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New book reveals slavery once touched every corner of Tennessee society

Bill Carey

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  Mid-state author Bill Carey is out with a new book that takes a long, hard look at Tennessee’s slave trade.


The book is entitled “Runaways, Coffles and Fancy Girls: A History of Slavery in Tennessee.”


Carey’s book is based largely on hundreds of newspaper advertisements from the 1800s; ads seeking to buy slaves, sell slaves, or locate runaway slaves.


Carey notes that it wasn’t just large plantations that dealt in the slave trade.


“Slavery was embedded in every level. Every newspaper was in on slavery. Every bank was in on slavery. Almost every factory apparently hired slaves to build what they built in factories. Every railroad hired slaves.”

Carey says the City of Nashville also held slaves. He says auctions were common in Franklin and Murfreesboro as well.

The book includes one story taken from the memoirs of a man who happened to be at the Murfreesboro courthouse the day a slave auction was held on the town square. He recounts standing next to a slave who had just been sold.

“And the slave was trying to convince the slave holder to buy his wife. Because if he didn’t buy his wife he would never see his wife again. There was another slave trader bidding on his wife and in the end the (second) slave trader bid higher and took his wife away.”

Carey say reaction to the book has ranged from people who have hugged his neck after a reading, to those who insist slavery wasn’t all that bad.

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