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Chains of Love

Chains of Love: Slave Couples in Antebellum South Carolina

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Chains of Love
    Book Description:

    Historians have traditionally neglected relationships between slave men and women during the antebellum period. In Chains of Love, historian Emily West remedies this situation by investigating the social and cultural history of slave relationships in the very heart of the South. _x000B__x000B_Focusing on South Carolina, West deals directly with the most intimate areas of the slave experience including courtship, love and affection between spouses, the abuse of slave women by white men, and the devastating consequences of forced separations. Slaves fought these separations through cross-gender bonding and cross-plantation marriages, illustrating West's thesis about slave marriage as a fierce source of resistance to the oppression of slavery in general. _x000B__x000B_Making expert use of sources such as the Works Progress Administration narratives, slave autobiographies, slave owner records, and church records, this book-length study is the first to focus on the primacy of spousal support as a means for facing oppression. Chains of Love provides telling insights into the nature of the slave family that emerged from these tensions, celebrates its strength, and reveals new dimensions to the slaves' struggle for freedom.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09284-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    This book explores intimate areas of the slave experience—relationships between men and women, love and affection between spouses, the abuse of female slaves by whites, the consequences of forced separations, and the overall sense of family among communities held in bondage. These are difficult areas to explore, partly because the typicality of intimate sentiments is always hard to establish. Historical evidence also poses a problem: southern white sources tend to rationalize white exploitation of blacks, but those left by slaves are few, and their reliability has often been challenged. This work relies heavily on the careful use of certain...

  5. 1 Courtship and Marriage
    (pp. 19-42)

    What were the courtship and marriage rituals of antebellum South Carolina slaves, and from where did they originate? What was the nature of slave marital life? Little is known about these aspects of the lives of slaves, since traditional accounts of their social lives (largely written by white owners) tended to misinterpret the nature and significance of the customs associated with such personal issues. The fact that the law did not recognize slave marriages has also meant that they have traditionally been belittled as insignificant.However, in examining courtship, marriage, and family from the perspectives of the enslaved, the extent of...

  6. 2 Family Life
    (pp. 43-79)

    In order to take further the argument that, despite owners, a strong sense of family was the norm among South Carolina slaves, the structure and nature of their families will now be examined. This chapter is concerned with the extent to which two-parent families were common among slaves, and particular attention will be paid to cross-plantation marriages (where husband and wife lived on different slaveholdings). The family lives as well as the family structures of slaves are explored, focusing particularly on issues relating to antagonisms between couples. The main causes of marital disharmony for the enslaved are notoriously difficult to...

  7. 3 Work, Gender, and Status
    (pp. 80-115)

    This chapter focuses on the work that slaves performed for owners and their own families. It also examines the extent to which labor was segregated by gender to assess the implications of work patterns on relationships between enslaved men and women. Finally, the relationship between work and slave social status is explored, especially the role played by gender in acquiring high-status positions. Owners imposed gender divisions in the tasks they gave their slaves, but the size of holding and the crop that was produced also influenced work patterns. Furthermore, harvest time was a period when gender divisions at work became...

  8. 4 Interracial Sexual Contact
    (pp. 116-140)

    Chapters 4 and 5 examine the exploitation inflicted upon slaves and the impact of this on male-female relations. Exploitation could take many forms, including physical punishment, sexual abuse, or sale and separation from loved ones. What is significant is that oppression by owners stimulated the slaves’ desire to create social space—distance between their lives and those of their masters. Thus, although forms of exploitation were often gender-specific, resistance to it was part of the bonding process between slave men and women. This chapter investigates an area of oppression that affected females more than males—sexual contact with and abuse...

  9. 5 Enforced Separations
    (pp. 141-156)

    In this extract from his autobiography, Charles Ball poignantly describes being forcibly separated from his wife and children in a chain gang that was headed for South Carolina and Georgia before being sold in Columbia, South Carolina. The impact of forced separations upon slaves was undoubtedly immense, since they had to live under the constant threat and sometimes the reality of being taken from their loved ones. This chapter assesses the consequences of this threat upon the relationships between couples. Exploring the domestic slave trade and the structures of families offers new insights into some of the implications of forced...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 157-160)

    The fight of slaves to find their missing family members and to legalize their marriages following the ending of the Civil War has been well documented.¹ It is likely that they sought to legally validate their partnerships in this way for various reasons, including the fact that it made their relationships acceptable to the law, their church, and to wider society as a whole. Some also hoped that being legally married would protect their children from being bound as apprentices by former owners who would define ex-slave children as “bastards” in order to indenture them.² Yet the behavior of the...

  11. APPENDIX 1 Criteria Used in the Construction of a Database Relating to the Comments of the South Carolina WPA Respondents
    (pp. 161-162)
  12. APPENDIX 2 Interracial Sexual Contact in the WPA Narratives
    (pp. 163-164)
    (pp. 165-178)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 179-184)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 185-188)