Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South

Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South

Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South

Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South

Synopsis

In this new interpretation of antebellum slavery, Kaye offers a vivid portrait of slaves transforming adjoining plantations into slave neighborhoods. He describes men and women opening paths from their owners' plantations to adjacent farms to go courting and take spouses, to work, to run away, and to otherwise contend with owners and their agents. Demonstrating that neighborhoods prevailed across the South, Kaye reformulates ideas about slave marriage, resistance, independent production, paternalism, autonomy, and the slave community that have defined decades of scholarship. This is the first book about slavery to use the pension files of former soldiers in the Union army, a vast source of rich testimony by ex-slaves.

Excerpt

John Wade, a slave on the Terry plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi, could claim many friends in his vicinity. Wade knew Aaron Barefield and his people on Poplar Hill well enough to take note when Barefield's son went to Natchez during the Civil War in the wake of a Union raid into the hinterland. and Barefield the younger knew his father's friend well enough to brighten at the mention of Wade's name years later: “I knew John Wade during the war and know him yet, too; in fact I knew him before the war; we lived on joining places.” Wade also had other contacts on Poplar Hill. “I have known Harriet Pierce all my life,” he recalled; “we lived in the same neighborhood.” “Neighborhood,” this seemingly prosaic term, opens a window with a panoramic view of antebellum slave society.

Slave neighborhoods cut across Jefferson County, up and down the Natchez District in Mississippi, and throughout the South. They prevailed from the Chesapeake to the trans-Mississippi West and virtually everywhere in between in the Upper South and the Old Southwest. This is where Frederick Douglass grew up, Nat Turner launched his inspired revolt, men and women struggled in obscurity all their days. in some locales, neighborhoods marked the field of discipline or the terrain of marriage and family life, the dominion where a coterie of old folks held sway. in others, this was the circuit worked by slave preachers, where seekers repaired to their praying grounds and convened for religious meetings. in some precincts, neighborhoods were the quarters of every kind of fraternizing. the geography of kinship, work, sociability, and struggle overlapped with neighborhoods in different ways in different regions. Neighborhoods might encompass some of these social relations or all of them and more. Everywhere neighborhoods covered different geographic areas. in short, they were pervasive but not uniform. Neighborhoods in the Natchez District, then, were similar but not identical to those migrants had left in the Upper South.

The slave neighborhoods in the Natchez District were, in their physical geography, in the works for thousands of years. the Mississippi River collected soil during the last ice age from an area encompassing two-fifths of what . . .

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