Only a handful of books are published each year that promise to help elevate our national consciousness to topics that should immediately command the attention of every citizen. Stephanie E. Jones-Roger’s They Were Her Property is one of these books. Correcting generations of previous scholarship, Jones-Rogers carefully demonstrates that white women slave owners were not oppressed or even half-hearted participants in the peculiar institution. Rather, these “mistresses of the market” (xiv) not only owned a sizable share of human beings in their own right but also served as cunning businesswomen, slave traders, and even violent disciplinarians.

By mining sources like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) slave narratives and legal documents related to property ownership—sources generally underutilized in previous scholarship on the subject—Jones-Rogers deftly asserts that elite white women wielded a great deal of power in matters concerning race and mastery. Above all, she writes, “these women’s fundamental relationship to slavery”...

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