Unlike other histories that treat the stories of the First Ladies’ slaves as separate from the lives of their mistresses, Ties That Bound closely examines the relationships that developed between the First Ladies and their slaves. For elite women and their families, slaves were more than an agricultural workforce; slavery was an entire domestic way of life that reflected and reinforced their status. In many cases slaves were more constant companions to the white women of the household than were their husbands and sons, who often traveled or were at war. By looking closely at the complicated intimacy these women shared, Schwartz is able to reveal how they negotiated their roles, illuminating much about the lives of slaves themselves, as well as class, race, and gender in early America.
By detailing the prevalence and prominence of slaves in the daily lives of women who helped shape the country, Schwartz makes it clear that it is impossible to honestly tell the stories of these women while ignoring their slaves. She asks us to consider anew the embedded power of slavery in the very earliest conception of American politics, society, and everyday domestic routines.