Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation

Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation

Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation

Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation

Synopsis

From John Hope Franklin, America's foremost African American historian, comes this groundbreaking analysis of slave resistance and escape. A sweeping panorama of plantation life before the Civil War, this book reveals that slaves frequently rebelled against their masters and ran away from their plantations whenever they could. For generations, important aspects about slave life on the plantations of the American South have remained shrouded. Historians thought, for instance, that slaves were generally pliant and resigned to their roles as human chattel, and that racial violence on the plantation was an aberration. In this precedent setting book, John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger demonstrate that, contrary to popular belief, significant numbers of slaves did in fact frequently rebel against their masters and struggled to attain their freedom. By surveying a wealth of documents, such as planters' records, petitions to county courts and state legislatures, and local newspapers, this book shows how slaves resisted, when, where, and how they escaped, where they fled to, how long they remained in hiding, and how they survived away from the plantation. Of equal importance, it examines the reactions of the white slaveholding class, revealing how they marshaled considerable effort to prevent runaways, meted out severe punishments, and established patrols to hunt down escaped slaves. Reflecting a lifetime of thought by our leading authority in African American history, this book provides the key to truly understanding the relationship between slaveholders and the runaways who challenged the system--illuminating as never before the true nature of the South's "most peculiar institution."

Excerpt

Over the years, plantation slavery has been described in many ways. Perhaps the classic description was provided by Ulrich B. Phillips. In his Pulitzer Prize--winning Life and Labor in the Old South, he spoke of the plantation force as "a conscript army" and the plantation as a homestead, a school, a "parish, or perhaps a chapel of ease," a pageant and variety show, and "a matrimonial bureau." Soon historians, including James Hugo Johnston, Harvey Wish, Raymond A. and Alice H. Bauer, and Herbert Aptheker, began to show that there was another way to view slavery. It was becoming clear that the plantation was not the smooth, well-managed operation described by Phillips. Missing from his romantic description were the harsh realities of everyday plantation life, the severe punishments for dereliction of duties, branding, mutilation, stealing, arson, murder, rape, and division of families, including the sale of children. No discussion of plantation life can be complete without a discussion of these and similar matters.

Some forty years ago, Kenneth M. Stampp succeeded in correcting earlier descriptions of plantation life such as those set forth by Phillips. He called slaves "a troublesome property" and reminded his readers of the unrest and unhappiness that were all too prevalent even among the most passive slaves. In turn, they retaliated against unreasonable demands by refusing to obey or even running away.

The revisionist trend was not altogether in one direction. In 1959, the psychological model presented by Stanley Elkins in Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life portrayed slaves as not unlike Jewish inmates in concentration camps during World War II. In order to survive they developed childlike, loyal, and docile dispositions. Eugene Genovese, among others, found Elkins's model disturbing. He noted that "we must recognize that all psychological models may only be used suggestively for flashes of insight or . . .

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