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Preface Writing in 1908, W. E. B. Du Bois complained about the difficulty in arriving at some "clear picture of the family relations of slaves between the Southern apologist and his picture of cabin life, with idyllic devotion and careless toil, and that of the abolitionist, with his tales of family disruption and cruelty and illegitimate mulattoes." He warned that "between these pictures the student must steer clear to find a reasonable statement of the average truth."l ToHave and to Hold: Slave Work and Family Life in Antebellum South Carolina is an attempt to walk a line between these two extremes. If it has a bias, it is against so heavy an emphasis on the brutality of the institution that it obscures the humanity, endeavor, and creativity of the enslaved . Slavery was a brutal institution deserving of all the condemnation heaped upon it; but all too often, our indictment of the system leads to the implicit indictment of those who were its unwilling victims. In ToHave and toHold, rather than focusingon the institution ofslavery, I examine two focal areas in the lives of slaves: work and family. Slave owners used slaves as their property, for their own benefit. Whatever relationships developed between master and slave, the economic factor remained fundamental. Few masters purchased slaves merely for the pleasure of their company or as objects for their sadism.The basic ethos behind plantation management was "dictated by a desire for profit maximization and the need to reduce losses."2 The political economy of the South echoed as loudly in the public world of the slave owner's farm and plantation as their economic imperatives did in the private world of the slaves. Slave owners wanted their slaves to work hard and, when possible, to reproduce themselves , whereas slaveswanted as much control over their lives as they could wrest from their owners. xin Preface The interests of masters and the hopes of slaves converged in the area of work and family. Antebellum slave owners and their slaves knew that the stability of the economic and social institutions in both worlds depended upon the slaves' productivity in the work arena and reproductivity in the quarters. Slaves also were aware that their work efforts for their owners and for themselves facilitated the development and maintenance of important institutions in the slave quarters, although their efforts could not guarantee stability in their private world. Slaves were not passive victims. Few ever became what their owners wished them to be: hardworking but docile, enterprising but obedient. The slaves' domestic economy—the production and marketing of goods by, for, and largely among themselves —was made possible by a system under which masters encouraged the slaves to work first for their owners in the fields and then in gardens of their own. The forms of these labor arrangements were never determined wholly by slave owners individually or as a group; on every farm and plantation slaves endeavored to influence the nature of their work experience and take advantage of available opportunities. An ability (and willingness) to execute their work assignments in the public world efficiently gained the slaves more time to spend working their gardens and increased their "living space." The success of these efforts was reflected in a growing level of mutual trust that reduced the slave owners' need for vigilance and increased the slaves' autonomy. Within the relative privacy of the slave quarters, the slaves' work efforts resulted in such accumulation of property and wealth that clear social and economic differences emerged among slave families. The slaves' internal economy facilitated the exchange of goods beyond the slave quarters and gave those with the necessary means access to goods and services otherwise available only through their owner, if at all. Those slaves who were organized in productive family units were best placed to exploit their gardens , accumulate property, and provide much needed extras for themselves . Rather than relying on their owners, these slaves endeavored to provide for their own. At the same time, their productivity, stability, and influence in the slave quarters made them increasingly indispensable to their owners. The more slave owners relied on and trusted their slaves to remain hardworking, productive, and family centered, the more social and culxiv Preface tural space they conceded to the slaves. For their part, the slaves used this space to control important areas of their lives. Nowhere was this clearer than in their efforts to organize themselves into families and to work to protect the integrity of those...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820337272
Related ISBN
9780820318301
MARC Record
OCLC
656846698
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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