On Slavery's Border
Missouri's Small Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Georgia Press
Series: Early American Places
Growing up in Kansas City, I understood that Missouri was a border state during the Civil War, and I also had a vague notion that the region was not a land of large plantations; however, I was never taught the history of slavery in the state. When choosing a topic for an undergraduate honors thesis, I decided to explore the experiences of the slaves and slaveholders who lived in my natal state. Without fully understanding it at the time, I stumbled into a historiographically significant project....
Forty years after the Civil War, John G. Haskell evoked a world of slave-holding and slavery that differed significantly from the descriptions of large cotton or rice plantations, complete with the big house and the slave quarters, that have become the quintessential representation of the antebellum South. Haskell described slavery in Missouri as a highly personal system of economic and social relations, much more “domestic” than what prevailed in the plantation South.1 This idealized...
1. “They came like an Avalanche”: The Development of a Small-Slaveholding Promised Land
During the winter of 1855, Thomas and Paulina Stratton prepared to move their children and slaves from western Virginia to their new home in central Missouri. This was the Strattons’ second move in less than five years, each one undertaken with the hope of improving their circumstances. The couple lived with Thomas’s widowed mother, Mary Ann Stratton, in her Roanoke County, Virginia, home after their marriage in 1842. Thomas farmed...
2. Households in the Middle Ground: Small Slaveholders’ Family Strategies
In the late 1850s, Martha McDonald, a Missouri school girl, meticulously
copied the following words, attributed to Alexander Hamilton, into
her classroom notebook, suggesting that they held deep meaning for her.
How to Build a Happy Home Six things are requisite. Integrity must be the architect, tidiness the upholster. It must be warmed by affection, lighted up with cheerfulness, and industry must be the ventilator renewing the atmosphere and bringing in fresh salubrity day by day while over all as a protecting canopy and glory nothing will suffice except the blessing of God.1Middle-class Americans...
3. “I was at home with the Negroes at work”: Labor within Missouri’s Small-Slaveholding Households
Stephen Hempstead kept a journal of life on his farm five miles outside of the city of St. Louis from his arrival in 1811 until his death in 1831. Year in and year out Hempstead faithfully chronicled both the mundane and profound happenings in his own life and the life of his wife, Mary, as well as those of his many children, grandchildren, and few slaves. He noted...
4. “May we as one family live in peace and harmony”: Small-Slaveholding Household Relations
One autumn day in 1852 while still living in western Virginia, Paulina Stratton incurred the displeasure of all the slaves on the farm after she whipped a young slave boy for an unspecified infraction. The boy’s mother, Dilsy, “got angry jawed a great deal” about what she considered unjust punishment. When he returned home later that day, Thomas Stratton...
5 “Mah pappy belong to a neighbor”: Marriage and Family among Missouri Slaves
Mary Bell, a former slave, remembered life during slavery as extremely difficult for her parents, Spotswood and Orry Rice. The Howard County, Missouri, couple began their marriage in 1852, but spent the first twelve years of it living on separate slaveholdings. Benjamin W. Lewis, a large tobacco planter and manufacturer...
6. “We all lived neighbors”: Sociability in Small-Slave-holding Neighborhoods
Archibald Little Hager was an astute observer of the many happenings in his Perry County neighborhood; for twenty-six years he faithfully chronicled weddings, births, sicknesses, deaths, sales of land and slaves, and even beatings and shootings involving his kin and neighbors. Hager was not a slaveholder, yet he maintained close relationships with many who were. He described a community where people knew their neighbors well and...
7. The War Within: The Passing of Border Slavery
In September of 1864 while stationed at Benton Barracks in St. Louis, Spotswood Rice penned two letters regarding the welfare of his children, who remained enslaved in Howard County. Rice explained to his daughters Corra and Mary that they should not despair that they had not yet gained their freedom, but instead “be assured that I will have you if it cost me my life.” He expected to...
Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 16 b&w photos, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2010
Series Title: Early American Places
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