James Oakes


Serious scholarly invetigation of slavery in Florida began with the 1973 publication of Julia Floyd Smith's Slavery and Plantation Growth in Antebellum Florida, 1821-1860. In her own way Smith was a pioneer. She was the first to lay out the basic contours of slavery's history in Florida, and she grounded her narrative on extensive use of archival records, census data, traveler's accounts, legislation, and even slave narratives. Her focus was restricted to the American slaveholders who poured into middle Florida after 1821 and who thereafter extended the southern frontier of the cotton belt. She framed her book within the literature of the time, which meant-among other things-the ongoing debate over the relative brutality of slavery in Brazil and the American South and, more importantly, the question of slavery's efficiency and profitability. Smith emphasized the entrepreneurial orientation of the slaveholders, arguing that they succeeded in building efficient plantation bureaucracies that became more productive over time. And although she included an entire chapter on the slave trade within Florida, she was inclined to view the masters as rather more benevolent than cruel.