From Slavery to Agrarian Capitalism in the Cotton Plantation South: Central Georgia, 1800-1880

From Slavery to Agrarian Capitalism in the Cotton Plantation South: Central Georgia, 1800-1880

From Slavery to Agrarian Capitalism in the Cotton Plantation South: Central Georgia, 1800-1880

From Slavery to Agrarian Capitalism in the Cotton Plantation South: Central Georgia, 1800-1880

Synopsis

The spread of slavery in the antebellum period and the subsequent emancipation of some four million slaves as a result of the Civil War reflected changes sweeping the entire Atlantic basin during the nineteenth century. This broad-ranging study examines the origins, growth, and demise of slavery in the upcountry South. Focusing on a representative cotton plantation region, central Georgia, Joseph Reidy assesses these historical changes within the larger context of capitalist development in the North and the abolition of slavery elsewhere in the Americas. Reidy's analysis illuminates the complex interplay between global economic developments and the lives of ordinary southerners, black and white. The shifting pattern of struggle among evolving social classes provides the key. Unlike other scholars who have focused more or less exclusively on planters, on slaves, or on yeomen, Reidy explores the interaction among these and other classes over time in order to achieve a comprehensive understanding ofthe nineteenth-century South. Covering both the antebellum and post-bellum periods, the narrative pays special attention to how African Americans shaped their own lives as well as influenced larger historical processes - for, as Reidy points out, they were agents of historical change rather than purely objects or victims of that change.

Excerpt

On a still Winter's morning four days before Christmas in 1848, two slaves living in Macon, Georgia, set out upon a fateful journey. William Craft, a cabinetmaker, and his wife, Ellen, a house servant, blew out the lights in Ellen's apartment, said a prayer, embraced, and stepped into the yard, locking the door behind them. By separate routes they proceeded to the railway station and enacted a bold plan by which they achieved freedom and assumed a prominent place in the struggle against slavery in the United States.

For months, if not years, before their escape, the Crafts had contended with the nearly "insurmountable difficulties" of crossing approximately 1,000 miles of hostile territory. Both before and after their marriage (apparently around 1845) they formulated a number of plans, abandoning each in turn. But as the holiday season of 1848 approached, they spent four sleepless nights perfecting a foolproof scheme. Representing their intention to visit a sick aunt of Ellen's, the two secured passes from their masters. Under that cover, they headed north, not through dense woods and underbrush after dark, but upon railroad cars and steamships in broad daylight.

With her hair cut short, her head and arm wrapped in poultices, and a pair of green spectacles covering her eyes, Ellen posed as a rheumatic young white man en route to Philadelphia for medical treatment. William played the part of an accompanying servant. They traveled by rail to Savannah, by ship to Charleston (where they spent a night in a hotel) and to Wilmington, North Carolina, then by rail again for the final leg of the journey. On several occasions they faced detection but handled each situation with aplomb. They reached Philadelphia on Christmas day. At the advice of abolitionists with whom they took refuge, they continued on to Boston.

As whispering voices spread the word of the escape, masters either cringed or fumed while slaves prayed for success. After all, both William and Ellen had led relatively privileged lives. Yet slaves commiserated with the innumerable indig-

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