... tremendous ... a careful biography of a very successful business with unflinching attention to the monstrosity that business was built upon ... othman’s book never strays far from the fact that this big business was built on forced removal, a process that entailed, for the people being trafficked, a tremendous amount of pain ... distills these crucial questions to their core.
... brilliant ... Although Franklin and Armfield and Ballard featured in a handful of mid-20th century biographies from historians such as Wendell Stephenson and Isabel Howell, The Ledger and the Chain is the first book to concern itself entirely with the converging lives of all three. Rothman does an exemplary job of describing how the three established slave-trading outfits at the Chesapeake end of the domestic trade in Maryland, Alexandria, and Richmond, as well as deep south outposts in Natchez, Mississippi, and New Orleans; and how they achieved greater efficiencies in transport (both in terms of travel time and lost potential profit due to disease and death) by often delivering their human cargo via their own brigs, rather than hired ships or via arduous overland travel by chained coffle ... emerges as an essential and definitive work...convincingly positioning the prime movers of the slave trade at the fulcrum of an expanding American economy and credit system fueled by the forced labor of the Black bodies they bought and sold ... demolishes the fictions that have traditionally placed enslavers at a genteel distance from the atrocities that underwrote their lives and defined.
Rothman brings to life the enormity of the lucrative interstate and intrastate merchandising of brutalized Black bodies as instruments of capital and exchange in an American commerce bottomed on instruments of torture like the shackle and whip ... This wide-ranging and meticulously documented study interweaves biography, family dynamics, business contours and networks, and local and national developments to show how slavery and capitalism were always intertwined. Rothman carefully details how the success of Franklin & Armfield was aided by innovations in technology, infrastructure, information, and finance ... xplaining how trafficking in slaves advanced private and public priorities as it produced great wealth and promoted national growth, Rothman displays the ever-present and impoverishing cost to the enslaved. A must-read account that sheds light on the interdependence of slavery and capitalism in the United States.