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On Slavery's Border

Missouri's Small Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865

Diane Mutti Burke

Publication Year: 2010

On Slavery’s Border is a bottom-up examination of how slavery and slaveholding were influenced by both the geography and the scale of the slaveholding enterprise. Missouri’s strategic access to important waterways made it a key site at the periphery of the Atlantic world. By the time of statehood in 1821, people were moving there in large numbers, especially from the upper South, hoping to replicate the slave society they’d left behind.
 
Diane Mutti Burke focuses on the Missouri counties located along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to investigate small-scale slavery at the level of the household and neighborhood. She examines such topics as small slaveholders’ child-rearing and fiscal strategies, the economics of slavery, relations between slaves and owners, the challenges faced by slave families, sociability among enslaved and free Missourians within rural neighborhoods, and the disintegration of slavery during the Civil War. Mutti Burke argues that economic and social factors gave Missouri slavery an especially intimate quality. Owners directly oversaw their slaves and lived in close proximity with them, sometimes in the same building. White Missourians believed this made for a milder version of bondage. Some slaves, who expressed fear of being sold further south, seemed to agree.
 
Mutti Burke reveals, however, that while small slaveholding created some advantages for slaves, it also made them more vulnerable to abuse and interference in their personal lives. In a region with easy access to the free states, the perception that slavery was threatened spawned white anxiety, which frequently led to violent reassertions of supremacy.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Contents

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pp. ix-

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xvi

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....

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Introduction

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pp. 1-126

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...

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1. “They came like an Avalanche”: The Development of a Small-Slaveholding Promised Land

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pp. 17-51

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...

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2. Households in the Middle Ground: Small Slaveholders’ Family Strategies

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pp. 52-92

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.1
Middle-class Americans...

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3. “I was at home with the Negroes at work”: Labor within Missouri’s Small-Slaveholding Households

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pp. 93-141

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...

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4. “May we as one family live in peace and harmony”: Small-Slaveholding Household Relations

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pp. 142-197

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...

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5 “Mah pappy belong to a neighbor”: Marriage and Family among Missouri Slaves

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pp. 198-230

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...

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6. “We all lived neighbors”: Sociability in Small-Slave-holding Neighborhoods

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pp. 231-267

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...

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7. The War Within: The Passing of Border Slavery

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pp. 268-307

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...

Tables

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pp. 309-312

Notes

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pp. 313-371

Bibliography

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pp. 373-396

Index

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pp. 397-413


E-ISBN-13: 9780820337364
E-ISBN-10: 0820337366
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820336367
Print-ISBN-10: 082033636X

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 16 b&w photos, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Early American Places

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Subject Headings

  • Border States (U.S. Civil War) -- Social conditions -- Case studies.
  • Slaves -- Missouri -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Farm life -- Missouri -- History -- 19th century.
  • Households -- Missouri -- History -- 19th century.
  • Slaveholders -- Missouri -- History -- 19th century.
  • Slavery -- Missouri -- History -- 19th century.
  • Missouri -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Missouri -- Race relations -- History -- 19th century.
  • Whites -- Missouri -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • African Americans -- Missouri -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
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