Women's Work, Men's Work The Informal Slave Economies of Lowcountry Georgia, and: Working Toward Freedom Slave Society and Domestic Economy in the American South (review)
- Southern Cultures
- The University of North Carolina Press
- Volume 3, Number 3, 1997
- pp. 92-94
- View Citation
- Additional Information
itor of southern progress: "We ain't what we want to be. We ain't what we gonna be, but thank God we ain't what we was." The southern experience is akin to that of no other region in America. Dispelling the myths concerning the history of the South can seem impossible with influences such as Gone With the Wind, the Dukes ofHazard, and Deliverance, yet The American South: Past, Present, andFuture managed to engage and inspire the visitor to do just tiiat. TheAmerican South convincingly asserted that die region is not all moonlight and magnolias. With sustaining honesty and endearing optimism, the show did acknowledge, however, that a somewhat tragic and tumultuous past can still hold the guiding light for a promising and progressive future. Women's Work, Men's Work The Informal Slave Economies of Lowcountry Georgia by Betty Wood University of Georgia Press, 1995 247 pages. Cloth, $45.00 Working Toward Freedom Slave Society and Domestic Economy in the American South Larry E. HudsonJr., editor University of Rochester Press, 1994 250 pages. Cloth, $45.00; paper, $24.95 Reviewed by LeeAlM Whites, associate professor of history at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Over the years much ink has been spilled by historians over the question of whether southern planters were precapitalist by virtue of their ownership of slaves or consummate capitalists by virtue oftheir production ofstaple crops for a world market. Some historians have suggested tiiat perhaps this was not an "either/or" proposition so much as an uneasy balance that planters managed to maintain between their immersion in the "external " world of the capitalist market and die "internal " world of die slaveholding household. What has been singularly lacking in this discusReviews sion, however, is any recognition ofthe contribution tiiat the slaves' independent participation in the formal market economy might have made to die tenuousness of this balance. On the whole, the relationship between the master and slave has been assumed to represent the strongest basis for the precapitalist grounding of the slave plantation system. Two recent books, however, suggest something different . Working Toward Freedom, edited by Larry E. Hudson Jr., and Men's Work, Women's Work, by BettyWood, present evidence that suggests diat rather than acting as the material moorings for an alternative ethos to the capitalist market economy , the slaves were actually a driving force for the development of formal market connections and thus for the market values that arose within the plantation household itself. Wood's central concern in Men's Work, Women's Work is the ways in which slaves in the task system of low country Georgia between 1780 and 1830 were able to forge links between their own surplus agricultural production and die formal market economy of the region. Masters attempted to contain this burgeoning slave market connection by establishing plantation stores, where they hoped that their slaves would trade. Much to such planters' chagrin, however, slaves continued to choose their own trading partners. Planters, looking to their own market interests, either encouraged, or required, their slaves to raise a surplus "on their own time" in order to reduce the costs of slave maintenance. Here it would appear that the interests of the slaves in an improved standard of living converged with the concern of the master to maximize his profits. Planters, however, ultimately found it difficult, ifnot impossible, to control this surplus. The larger systemic danger here was to that uneasy balance between the "external " world ofthe free market and the "internal" world ofslavery. What was the meaning of slaves' unrecompensed labor when part oftheir labor was now compensated not only through market exchange but even by their own masters? Who was really being robbed? Slaves who took part ofthe crop they raised on the masters ' time, or masters who took the slaves' time without recompense? Planters did not need to hear this market-based critique of slave labor from northern abolitionists when, as Wood amply demonstrates, slaves made the point on a daily basis by participating in the formal market economy. Wood's work is strongest when she is detailing the development of links between the informal economies of slaves and the formal market economy of...