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(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998)


     Slaves in the Family is about one person’s investigation of his family’s slavesholding past, and about his search for and meetings with descendants of the people his ancestors once enslaved.

     In 1698, Elias Ball, a twenty-two-year-old peasant from Devonshire, England, arrived in Charleston, South Carolina to take possession of his inheritance, part of a plantation called Comingtee and approximately twenty-five slaves. Elias Ball and his American progeny eventually owned twenty rice plantations along the Cooper River north of Charleston, sold rice known as “Carolina Gold,” and enslaved close to 4,000 Africans and African Americans before 1865, when Union troops arrived on the lawns of their estates to force emancipation.  

     Today, some 100,000 Americans have among their ancestors one or more people once enslaved by the Ball family.

     In Slaves in the Family, Edward Ball, a descendant of Elias Ball, has written a nonfiction American saga. Part history, part journey, this is the story of black and white families who lived side-by-side for 200 years, and a tale of everyday Americans who face their vexed inheritance together.

     With plantation records and oral tradition, Ball uncovers the story of the people who lived on his ancestors’ lands—the violence and the opulence, the slave uprisings and escapes, the dynastic struggles, and the mixed-race children of Ball masters and their enslaved women. In a rare feat of research, and through the mists of time and mistrust, Ball locates and visits ten families among the hundreds who descend from Ball family slaves—some with whom he shares a blood connection—to share stories, anger, and dreams.  

     Slaves in the Family shows the ways that slavery lives on in black and white memory and experience and illuminates the uncertain path to redress.


Slaves in the Family
Slaves in the Family

“Remarkable…an extraordinary achievement [with] much to learn from.”

—Drew Gilpin Faust, New York Times Book Review


“Laudable…admirable…deft…immensely valuable…fascinating and important.”

—Annette Gordon-Reed, Washington Times


 “A landmark book [with] spellbinding stories… Everyone should read and learn from this luminous book.” 

    —San Francisco Chronicle


“Sensitive and formidable… the historical sections rivet a reader.” Newsday


 “A triptych—family history, American history, and investigative journalism… The lyricism of the reflective prose acts like a silver through-line.” 

    —Los Angeles Times

Audiobook sample (3 min)
SLAVES IN THE FAMILY, audiobook sample (
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