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The Quarters and the Fields

Slave Families in the Non-Cotton South

Damian Alan Pargas

Publication Year: 2010

The Quarters and the Fields offers a unique approach to the examination of slavery. Rather than focusing on slave work and family life on cotton plantations, Damian Pargas compares the practice of slavery among the other major agricultural cultures in the nineteenth-century South: tobacco, mixed grain, rice, and sugar cane. He reveals how the demands of different types of masters and crops influenced work patterns and habits, which in turn shaped slaves' family life.

By presenting a broader view of the complex forces that shaped enslaved people's family lives, not only from outside but also from within, this book takes an inclusive approach to the slave agency debate. A comparative study that examines the importance of time and place for slave families, The Quarters and the Fields provides a means for understanding them as they truly were: dynamic social units that were formed and existed under different circumstances across time and space.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright

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List of Tables

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Researching and writing this book took me, all told, about five years. Along the way—as I developed a vague idea about American slave families and turned it into a book—I was fortunate enough to have ample support from family, colleagues, friends, and institutions. Without their help this...

Part I. Rethinking the Experiences of Slave Families

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Introduction: Agency, Diversity, and Slave Families

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pp. 3-12

Almost a century and a half have passed since the fiery collapse of slavery and the emancipation of over four million African Americans held in bondage in the American South. In recent years a vast outpouring of research has rightfully salvaged slavery from the margins of American...

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1. Three Slave Societies of the Non-Cotton South

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pp. 13-36

What kinds of staple crops dominated slave-based agriculture in northern Virginia, low country South Carolina, and southern Louisiana? To what extent was the cultivation of these crops profitable? Did the various communities in which slave families lived experience economic decline...

Part II. The Balancing Act: Work and Families

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2. The Nature of Agricultural Labor

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pp. 39-62

The nature of agricultural labor in various southern localities had important consequences for enslaved people’s time and flexibility in reconciling their status as forced laborers with their duties as family members. Few scholars would disagree that work defined time in the rural slave societies...

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3. Family Contact during Working Hours

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pp. 63-87

The nature of work on agricultural units in various localities of the non-cotton South and the development of regional agriculture in general, examined earlier, set the context for the following two chapters; these focus on the effects of work and agriculture on the daily experiences of the...

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4. Family-Based Internal Economies

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pp. 88-113

Enslaved people’s extreme dependence on their masters for shelter, clothing, and food—all of which were provided in standardized rations, regardless of how much individual slaves actually produced—theoretically placed them outside the realm of the daily struggle that characterizes free...

Part III. Social Landscapes: Family Structure and Stability

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5. Slaveholding across Time and Space

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pp. 117-141

The land and its products certainly played a guiding role in the daily experiences of slave families, during both their time for the master and their time for themselves, but at a more fundamental, demographic level the nature of regional agriculture also determined the very basis for family life. Local...

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6. Marriage Strategies and Family Formation

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pp. 142-170

A great deal of the historical disagreement concerning slave family life has revolved, and continues to revolve, around the issues of marriage strategies and family formation. For much of the twentieth century, historians of southern slavery believed that family formation was essentially...

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7. Forced Separation

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pp. 171-200

Family formation among slaves did not guarantee that families would always remain intact, whatever their structure, whether co-residential or not. No slave family in the antebellum South was completely safeguarded from the prospect of forced separation, but scholars have long disagreed about...

Part IV. Conclusions

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8. Weathering Different Storms

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pp. 203-206

The secession of Virginia, South Carolina, and Louisiana from the Union in the winter of 1860–61 placed the institution of slavery in each of those states—as in the rest of the South—on what would ultimately prove the path to destruction. By the time the Civil War ended in 1865, the storm...


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pp. 207-234


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pp. 235-248


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pp. 249-259

E-ISBN-13: 9780813036588
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813038049
Print-ISBN-10: 0813038049

Page Count: 274
Illustrations: 9 tables
Publication Year: 2010