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Chains of Love

Slave Couples in Antebellum South Carolina

Emily West

Publication Year: 2004

Historians have traditionally neglected relationships between slave men and women during the antebellum period. In Chains of Love, historian Emily West remedies this situation by investigating the social and cultural history of slave relationships in the very heart of the South. _x000B__x000B_Focusing on South Carolina, West deals directly with the most intimate areas of the slave experience including courtship, love and affection between spouses, the abuse of slave women by white men, and the devastating consequences of forced separations. Slaves fought these separations through cross-gender bonding and cross-plantation marriages, illustrating West's thesis about slave marriage as a fierce source of resistance to the oppression of slavery in general. _x000B__x000B_Making expert use of sources such as the Works Progress Administration narratives, slave autobiographies, slave owner records, and church records, this book-length study is the first to focus on the primacy of spousal support as a means for facing oppression. Chains of Love provides telling insights into the nature of the slave family that emerged from these tensions, celebrates its strength, and reveals new dimensions to the slaves' struggle for freedom.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Many people have provided me with help of one kind or another during this project, which began as a Ph.D. thesis at the University of Liverpool. First and foremost, I should like to express my gratitude to my dissertation supervisor, Mike Tadman. ...

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pp. 1-18

This book explores intimate areas of the slave experience—relationships between men and women, love and affection between spouses, the abuse of female slaves by whites, the consequences of forced separations, and the overall sense of family among communities held in bondage. ...

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1. Courtship and Marriage

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pp. 19-42

What were the courtship and marriage rituals of antebellum South Carolina slaves, and from where did they originate? What was the nature of slave marital life? Little is known about these aspects of the lives of slaves, since traditional accounts of their social lives (largely written by white owners) tended to misinterpret ...

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2. Family Life

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pp. 43-79

In order to take further the argument that, despite owners, a strong sense of family was the norm among South Carolina slaves, the structure and nature of their families will now be examined. This chapter is concerned with the extent to which two-parent families were common among slaves, ...

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3. Work, Gender, and Status

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pp. 80-115

This chapter focuses on the work that slaves performed for owners and their own families. It also examines the extent to which labor was segregated by gender to assess the implications of work patterns on relationships between enslaved men and women. ...

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4. Interracial Sexual Contact

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pp. 116-140

Chapters 4 and 5 examine the exploitation inflicted upon slaves and the impact of this on male-female relations. Exploitation could take many forms, including physical punishment, sexual abuse, or sale and separation from loved ones. What is significant is that oppression by owners stimulated the slaves’ desire to create social space ...

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5. Enforced Separations

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pp. 141-156

In this extract from his autobiography, Charles Ball poignantly describes being forcibly separated from his wife and children in a chain gang that was headed for South Carolina and Georgia before being sold in Columbia, South Carolina. The impact of forced separations upon slaves was undoubtedly immense, ...

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pp. 157-160

The fight of slaves to find their missing family members and to legalize their marriages following the ending of the Civil War has been well documented.1 It is likely that they sought to legally validate their partnerships in this way for various reasons, including the fact that it made their relationships acceptable to the law, ...


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pp. 161-164


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pp. 165-178


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pp. 179-184

E-ISBN-13: 9780252092848
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252029035

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 867794218
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Chains of Love

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Slaves -- South Carolina -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Slaves -- Family relationships -- South Carolina -- History -- 19th century.
  • Couples -- South Carolina -- History -- 19th century.
  • Man-woman relationships -- South Carolina -- History -- 19th century.
  • Slaves -- South Carolina -- Biography.
  • Slavery -- South Carolina -- History -- 19th century.
  • Plantation life -- South Carolina -- History -- 19th century.
  • South Carolina -- Race relations.
  • South Carolina -- History -- 1775-1865.
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