Alexandra Finley adds crucial new dimensions to the boisterous debate over the relationship between slavery and capitalism by placing women's labor at the center of the antebellum slave trade, focusing particularly on slave traders' ability to profit from enslaved women's domestic, reproductive, and sexual labor. The slave market infiltrated every aspect of southern society, including the most personal spaces of the household, the body, and the self. Finley shows how women’s work was necessary to the functioning of the slave trade, and thus to the spread of slavery to the Lower South, the expansion of cotton production, and the profits accompanying both of these markets.
Through the personal histories of four enslaved women, Finley explores the intangible costs of the slave market, moving beyond ledgers, bills of sales, and statements of profit and loss to consider the often incalculable but nevertheless invaluable place of women's emotional, sexual, and domestic labor in the economy. The details of these women's lives reveal the complex intersections of economy, race, and family at the heart of antebellum society.