In My Father's House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina

By Orville Vernon Burton | Go to book overview

4. The Slave Family

I wonder where is all my relation. . . . Friendship to all -- and every nation. L. M. Aug. 16, 1857, Dave

Written around the top of a storage jar by the Edgefield slave potter, Dave

Afro-Americans were the majority in Edgefield. In the antebellum period they were the property of white people. After the war, though free, they lived in a culture heavily influenced by the experience and memories of slavery.1

A remarkable fact in demographic history, with implications for comparative history that are only beginning to be explored, is that the black population in the United States increased under slavery as well as in freedom. The slave population grew by an average of 27.3 percent in each decade after 1810; this growth was almost entirely the result of natural increase. In comparison, the natural expansion of the white population during the same period ( 1810-60) was 29 percent per decade. By contrast, the decennial natural decrease of the slave population in Barbadoes between 1712 and 1762 was 43 percent. Except for that of the United States, all slave populations in the Western Hemisphere, and in Africa before the twentieth century, failed to reproduce themselves and depended on the importation of other slaves for continued growth.2

While the integration of southern plantation production into the capitalist economy provided the economic base for this increase, the unique demographic vitality of the slave population of the southern United States also required a social base -- stable families that provided physical, emotional, and cultural support for childbirth and child rearing. Traditional historical analysis has regarded the essential element in this framework to be the relationship of mother and child. Yet, despite the most difficult circumstances, the slave family in the South was typically a male-dominated nuclear family (father, mother, children), the prevailing form the world over. More recent literature has emphasized the autonomy of the slave family, but in so doing has often minimized the impact of slavery. Afro-Americans themselves never minimized the tragedies of slavery. In 1883 the black clergy of the Protestant Episcopal church were concerned about the "moral disasters which have come

-148-

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In My Father's House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • List of Tables xi
  • List of Figures and Maps xiii
  • List of Illustrations xv
  • Preface xvii
  • Introduction 3
  • I. Edgefield, South Carolina 14
  • 2. Edgefield from the White Perspective 47
  • 3. the White Family Andlb Antebellum Social Structure 104
  • 4. the Slave Family 148
  • 5. the Free Afro-American in Antebellum Edgefield 203
  • 6. the Culture of Postbellum Afro-American Family Life 225
  • 7. Black and White Postbellum Household and Family Structure 260
  • Conclusion 314
  • Appendix I. Methodology 325
  • Appendix 2. Occupational Groupings 333
  • Notes 335
  • Bibliography 421
  • Index 463
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