The general seemed to conclude that free labor has less chance of a fair trial in Edgefield. . . . To me, however, it seems not different from other parts of South Carolina.
John Richard Dennett, The South as It Is, 1865-1866
Edgefield was a complex society that defied easy categorization. The culture was not dictated by planters, nor was it determined by a harmonious community of yeomen. Unlike New England settlements, southern locales never had a formal ideology that defined community. The meaning of community developed from everyday behavior, social rituals, and experiences as members of families and society. Edgefield's families illustrate intriguing similarities and differences between rich and poor whites, blacks and mulattoes, free Afro- Americans and slaves. Without exception, groups in Edgefield demonstrated reverence for their families by maintaining kinship networks even when relatives moved away and by promoting solid religious values that hallowed domestic life.
Wealth influenced the household and family structure for all groups. The affluent always had more male-headed and larger households. Yet both rich and poor whites connected family values with a sense of personal and regional honor. Little evidence exists to support the unflattering stereotype of degraded, apathetic "poor whites." Antebellum free black families and households were often female headed. Whites and free blacks were sufficiently integrated that interracial marriages occurred even during the 1850s, a time of much hostility toward the free black.
White slaveowners made control of the slaves a central theme for the antebellum white community, and this control restricted the autonomy of the slave family. Still, family and religion were the two institutions that most shielded slaves from the dehumanizing aspects of bondage. The slave community learned to adjust to circumstances beyond its immediate control. Ironically, Christianity, which was for whites a means of control, became for blacks a buffer against oppression and in some cases fostered Afro-American autonomy.