Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Rearing Wolves to Our Own Destruction

Rearing Wolves to Our Own Destruction: Slavery in Richmond Virginia, 1782–1865

Midori Takagi
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 200
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wrgws
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Rearing Wolves to Our Own Destruction
    Book Description:

    RICHMOND WAS NOT only the capital of Virginia and of the Confederacy; it was also one of the most industrialized cities south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Boasting ironworks, tobacco processing plants, and flour mills, the city by 1860 drew half of its male workforce from the local slave population.Rearing Wolves to Our Own Destructionexamines this unusual urban labor system from 1782 until the end of the Civil War. Many urban bondsmen and women were hired to businesses rather than working directly for their owners. As a result, they frequently had the opportunity to negotiate their own contracts, to live alone, and to keep a portion of their wages in cash. Working conditions in industrial Richmond enabled African-American men and women to build a community organized around family networks, black churches, segregated neighborhoods, secret societies, and aid organizations. Through these institutions, Takagi demonstrates, slaves were able to educate themselves and to develop their political awareness. They also came to expect a degree of control over their labor and lives. Richmond's urban slave system offered blacks a level of economic and emotional support not usually available to plantation slaves.Rearing Wolves to Our Own Destructionoffers a valuable portrait of urban slavery in an individual city that raises questions about the adaptability of slavery as an institution to an urban setting and, more importantly, the ways in which slaves were able to turn urban working conditions to their own advantage.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2917-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The image of slaves tilling the soil of a large plantation under the watchful eye of an overseer has been indelibly printed on American minds as the North American slave experience. To a great extent this image is accurate given that 90 percent of African-American slaves lived in rural areas. But the remaining 10 percent—a small but significant segment of the slave population—worked and lived in urban and industrialized areas of the South. During the antebellum era as many as 400,000 slaves lived in cities such as Charleston, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Richmond.

    Slavery in these southern...

  7. One Inauspicious Beginnings
    (pp. 9-15)

    In 1782 when Richmond received its formal recognition as a city, it had only a thousand inhabitants and hardly resembled a bustling metropolis; incorporated or not, it was little more than a small port town. But Richmond’s newly conferred status did portend the greatness the city would achieve within the next eight decades. During those years Richmond would evolve from a sleepy town to one of the most important political and economic centers of the South.

    Many factors contributed to this change. One was the relocation of Virginia’s capital in 1780 from Williamsburg to Richmond, a city less vulnerable to...

  8. Two The Road to Industrialization and the Rise of Urban Slavery, 1800–1840
    (pp. 16-36)

    Richmond in the early to mid–nineteenth century began to lose much of its provincialism. The various shops, taverns, and hotels that filled the main thoroughfare greatly popularized the commercial area and drew crowds of residents and visitors alike. The opening of the Bank of Virginia added a sense of financial strength to Richmond, while the Roman-style brick and stucco Capitol (designed by Thomas Jefferson and completed just before the turn of the century) gave the city a certain air of permanence and importance.¹

    The quaintness that remained following the Revolutionary War disappeared as the city continued to expand, incorporating...

  9. Three Behind the Urban “Big House”
    (pp. 37-70)

    At the end of the workday, long after the sun had set, George, Richard, Manuel, and John left Hezekiel Wight’s tobacco factory and walked through the dock and warehouse area toward their respective homes. As hired slaves they did not have to live with their owner, John Prosser, and were not required to stay with their employer because there was no housing for workers on the premises. Instead, each man received a small amount of cash with which to secure his own food and lodgings.¹ With the small sums, these men had several housing options: they could sleep at Prosser’s...

  10. Four Maturation of the Urban Industrial Slave System, 1840–1860
    (pp. 71-95)

    Between 1840 and 1860 urban industrialization and the city slave system reached a peak. During these years industries achieved their greatest output and their highest profit levels. By 1860 Richmond was home to fifty-nine tobacco manufactories, eight flour and corn mills, eleven iron and brass foundries, four soap and candle factories, and a variety of other plants producing machines, nails, iron and steel, saddles and harnesses, bottles, and boots. In fact, the city’s industrial capabilities inspired a local newspaper to describe Richmond—in somewhat exaggerated terms—as “perhaps the most extensive manufacturing town south of Philadelphia.”¹

    As in the past,...

  11. Five Formation of an Independent Slave Community
    (pp. 96-123)

    With the expansion of the industrial sector and the urban slave labor force, changes in slave living conditions were inevitable. Most notably, features of city slave life that had been considered irregular in 1820 and common in 1840 became ubiquitous by 1860. One such feature was separate slave housing. Whereas boarding out—or living apart—had been considered somewhat unusual in the early nineteenth century, by the late antebellum years it was deemed essential. Few businesses had the space or desire to accommodate the more than 5,000 male tobacco, iron, and flour workers and the few hundred female industrial laborers....

  12. Six The War Years, 1861–1865
    (pp. 124-144)

    During the spring of 1861, Richmond underwent a series of rapid, sweeping changes that dramatically and irreversibly affected the character of the city, its society, and its slave system. During the early months of the new year, Richmond dissolved its bonds with the Union, established an alliance with the Confederate States of America, and became the capital of the newly established Confederate government. While some ardent secessionists—such as John Moncure Daniel, the editor of theRichmond Examiner—had long anticipated these events, most Richmonders were taken aback as the changes engulfed them during a breathtaking two-month span. Just before...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 145-148)

    When the Union troops entered Richmond, they found a city burning on both sides of the main boulevards and the “air . . . filled with sparks, mingled in places with exploding shells from the rebel ordnance stores.” But the dangers presented by the fire and explosions did not keep hundreds of black Richmonders from shouting and dancing in the streets while welcoming the Federal soldiers with gifts of tobacco.¹ This was a day never to be forgotten in Richmond history, and one that was to become an important holiday within the newly freed black community. To underscore the importance...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 149-167)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 168-179)
  16. Index
    (pp. 180-187)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 188-188)