Sweet Chariot: Slave Family and Household Structure in Nineteenth-Century Louisiana

Sweet Chariot: Slave Family and Household Structure in Nineteenth-Century Louisiana

Sweet Chariot: Slave Family and Household Structure in Nineteenth-Century Louisiana

Sweet Chariot: Slave Family and Household Structure in Nineteenth-Century Louisiana

Synopsis

"Sweet Chariot is a pathbreaking analysis of slave families and household composition in the nineteenth-century South. Ann Malone presents a carefully drawn picture of the ways in which slaves were constituted into families and households within a community and shows how and why that organization changed through the years. Her book, based on massive research, is both a statistical study over time of 155 slave communities in twenty-six Louisiana parishes and a descriptive study of three plantations: Oakland, Petite Anse, and Tiger Island. Malone first provides a regional analysis of family, household, and community organization. Then, drawing on qualitative sources, she discusses patterns in slave family house-hold organization, identifying the most significant ones as well as those that consistently acted as indicators of change. Malone shows that slave community organization strongly reflected where each community was in its own developmental cycle, which in turn was influenced by myriad factors, ranging from impersonal economic conditions to the arbitrary decisions of individual owners. She also projects a statistical model that can be used for comparisons with other populations. The two persistent themes that Malone uncovers are the mutability and yet the constancy of Louisiana slave household organization. She shows that the slave family and its extensions, the slave household and community were far more diverse and adaptable than previously believed. The real strength of the slave community was its multiplicity of forms, its tolerance for a variety of domestic units, and its adaptability. She finds, for example, that the preferred family form consisted of two parents and children but that all types of families and households were accepted as functioning and contributing members of the slave community. "Louisiana slaves had a well-defined and collective vision of the structure that would serve them best and an iron determination to attain it," Malone observes. "But along with this constancy in vision and perseverance was flexibility. Slave domestic forms in Louisiana bent like willows in the wind to keep from shattering. The suppleness of their forms prevented domestic chaos and enabled most slave communities to recover from even serious crises.""--BOOK JACKET. Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

The slave community of the old Hercules O'Connor plantation in West Feliciana Parish had been evolving since the 1790s. It was strong and stable by the 1820s, almost all of its people descendants of the original workers. Late in that decade, under pressure from creditors and relations, the long- widowed owner, Rachel O'Connor, now old and ailing, transferred titles for seventeen of her slaves to her half-brother and heir David Weeks, who lived in the bayou-laced sugar country a hundred miles away. Weeks and his wife, owners of the elegant Shadows in St. Mary Parish, had many slaves; therefore, the widow consoled herself that--during her lifetime at least--the paper transfer would not seriously affect her "black family!"

But almost immediately, labor shortages and other economic exigencies connected with the start-up of another sugar operation convinced Weeks to request the "loan" of his O'Connor slaves. The dismemberment of the old community began. One of the first to go was a middle-aged slave the people called Sam Rock, a widower with several grown or half-grown children and a host of close kin. Sam Rock was a man whom white people described as a pillar of his community but slaves often called the root; he evoked a comforting image of one who not only provided his family and community with guidance and strength in their daily lives but who also helped anchor them to their cultural values and historical identity. We can imagine Sam Rock assuring the bewildered group congregated in the quarters before his departure that he would be gone for just a little while--a few months--that he only had to help Master David get his new place going, then he would come back home. Meanwhile, his son Leven would take care of things. The people of the O'Connor plantation did not see Sam Rock for ten years. He returned for a short visit in 1841 but was soon sent back to the Weeks's island plantation, Grand Cote, and eventually died there.

After Sam Rock left, many of strong young sons from the old families were also called away, a few at a time. In their late teens, most of the young men had never been away from the plantation on which they were born. In response to the series of transfers, the O'Connor slave community--like a wooden top receiving a glancing blow that interrupted its steady whir--

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.