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4 To Love and to Cherish: The Slave Family The family was the primary institution in the slave quarters, and the efforts slaves made to establish and maintain the integrity of the family provides the broadest expression of their worldview.1 Although supportive family units helped to protect slaves from the harshest aspects of a cruel, arbitrary, and frequently inhumane system, slaves knew that the formation and maintenance of a family, much less a productive unit, was not an easy and painless process. On the contrary, the vast majority of the slaves had to overcome a multitude of obstacles in the path of forming a stable family. In 1820, the state of South Carolina was home to some 260,000 slaves; in 1850, there were approximately 385,000 slaves and 25,600 slave owners. Even if he was lucky enough to live on one of the hundred or so South Carolina plantations that had 200 or more slaves in 1850, there was no guarantee that a single male would find an eligible female on the home plantation.2 Most eligible males seeking to marry and begin a family had to look for someone off the plantation.3 The numerous problems many would have encountered were expressed succinctly by Andy Marion, a Fairfield District slave. Born in 1844, Marion lived on an up-country plantation containing some seventy-two slaves under the supervision of Will Brice, a master described as "cruel" and who was in the habit of selling "off slaves" when they "git too many." Marion explained that slaves "had a hell of a time gittin' a wife." If an "eligible" female was not to be found on the home place "to suit you and the chances was you didn't suit them, why, what could you do?" Marion continued: "You couldn't spring up and grab 141 TO HAVE AND TO HOLD a mule and ride to de next plantation without a written pass." Theseslaves had their work cut out for them. "S'pose you gits your master's consent to go? De gal's master got to consent, de gal got to consent, de gal's daddy got to consent, de gal's mammygot to consent."4 AndyMarion's statement suggests that, had there been a suitable partner available on the home place he would have had no qualms about marrying someone there, that is, if he could get the consent of all concerned—the girl, her master, and her parents. Confirmation of the role of the master in this important area of slave life was provided by Beaufort District resident and former slave Sam Mitchell. His master,John Chaplin, had to be informed as soon as slaves "begin to cote." And if Chaplin refused to give his blessing, "den dat settle it you can't marry." Chaplin, typical of many masters, preferred his slaves not to "marry slave on nodder person plantation." Writing in 1833, one planter summed up what was probably the view of most masters: "In allowing the men to marry out of the plantation, you give them an uncontrollable right to be frequently absent." For, "Wherever their wives live, there they consider their home; consequently they are indifferent to the interest of the plantation to which they actually belong." Perhaps of greatest concern to this planter was that an "abroad" marriage "creates [in slaves] a feeling of independence from being, of right, out of the control of their master for a time." However much masters desired their male slaves to marry on the home place, they were not always able to prevent them from doing otherwise . Living in a community with some twenty or thirty others, eligible men and women among the Chaplin slaves would have been hard-pressed to find suitable partners on the home place. Their only alternativewould have been to look "abroad" for a spouse. In such instances, Chaplin, however reluctantly, not only gave his consent and allowed the slave to marry, but the ceremony was held in Chaplin's house and conducted by a white preacher.5 According to former slave Sam Polite, the norm in the low-country area containing some of the largest plantations in the state was to marry "off the plantation"—that is, to have "broad" wivesand husbands.Polite stated that "slabe don't marry—dey jest lib togedder." He then added that although the slaves had to remain on the plantation during the workday, "w'en wuk done," the slave "kin visit wife on odder...

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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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