The Quarters and the Fields: Slave Families in the Non-Cotton South

By Schweninger, Loren | The Historian, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

The Quarters and the Fields: Slave Families in the Non-Cotton South


Schweninger, Loren, The Historian


The Quarters and the Fields: Slave Families in the Non-Cotton South. By Damian Alan Pargas. (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2011. Pp. xi, 259. $27.95.)

The slave family in the Old South has received a great deal of attention over the years, most recently in books by historians Brenda Stevenson, Larry Hudson, Wilma Dunaway, and Emily West. None of these studies, however, have offered a comparative analysis of the slave family structure in the non-cotton-producing regions of the South. This comparison of slave family life in grain-producing Fairfax County, Virginia; in rice-producing Georgetown District, South Carolina; and in sugar-milling St. James Parish, Louisiana, provides a unique perspective.

Marshaling a broad range of primary and secondary sources, Damian Alan Pargas tells how the size of farms and plantations, the work routines for those in bondage, the number of black people within each slaveholding household, the crops they planted and harvested, and the gender distribution within the slave population all had an impact on slave family life. The author admits that the three study areas represent unique settings compared with the cotton South, but by viewing the problem of slave family creation from this vantage point, one is able to examine the underlying economic forces that created unique environments for different family structures. Slaves who lived in Fairfax County, which experienced economic decline and increased hiring during the antebellum era, found it very difficult to find spouses on their small agricultural units and most often looked "abroad," or to neighboring farms, for wives and husbands; slaves who lived in prospering Georgetown on huge rice plantations with sometimes hundreds of slaves often found wives and husbands on the same units; and black people living on the sugar plantations of St. …

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