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C h a p t e r 2 Beasts of the Southern Wild: Slaveholders, Slaves, and Other Animals in Charles Ball’s Slavery in the United States Thomas G. Andrews On a Maryland road in 1785, a slave family was torn apart. We might be tempted to tell the story of its sudden dissolution simply as a human drama acted out by a Maryland planter, a “Georgia trader,” an enslaved woman, and her four-year-old son. Even half a century later the boy, who published his life story in 1836 under the pseudonym Charles Ball, winced at how “the terrors of the scene return[ed]” to him “with painful vividness.”1 Yet Ball could recollect neither the scene nor its terrors without introducing a fifth and more surprising player: a horse.2 The animal was hardly the agent of Ball’s suffering. Yet it populated Ball’s narrative nonetheless. The horse mattered, not just because it was present but also because it lent the Maryland slaveholder the power he needed to rip Charles Ball away from his mother, who had just been purchased by the Georgia trader along with Ball’s siblings. Charles, too young to survive the journey south, was instead sold to the local man whose horse Ball could never forget. The boy’s new owner picked Charles up, hoisted the boy onto his saddle , “and started home.” Charles’s grief-stricken mother “ran after me, took me down from the horse, clasped me in her arms, and wept loudly and bitterly 22 Chapter 2 over me.” She begged Ball’s master “to buy her and the rest of her children” instead of letting them “be carried away by the negro buyers.” The Georgia trader, fearful that the Maryland planter might accede to the woman’s wishes, hustled over to Ball’s mother, “told her he was her master now, and ordered her to give that little negro to its owner, and come back with him.” As she begged for the slave driver’s mercy, he began to beat her. To protect her son, she thrust him back into his new owner’s arms. The man “quickened the pace of his horse; and as we advanced, the cries of my poor parent became more and more indistinct.” Eventually the woman’s shrieks “died away in the distance , and I never again heard the voice of my poor mother.”3 Charles Ball rode into an uncertain future perched atop a trotting horse in his new master’s clutch. The creature that bore him away from his mother was but the first of many animals to inhabit Slavery in the United States: A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Charles Ball, a Black Man . . . , first published in Lewistown, Pennsylvania in 1836. Animals figured in this narrative as meat and motive power, predators and prey, instruments of plantation discipline and essential adjuncts in the struggles Ball waged to stave off hunger, establish a human community, assert his autonomy, and gain his freedom.4 It should come as no surprise to historians of antebellum slavery in the United States that nonhuman creatures figured centrally in one slave’s experience of bondage. Indeed animals have long occupied a niche in slavery studies.5 The scholarly literature contains innumerable references to bloodhounds , mules, hogs, chickens, opossums, and a veritable menagerie of other creatures. Yet a systematic analysis of human-animal relationships during the heyday of America’s “peculiar institution” remains long overdue. Charles Ball understood that the story of Slavery in the United States could never be retold as an exclusively human drama. Animals played pivotal roles in the power struggles, social bonds, and acts of resistance through which Ball fashioned a life. Serving both documentary and rhetorical functions, nonhuman creatures shaped Charles Ball’s travails as a slave and a fugitive, as well as the narrative acts by which this escaped slave sought to uphold and voice his own irreducible humanity. Slavery in the United States, like the other fugitive slave narratives that began to appear in the mid-1830s, functioned simultaneously as testimony and literature, an exercise in self-making and a political intervention—a record, a performance, and a negotiation.6 Unfortunately only limited evidence remains to document its production. No one has ever determined the identity of the fugitive whose story the narrative purported to tell.7 The pseudonymous Beasts of the Southern Wild 23 Charles Ball never embarked upon the lecture circuit that turned Josiah Henson , Sojourner...


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