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Introduction The last fifteen years or so have witnessed a marked shift in the approach to the study of slave life and culture. The new focus on the slaves' domestic production and their internal economy has raised questions and moved attention away from what the masters did for the slaves to what the slaves were able to do for themselves.1 A close examination of work practices and their influence on behavior in the slave quarters suggests a clear relationship between the slaves' economic activities and family life: the work system was an important determinant of slave family structure. Because work was central in the lives of slaves, this book examines the work systems that slave owners operated in rural South Carolina. Antebellum slave owners applied work systems they hoped would produce slaves who were industrious, efficient, manageable, and contented. For their part, slaves aspired to the twin goals of some control over their working life and the ability to create and maintain social institutions of their own making. Aswas so often the case under slavery, neither master nor slave was ever completely satisfied with the resulting arrangement. A major point of intersection in the aspirations of both masters and slaves, however, was the slave family.Although slaveholders tended to view the slave family as little more than a means of controlling and reproducing their slave labor force, the slaves cherished the opportunity to organize their lives around the family unit and made it the primary institution in the slave quarters. The quality of life former slaves recalled having experienced under slavery was consistently informed by the nature of their interaction with family members. Slaves reached for any opportunity to take control of this important area of their lives, and the work and garden xix Introduction systems under which they worked provided a small window of opportunity . Because slave owners wanted hardworking and well-behaved slaves and slaves equally desired the economic and social space that might improve their ability to protect themselves and their families against the rigors of slavery, the links between work and slave family structure were clear to both antagonists.2 Although South Carolina slave owners tried to use their advantageous position to realize their goals without making any concession to their slaves, they had to accede to the slaves' demands for some control over their private life. If masters were to realize any of the gains they expected from innovative work systems, they had to give the slaves some incentive to fulfill their part. By looking at the state not as a whole but, whenever possible, as three distinct regions (low, middle, and up-country), I identify and examine the work practices of each region and assess their influence on slave family structure. The evidence suggests that work systems facilitated the creation of some economic and social space between the slaves and their world and the owners and their world that permitted the slaves some control over their family life. Working for themselves, slaves throughout the state managed to provide more than a modicum of their needs. The production of surplus goods, made possible by laboring under work and garden systems, resulted in considerable property accumulation and social differences among slaves. Another result was the development of a dynamic commercial arena amongslaves. The variations in wealth among slave families reflected the differences among families, not only in size but more in performance. How well an individual executed his or her work obligations was important; how a group of individualsorganized in a mutually supportive and productive economic unit was more important as hardworking and productive families established for themselves a position from which they could better protect their immediate interests. For most, this was the integrity of the family. How slaves worked, therefore, is a major concern of this book because the satisfactory execution of work assignments for their owners directly contributed to the slave family's ability to create a living space between the public world of the master and the more private world of the slaves. The more sophisticated the work system under which the slaves labored, the more likely they were to accumulate the property that could affect their xx Introduction life chances under slavery. The slaves' ability to find suitable partners, marry, start families, and provide some protection against external attacks was dependent on their ability to function well in the work arena. South Carolina's slaves gave themselves some edge against the violent attacks on their persons and their families that...

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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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