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?2\ For Richerfor Poorer: The Family as an Economic Unit The work and garden system was a primary stimulus to collective family labor and provided both an organizing principle and a rationale for stable slave families. But slaves had probably always sought the added protection that group activity promised. Unable to provide all their individual needs, they combined their efforts in the world of the slave quarters much as they were called upon to do in the public world of the master. Thus the practice of slaves working as a family developed partly out of necessity and partly out of habit, but, as shown in Chapter i, there was also an element of coercion on the part of masters. Although a work and garden system that accentuated the productive and social functions of the slave family provided an effective means for masters to obtain material and social benefits from their slaves, they were always ready and willing to resort to brute force when peaceable means proved unsuccessful.1 To exploit the opportunities available under a work and garden system and thus gain a modicum of control of their working life, slaves endeavored to surround themselves with those whose lives were most closely tied to their own and upon whom they could most readily rely—their immediate and extended families. Young or old, able-bodied or disabled, each member could contribute to the family's domestic productivity. The physical exertion and the time required to perform satisfactorily for their owners and then to cultivate their own gardens placed a high premium on cooperative work practices. Without assistance from family members, 32 For Richer for Poorer individual slaves would have struggled fully to exploit the land they tilled and other means of reducing their dependency. Throughout the state slaves worked in family groups and pooled their efforts. David Harvey, formerly a slave in low-country Beaufort District, appeared before the Southern Claims Commission in 1874. His former master testified on David's behalf, recalling that the former slave had "always had a good deal of provisions and poultry which he and his family made and raised." The extent to which David and his family formed an economic as well as a social unit was perhaps part of the reason why he lost his horse to Union troops. Invited by the soldiers to go along with them, he had refused, explaining that he "would not leave my family." Not even the prospect of immediate freedom or the desire to protect a highly valued possession could convince him to leave his family.2 Emily Bass, from the middle country, assisted in the claim of her father, Silas Cook, before the commission. Emily recalled living at her father's house on Thomas Cook's Bennetsville plantation in Marlboro District. Emily's family had lived together and worked together. The four acres of land given to them by their master was tilled by Cook "and his children," who "worked on [it] in overtime"—that is, during the time they were not working for their master. In this way Cook and his family were able to "raise crops for many years before the war," and Cook cultivated his cotton , which he sold "every year."3 Family members were expected to contribute to the household economy . Even the youngest child might be called upon to perform some service in the family interest. It was not uncommon, for example, for young children to work with the family group long before their owners sent them into the fields as a fraction of a working hand. Margaret Hughes, born a slave on Daniel Finley's Columbia plantation, was "too young to work" in the fields, but she was old enough to have "helped work de gardens" with her family. Hughes remembered working in the garden with her father. Jessie Williams recalled having worked with his parents, Henry and Maria, before he was old enough to "shoulder my poke and go to de field." A former slave from the up-country, Henry Gladney of Fairfield District, pointed out that although he "wasn't a very big boy in slavery time" he did "'member choppin cotton and pickin cotton and peas 'Ion 'side mammyin de field."4 33 TO HAVE AND TO HOLD The work slaves did together for the family group was not restricted to their gardens. Their domestic labor could be both an additional source of income and an opportunity to produce essential goods for domestic consumption : clothing, bedding, cooking utensils...


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MARC Record
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