchants and Democratic politicians who supported Southern slave catchers unleashed upon the city’s Black community by federal fugitive slave law ... one of Wells’s greatest contributions is his reminder that there were many Solomon Northups, and that some of them were children ... Black New Yorkers might have faced an insurmountable Goliath in the white political establishment, but by challenging the kidnapping club in court and on the streets, they were not entirely powerless.
In The Kidnapping Club, the historian Jonathan Daniel Wells focuses on the hundreds of kidnappings that New York’s Black community experienced in the three decades before the Civil War, with an additional few chapters on Manhattan’s role in the illegal transatlantic slave trade. Both slave trades persisted, Wells writes, because of Manhattan’s financial ties to slaveholders. Building on the resurgent literature on slavery and capitalism, Wells deftly captures the ways Manhattan’s financial elite, such as Moses Taylor—head of what became today’s Citibank—advocated for slaveholders’ interests ... Wells focuses much of his story on Manhattan’s criminal justice system: the police officers who captured runaways on behalf of Southern slaveholders, and powerful officials, like the city recorder Richard Riker and Governor William Marcy, who gave New York’s police officers legal authority to capture runaways... The Kidnapping Club is meant to read as parable for today, but Wells’s eagerness to tell a dark but inspiring story—of how radical Black activists and their white allies challenged a broken criminal justice and capitalist system—at times leads him to elide significant historical details ... Wells’s desire to offer his readers glimmers of hope—that greed can be sublimated to a larger sense of justice—works against what might be a more useful historical lesson: What matters is less what people think than what they do.
All New Yorkers need to read this book. By recalling a truly painful era of the city’s history, it clarifies a deeper, structural problem that continues to haunt city life today ... The author artfully forges a tension between two historical characters who symbolized the kidnapping battles played out in the city during the pre-Civil War decades ... also offers a detailed discussion of the economic and political motives that drove the institutionalized racism and pro-Southern beliefs among of many city leaders, especially the police and judiciary. Equally revealing, it presents a powerful description of Ruggles and other within the New York’s small but determined abolitionist movement ... thoroughly researched.
Well’s lively writing style and skillful portrayal of the culture of mid-19th century America further adds to this excellent work ... This compelling work is highly recommended for those who like history and readers interested in social justice.
... richly detailed ... Lively prose and vivid scenes of New York street life complement the meticulous research. The result is a revealing look at a little-known chapter in the history of racial injustice.
The author populates his pages with characters who are little known to history ... The narrative suffers from a certain sluggishness and needless rhetorical flourishes, but it’s a story that deserves to be told ... A convincing demonstration of the close links between capitalism and the unconscionable trade in human beings.