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

By Leslie Howard Owens | Go to book overview

6
The Black Slave Driver

Among those slaves most important to the functioning and harmony of plantation life, the slave driver (foreman) held a slight edge. His but, perhaps a little larger and better furnished than those of his neighbors, sometimes stood in the center of the slave community. On farms with only a few bondsmen, although there might be no slave known officially as a slave driver, there was usually one who served from time to time as a field leader. His duties in the fields could have considerable impact on the behavior of fellow bondsmen and were crucial to the economic well-being of the slavebolder. One master wrote: "A man would do better to have a good Negro driver, than to have an overseer. . . ."1 Another noted: "The bead driver is the most important negro on the plantation."2

What manner of men were these foremen? One ex-driver said simply: "I allers use my sense for help me 'long; jes' like Brer. Rabbit. 'Fo' de wah ol' Marse Heywood mek me he driber on he place. . . ."3 Slaveholders' comments provide some other insights. "Nearly every large plantation further South," wrote J. D. B. De Bow, "has a driver, who is a negro advanced to the post from his good character and intelligence." Good character meant any

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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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