This Species of Property: Slave Life and Culture in the Old South

By Leslie Howard Owens | Go to book overview

Introduction
". . . The Necessity of Bondage"

In the winter of 1845, John C. Calhoun penned a letter as secretary of state to J. W. Jones, speaker of the House of Representatives, in which he reflected back to the Census of 1840, the first to have surveyed the state of mental health in the nation. Calhoun wrote with particular reference to the higher level of insanity reported "among . . . free blacks" in northern states as compared with slaves in the Old South. His argument was direct. Freedom for the "negro or African race . . . would be, indeed, to them a curse instead of a blessing." It would cause an alarming rise in the number of black mental cases, and thereby inconvenience society at large, as well as the black community. 1

Calhoun was merely confirming in this letter a stand he had taken several years earlier when the survey first appeared. Its findings had struck him even then as most noteworthy: "Here is proof of the necessity of bondage. The African is incapable of self-care and sinks into lunacy under the burden of freedom. It is a mercy to him to give him the guardianship and protection from mental death." 2 Relying heavily on the Census Bureau's findings, Calhoun concluded that the slave's mental development, even as an adult, was as delicately balanced as a child's and needed constant

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This Species of Property: Slave Life and Culture in the Old South
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Drawing the Color Line 7
  • 2 - into the Fields-- Life, Disease, and Labor in the Old South 19
  • 3 - Blackstrap Molasses and Cornbread--Diet and Its Impact on Behavior 50
  • 4 - The Logic of Resistance 70
  • 5 - The Household Slave 106
  • 6 - The Black Slave Driver 121
  • 7 - The Shadow of the Slave Quarters 136
  • 8 - The Rhythm of Culture 164
  • 9 - A Family Folk 182
  • 10 - This Property is Condemned 214
  • Manuscript Sources 227
  • Notes 237
  • Index 285
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