Unless otherwise indicated, all OI books are distributed by The University of North Carolina Press.

Slave Counterpoint

Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry

Philip Morgan

Cloth: 978-0-8078-2409-2 ($88.00)
Paper: 978-0-8078-4717-6 ($36.95)

Copyright 1998
University of North Carolina Press

A Prize-Winning Book

  • Bancroft Prize (1999)
  • Albert J. Beveridge Award, American Historical Association (1998)
  • Wesley-Logan Prize, American Historical Association (1998)
  • Best Book Award, South Carolina Historical Society (1998)
  • Elliott Rudwick Prize, Organization of American Historians (1998)
  • Jacques Barzun Prize, American Philosophical Society (1998)
  • Frederick Douglass Prize, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition (1999)
  • Frank L. and Harriet C. Owsley Award, Southern Historical Association (1999)
  • Library of Virginia Literary Award for Non-Fiction (1999)
  • Choice Outstanding Academic Title (1998)

On the eve of the American Revolution, nearly three-quarters of all African Americans in mainland British America lived in two regions: the Chesapeake, centered in Virginia, and the Lowcountry, with its hub in South Carolina. Here, Philip Morgan compares and contrasts African American life in these two regional black cultures, exploring the differences as well as the similarities. The result is a detailed and comprehensive view of slave life in the colonial American South.

Morgan explores the role of land and labor in shaping culture, the everyday contacts of masters and slaves that defined the possibilities and limitations of cultural exchange, and finally the interior lives of blacks—their social relations, their family and kin ties, and the major symbolic dimensions of life: language, play, and religion. He provides a balanced appreciation for the oppressiveness of bondage and for the ability of slaves to shape their lives, showing that, whatever the constraints, slaves contributed to the making of their history. Victims of a brutal, dehumanizing system, slaves nevertheless strove to create order in their lives, to preserve their humanity, to achieve dignity, and to sustain dreams of a better future.

About the Author

Philip D. Morgan is professor of history at Johns Hopkins University.


This book is without question the most comprehensive and richly documented account of African American life in the eighteenth-century plantation South...A must read for all early American historians!

--Richard S. Dunn

In every respect a terriffic piece of work. Far and away the fullest and most comprehensive analysis of the two principal colonial American slave societies, it is breathtaking in its scope.

--Jack P. Greene

Scholars who have long been tantalized by Philip Morgan’s many essays on slavery can now see the bigger picture to which these pieces belong. His book is a painstaking comparative study, rich in detail and deft in its use of the secondary literature.

--Joyce E. Chaplin

Philip Morgan’s Slave Counterpoint should prove a landmark in the study of southern slavery. Supported by an impressive command of the sources, primary and secondary, Morgan’s judicious, sometimes bold interpretations inspire confidence. And, as a bonus, this well-written book is refreshingly free of jargon and cant.

--Eugene D. Genovese

Building on an extraordinary scholarly legacy, a prodigious amount of primary research, and a hallowed set of historiographical problems, Philip D. Morgan has written a book that is destined to be read and reargued for some time to come. . . . The most comprehensive social history of slavery yet written. . . . It is, then, as much for the extraordinary stories he tells as for the scholarly arguments he makes that Morgan is to be commended.

--American Historical Review

A bold and comprehensive examination of colonial slavery, and a welcome addition to scholarship.

--Left History

A master of the historian's craft, Morgan demonstrates truly breathtaking range and originality. His command of contemporary sources and the scholarly literature is second to none. Future studies of the origins of slavery in North America will necessarily take Slave Counterpoint as their point of departure.

--Journal of Southwest Georgia History

A monumental social history of slavery in the eighteenth-century Chesapeake region and in the Carolina and Georgia low country.

--Robert L. Paquette, Washington Times

Only a historian at the top of his profession could have produced such a sweeping comparison of the development of the 'peculiar institution' in Tidewater Virginia and the South Carolina Low Country prior to 1790.

--The Historian

A major reinterpretation of early American history that should attract a wide readership.;


One of the most important books on unfree labor in the past twenty-five years. Every historian of early America will need to read it.

--Journal of the Early Republic

This thorough and elegantly written analysis of two American cultural regions is a remarkable scholarly achievement. It will take its place alongside the most important and influential books on American slavery and the origins of the Old South.

--Virginia Libraries

The most comprehensive documentary study ever written on slavery in eighteenth-century North America. . . . A landmark in the historiography of North American slavery. In this work, the author offers a clearly written, deeply researched, balanced, and nonsentimental account of the origins and development of plantation slavery in the two most important slave societies in North America.

--Journal of Interdisciplinary History