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3 In Sickness and in Health: Disease, Death, and Family Disruption Throughout South Carolina, slaves worked hard to take advantage of the opportunities available to them. Their extra work activities and their efforts in forming and maintaining stable families gathered pace as the antebellum period wore on. The very factors that contributed to the slaves' productivity, strengthened families, and generally improved their life chances also helped to mitigate the power of an outside force that could not be ensured against, foreseen, or prevented but which often had dire consequences for the slave family—the frequency of untimely death. A strong, well-organized family could provide its members some protection against illness, disease, and death. By far the greatest single threat to the stability and material interests of the slave family was early or untimely death.1 In her study of the lowcountry Ball family slaves, Cheryll Ann Cody estimated that of unions begun when both partners were between the ages of twenty and twenty-four little more than 80 percent could expect their union to lastfiveyears, some 60 percent could expect ten years without the death of a partner, and less than half could expect unions to survive fifteen years, at which point the proportion would rapidly decline. Thus, she calculates, only about 15 percent of slave couples could expect their union to survive until both partners had reached fifty years of age. Cody's list of the main determinants of adult slave mortality includes old age, respiratory diseases, nervous system diseases, dropsy, typhoid fever, childbirth, and tuberculosis.2 If these 79 TO HAVE AND TO HOLD figures for the 620 Ball slaves studied were applicable to the state as a whole, single-parent families and orphans would have been a common feature of slavelife, and South Carolina slavefamilies would have struggled to maintain their productive and emotional unity. Yetthe regional variations discussed above also affected the health ofslaves. The American Slave narratives for South Carolina provide only occasional references to death and family breakup, but death wasno stranger to the slave quarters; its arrival was always traumatic, reverberating on the immediate family and often on the wider black community. The personal effect of the untimely loss of a loved one to individual slave families is not altogether clear. If only in economic terms, however, a family's ability to provide for itself could have been seriously impaired by the loss of a significant member. Furthermore, there existed something of a regional variation in the frequencyand structural impact of untimely death on the slave family. Where a slave lived was a crucial factor in determining his or her life chances. In the low country, Amos Gadsden of Charleston, born in 1849, had a grandmother who "lived over 100 years" and had worked as "nurse to the children." Dadsden lost his mother, Ellen, during "the first part of the war," when Amos was about twelve years old. Ellen had worked as a laundress , and following her death, Amos grew up "with the white children in the family" and "sometime I slept at the foot of my mistress bed." His father had "'tended the yard and was coachman." As well as receiving training to work in the house when he was older, Amos was also trained "for a yard boy." Because his parents were part of the white household within which he had been trained to fit, the loss of his mother perhaps had a less disturbing effect on young Amos than might have otherwise been the case. Maria Jenkins's mother, Ellen, died the "first year of the war." Her family had lived on Hugh Wilson's WadalawIsland plantation. Soon after Ellen's death (and perhaps as a direct result), her father,Aaron, "put heself free off to New Orleans," never to be heard from again.Maria was about fourteen years old.3 Celia Woodberry of Marion District in the middle country drowned sometime before the end of the Civil War. She had received word that her mother had been struck down with the fever "en was bad off." Needing to cross the river to Sand Hills when it was "a might high," Celia wasadvised 80 In Sickness and in Health by Pa Cudjoe that crossing would be dangerous but that he was willing to risk it to take her and her young daughter Louisa across. While they were crossing, the boat overturned, Celia was drowned, and Louisa was "raised up a motherless child" by Pa Cudjoe.4 In 1846, Dolly...

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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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