The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South: A Study in Social Control

By Bertram Wilbur Doyle | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
ETIQUETTE AND THE FREE NEGRO

WHEN students and travelers sought to describe the social classes and existing conditions of the prewar South, they almost invariably neglected the free Negro. That class, however, was not of so little importance as the omission would indicate. It presented problems quite out of proportion to its numerical strength, especially in its relation with the white population. Indeed, considering the relations of free Negroes and white persons during the period, the development of etiquette between all Negroes and white persons moves into bold relief.

The first free Negroes, of course, were those who, in the seventeenth century, had served their terms of indenture, and who had consequently assumed the status of freemen. Indeed, a few of the Negro freemen had acquired other Negroes as indentured servants. 1

Until about 1662 the free Negro class was recruited solely from released indentured servants; 2 after that time the legal development of slavery and the resulting increase of the slave population, together with the need for special controls and the discussion of legal means for manumitting slaves, all served to focus attention on Negroes, whether slave or free. Until the development of slavery, it has been said, the free Negro was "as much a part of the body politic as the white man." 3

After the Negro had been reduced to slavery, some from the group began to acquire freedom by becoming Christians--perhaps no considerable number. 4 There was, however, an old rule that only persons taken in a just war could be made slaves. This, on the other hand, seems not to have applied to Negroes, who were considered heathen.

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