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Women, Work and Family in the Antebellum Mountain South  (Cambridge University Press, 2008)


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of Enslaved Women

These are copyrighted documents from the electronic archive for Wilma A. Dunaway. Women, Work and Family in the Antebellum Mountain South (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

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Appalachian Slaveholders

Agricultural Labor Management

Slaves and Free Blacks in Commerce and Travel

Slaves in Industry & Manufacturing

Slave Trading & Forced Labor Migrations

Malnutrition, Health & Ecological Risks

Threats to Family Stability

Reproductive Exploitation

Slave Household Subsistence

Repression & Slave Resistance

Slave Cultural Resistance

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african.gif (1328 bytes) Appalachian Slaveholders


Illustration 1The house of Cherokee slaveholder John Ross was typical of Appalachian small plantations.

Illustration    2 A slave chambermaid in an Abingdon, Virginia hotel. More than one-third of all Appalachian slaveholders and one-fifth of the slaves were engaged in such nonagricultural pursuits.

Illustration 3 Monticello, the Blue Ridge plantation of Thomas Jefferson, typified Appalachia=s wealthiest slaveholding elites.

 Illustration 4 Appalachian masters invested in commercial stage and wagon lines, and they allocated slave labor to such ventures much more frequently than Lower South large plantations.

african.gif (1328 bytes)    Agricultural Labor Management

Illustration 5 The gender division of field labor is seen in this Botetourt County, Virginia wheat harvest. Two males are collecting the cut grain from the field and operating an oxcart to haul it to centralized spots where two women are stacking the grain. Subsequently, the same males would haul the grain to the barn where other women were threshing.

Illustration 6 This small plantation was maximizing labor through an organized cotton ginning party to which adjacent masters sent their slaves. When the work was complete, slave women served everyone a large dinner, and they danced when permitted.

Illustration 7 Appalachian slave women were disproportionately represented among field laborers while men had more opportunities for elite artisan occupations. Women were considered by northern Alabama masters to be especially efficient at cotton harvesting. One of the dangers to pregnant women was the handling of 125 pound harvest baskets or large bags strapped over the shoulder.

african.gif (1328 bytes)  Slaves & Free Blacks in Commerce & Travel

Illustration 8  This free black woman operated a small inn that served rafts and boats on the Tennessee River outside Chattanooga.

Illustration 9 Free blacks washwomen were a common sight in towns, for there were few nonagricultural employment opportunities for these impoverished households.

Illustration 10 Slaves provided much of the labor for Appalachia=s antebellum travel enterprises, comprised of resorts, hotels, inns, transportation companies, and the livestock drover trade. During the summers, Appalachian slaves were regularly hired to work at 134 mineral spas, such as these workers at White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia.

 african.gif (1328 bytes)  Slaves in Industry & Manufacturing

Illustration 11  Some plantations processed their own tobacco for export. These slaves are dipping tobacco to prepare it for pressing and formation into plugs. This type of work exposed slaves, including children and pregnant women, to dangerous chemicals that caused lung infections and intestinal ailments.

 african.gif (1328 bytes)  Slave Trading & Forced Labor Migrations

Illustration 12 This east Kentucky slaveholder was migrating westward, so he sold off 23 slaves at public auction in Lexington. Only one of the adults is being sold with her child. Note that 17 children younger than twenty are being sold separate from their parents. When they were interviewed in the 1930s, many of the Appalachian ex-slaves said they had been sold away from parents during childhood.  Source: Coleman Papers, University of Kentucky

Illustration 13  The Southern Mountains lay at the geographical heart of the domestic slave trade, so slave coffles were a common sight in Appalachian counties. This coffle had camped for the night, waiting to cross the New River in southwest Virginia.

Illustration 14 Because they profited less from their field labor, Appalachian masters hired out a higher proportion of their slaves than did Lower South plantations. For example, mountain Virginia masters hired out surplus slaves to tobacco manufactories, like this one in Lynchburg.

Illustration 15 In the 1850s, western North Carolina slaves were bought and hired for railroad construction.  Source: Asheville News, 10 February 1859

african.gif (1328 bytes)  Malnutrition, Health & Ecological Risks

Illustration 16 This Page County, Virginia slave cabin was typical of the dwellings supplied for black Appalachians on small plantations. Note the leaning wood chimney chinked with mud. This couple is attired in clothing that indicates their higher status as servants in their owner=s household.

Illustration 17 This slave quarter had a well, avoiding the scarcity of safe water that placed so many black Appalachians at risk. Several depicted sanitation problems caused higher mortality rates among slaves on small mountain plantations. Children crawled and played barefoot in the same yard where pigs, dogs, and chickens wandered. In the absence of privies, human excrement was used to fertilize slave gardens. These cabins, like most mountain slave dwellings, had dirt floors, a single window, and root cellars. The cabins were constructed close together, facilitating the rapid spread of infectious diseases.

Illustration 18 Appalachian masters allocated weekly rations of fat pork and cornmeal to slaves. However, these supplies were nutritionally inadequate. A majority of mountain masters required their slaves to produce much of their own food supply.

Illustration 19 This Randolph County, West Virginia woman baked her master=s daily wheat bread in a brick oven. However, most Appalachian small plantations rarely supplied flour or white bread to slaves. Dependent on weekly corn meal rations, mountain slaves consumed a breakfast of less nutritious ash cakes or spoon bread prepared in their fireplaces.

Illustration 20 Until old enough to fish, as these boys are doing on the northern Georgia=s Chattahoochee River, Appalachian slave children received little meat and inadequate protein in their diets. Malnutrition and the resultant chronic illnesses accounted for high child mortality rates on small Appalachian plantations.

african.gif (1328 bytes)  Threats to Family Stability

Illustration 21 Through several forced labor migration strategies, such as sales and hireouts, Appalachian masters structured the absence of adult males from slave households, as is depicted in this sale of a husband away from his family. After emancipation, almost none of the spouses separated by such sales were able to reunite.

Illustration 22  Appalachian masters exported slaves to the Lower South by using the services of auction houses at trading hubs, such as this one in Richmond. Such interstate sales broke two of every five slave marriages.

Illustration 23 Until they were old enough for field work, youngsters were put to work at all kinds of unskilled tasks on small plantations. Working in the Big House kept children away from their families much of the time and denied them the parental discipline and support of their fathers.

african.gif (1328 bytes)   Reproductive Exploitation

Illustration 24 On this small plantation on the Tennessee River outside Knoxville, this slave woman and her children occupied a cabin attached to the back of the master=s house. Such proximity to the owner and his sons increased the likelihood that women and girls would be sexually exploited.

Illustration 25 Due to attenuated breastfeeding, malnutrition, and inadequate child care, one-half of all Appalachian slave children died before age ten. Elderly slaves, like this Rockbridge County, Virginia woman, tended large groups of children while mothers worked in the fields or were hired out.

Illustration 26 Until they were old enough to work in the fields, young Appalachian slave girls worked in the master=s house. Their exposure to white males led to a high incidence of pre-teen sexual abuse by whites. In addition, some girls were trained to be nursemaids or wet nurses. In those adult roles, they would spend their lives tending white children, weaning their own offspring too young and leaving them without adequate child care.

Illustration 27 Small Appalachian plantations provided little medical care for their slaves, so women received little prenatal care. Black herb doctors, like western Maryland=s John Cupid, collected, prepared and administered a majority of the herbal treatments that mountain slaves received.

Illustration 28 To produce surplus slave laborers for export to the Lower South, Appalachian slaveholders engaged in reproductive exploitation in several forms. In addition to a high child mortality rate, mothers endured the horrors of having one of every three of their children sold away before age fifteen.

 african.gif (1328 bytes)  Slave Household Subsistence

Illustration 29 These West Virginia slaves were lucky enough to be employed at an elite slave occupation that was not available to females. Appalachian slave women were disproportionately represented among field laborers on small plantations, and they rarely were able to earn extra cash, as this blacksmith did.

Illustration 30 While taking turns spinning, women passed on songs and stories to their children who played on the floor. They also used such occasions to engage in illicit night-time prayer meetings.

Illustration 31 In addition to their field work, Appalachian slave women were required to spin, weave, and sew every night. Women produced all the clothing and bedding used by slaves on small plantations and much of the requirements of their white owners. Source: WPA Slave Narrative Collection, National Archives

african.gif (1328 bytes)  Repression & Slave Resistance

Illustration 32 Poor white patrollers regulated the movements of Appalachian slaves, and regional slave narratives include numerous instances of resistance against patrollers. More often than they punished any other offense, patrollers whipped male black Appalachians for being away without leave to visit their nearby abroad families.

Illustration 33 These Loudoun County, Virginia slaves were very aggressive in their escape to the North. Women were included among this group, but most such runaways were males aged 18 to 35.

Illustration 34 Slaves escaping by boat from a small plantation on the Tennessee River outside Knoxville

african.gif (1328 bytes) Slave Cultural Resistance

Illustration 35 The celebration of a slave wedding in the yard of a Franklin County, Virginia plantation. Such social gatherings offered opportunities for Appalachian slaves to reach beyond the confines of small plantations to engage in community building and cultural celebration.

Illustration 36 Following the African tradition of the griot, older Appalachian slaves told stories that preserved distinctive slave culture, mocked white character flaws, and idealized the black resistant spirit. These slaves are attired in ASunday clothes@ that they would have purchased from their own earnings.

Illustration 37 There are no women at this Fauquier County, Virginia corn husking, a labor maximizing strategy at harvest time. On many small plantations, men processed corn while slave women quilted winter bedding. About midnight, food would be served, and the singing and dancing could begin.

Illustration 38 Funerals were a public exhibition of the persistent family ties and community bonds among Appalachian slaves. At this northern Alabama death, the master (left tophat) and the slave preacher (right tophat) walk on opposite sides of the wagon that bore the deceased laborer to the burial plot. Following African tradition, the funeral procession set the pace with songs and wails.

Illustration 39 Summer and harvest dances were significant mechanisms for community building by Appalachian slaves on small plantations. In this Fauquier County, Virginia scene, the group is preserving African dance traditions. The mid-ground slave is Apatting juba@ to set the pace for the other two. Notice the observation platform in the tree. Slaves used such perches to light their night work in their subsistence parcels.

Illustration 40 Like this Rabun County, Georgia gathering, Appalachian slaves participated illegally in night-time religious services. Because they were assigned textiles production at night, women combined that required labor with unauthorized prayer meetings and singings. Thus, black females were punished for such resistance more often than men.

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