The Roving Editor

Or Talks with Slaves in the Southern States, by James Redpath

Edited by John R. McKivigan

Paperback - £24.95

Publication date:

15 April 1996

Length of book:

388 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271026022

While a reporter at Horace Greeley's New York Tribune, James Redpath developed a strong curiosity about slavery and decided that he would travel south "to see slavery with my own eyes." Redpath interviewed slaves, recorded their opinions, and collected these letters into book form, publishing them in 1859 as The Roving Editor. While some historians over the years have utilized Redpath's book, many have treated it as merely another travel account of the antebellum South, dismissing the interviews as the fabrication of a radical abolitionist.

John R. McKivigan has uncovered important historical records that certify for the first time the authenticity of Redpath's interviews; he presents here the original newspaper articles that supply the places and times of many of the slave encounters, which Redpath had edited out of the book. Furthermore, using Redpath's unpublished correspondence, McKivigan verifies his residence in southern communities at the times these interviews were reported to have taken place, making The Roving Editor one of the most valuable and compelling sources of the slaves' own testimony regarding their treatment in the late antebellum period.

“John McKivigan has done a splendid job of editing this paperback volume. . . . This little-known book, largely overshadowed heretofore by Frederick Law Olmsted’s famous The Cotton Kingdom, will now, in this fine reprint, take its rightful place among the many volumes that enable us to gain some sense of the reality of American slavery and of the extremes to which Americans were driven to be rid of it.”

Georgia Historical Quarterly