In this deeply researched provocative study of slavery in the Natchez district, Christian Pinnen, associate professor of history at Mississippi College, makes an important contribution to the literature on slavery in North America’s borderlands. Focusing on the Natchez District between the 1720s and 1820s, Pinnen explores the dynamics of making race in four different legal systems—the French, British, Spanish, and US. Throughout the book he puts complexion at the center of his analysis, exploring how Europeans in rival imperial systems worked out new theoretical conceptions of human phenotypes, tied the meaning of slavery and freedom to color and complexion, and by the early nineteenth century made skin type an “all-encompassing marker signifying slavery in territorial Natchez” (184). Over this century, as the region changed hands, each set of settlers had their own ideas of how race and slavery should function. Yet, rather than foregrounding the contestations between these definitions, Pinnen...
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Book Review| July 01 2022
Complexion of Empire in Natchez: Race and Slavery in the Mississippi Borderlands
Complexion of Empire in Natchez: Race and Slavery in the Mississippi Borderlands. By Christian Pinnen. (
University of Georgia Press,
328pp., illustrations. $59.95 hardcover.)
M. Scott Heerman
Ethnohistory (2022) 69 (3): 356–357.
M. Scott Heerman; Complexion of Empire in Natchez: Race and Slavery in the Mississippi Borderlands. Ethnohistory 1 July 2022; 69 (3): 356–357. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00141801-9706016
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