Slavery on the Periphery: The Kansas-Missouri Border in the Antebellum and Civil War Eras. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016.
Slavery on the Periphery traces the rise and fall of chattel slavery on the Kansas-Missouri border from the earliest years of American settlement through the Civil War, exploring how its presence shaped life on this critical geographical, political, and social fault line. I explore how this dynamic, small-scale system--characterized by slaves' diverse occupations, close contact between slaves and slaveholders, a robust hiring market, and abroad marriages--emerged from an established upper South slaveholding culture. Awareness of space and local landscapes was also a defining feature of slaves' experiences, because slave mobility could be a powerful means of resistance. This mobility became particularly crucial when the sectional conflict escalated in the 1850s and 1860s, as both enslaved and white residents became central players in a violent national struggle over the future of slavery in America.
Drawing on extensive archival research, this work makes clear that slavery's expansion into Kansas was more than a theoretical, ideological debate. Chattel slavery was already extending its grasp into the West. By foregrounding African Americans' place in the border narrative, I illustrate how slavery's presence on this geographic periphery set the stage for the Civil War and emancipation here, as it did elsewhere in the United States. To purchase, visit UGA Press, Amazon, or even better, your local independent bookstore (via IndieBound or Bookshop).
“The Kidnapping of Charley Fisher: Questioning the Legal Boundaries of Slavery in Bleeding Kansas.” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 40, no. 3 (Autumn 2017): 150-167. https://www.kshs.org/publicat/history/2017autumn_epps.pdf.
In 1859, an African American barber named Charley Fisher was abducted from the Planter’s Hotel in Leavenworth under the claim he was a fugitive slave. He managed to escape his captors and connected with local abolitionists who put up a spirited defense on his behalf. What ensued was a heated controversy, centered in the courts, over his legal status, slaveholders’ property rights, and the use of violence in resisting the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. By exploring Fisher’s remarkable—and virtually unknown—story, this article reveals how partisan tensions in Kansas over the slavery question continued into the late 1850s. His story illustrates the difficulties of implementing federal authority in a region torn by an internal civil war and demonstrates how the remanding of an alleged fugitive had implications for slavery’s status in both the territory and the nation.
"Before the Border War: Slavery and Southern Settlement on the Western Frontier, 1825-1845.” In Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri: The Long Civil War on the Border, ed. Jonathan Earle and Diane Mutti Burke, 29-46. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2013.
This is my contribution to an anthology of essays on the Bleeding Kansas crisis. In it, I explore how early white settlers in the region, who primarily hailed from Upper South states (such as Kentucky, Tennessee, and Maryland) implanted a slaveholding culture on this frontier. Progress was the leitmotif that bound white Americans of all stripes to the West, and for white Southerners, slavery's spread was part and parcel of that progressive spirit. Although sources from their perspective are scarce, it is clear that the enslaved African Americans who lived on this border were instrumental in building these frontier communities. The border region offers an excellent window into how small-scale slaveholding and Southern migration coalesced to influence the economic and political development of this key geographic borderland. To purchase this volume, visit the UPK website, IndieBound, or Bookshop.
For a complete list of publications, please see my CV.
"Slavery on the Periphery is clearly argued, thematically coherent, interpretatively rich, lucidly written, and it fills a significant historiographical gap in the literature on slavery, emancipation, and the history of the American West."
- Aaron Astor
"Deeply researched, Slavery on the Periphery recaptures the lives of enslaved African Americans and adds a new dimension to the literature on both slavery and the Kansas Civil War.”
- Nicole Etcheson
Ball State University
“Epps’s impressive archival research has uncovered much interesting material regarding this borderland. This and her command of a wide range of secondary studies results in a detailed portrayal of slavery and its legacy in western Missouri and eastern Kansas.”
- Stanley Harrold
South Carolina State University
"This book is an excellent examination of an often overlooked aspect of slavery. Epps demonstrates that although the enslaved people of the Kansas–Missouri borderland may have been living on the periphery of the nation, they were
in no way peripheral to discussions over slavery's expansion."