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«Volume Title: Strategic Factors in Nineteenth Century American Economic History: A Volume to Honor Robert W. Fogel Volume Author/Editor: Claudia ...»

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336 Stephen Crawford family and when we moved away he was left behind and he didn’t try to find us after de War.’* Parental death and unknown fathers were common to both slave and free populations. But the reasons for the absence of fathers in slave families also includes sale and the fact that some fathers were white. Six percent of the exslaves in the white-interviewer sample and 10 percent of the ex-slaves in the black-interviewer sample claimed to have had white fathers. Put another way, between 15 percent and 25 percent of the mother-headed households were formed because the father was white.

The narratives are an important source for exploring sexual relations between female slaves and white men. Table l l.2 cross-tabulates the incidence of white fathers on large and small plantations. A slave child was twice as likely to have a white father if the child’s mother lived on a small plantation than if she lived on a large plantation. The increased risk was undoubtedly due to the increased contact between master and slave on the smaller plantations.

The risk from close contact is confirmed by the cross-tabulation of white parentage by the mother’s job in Table 11.3. Slave children whose mothers worked in a house-related occupation were twice as likely to have a white father than those whose mothers worked in the field. The risk of interracial sex was strongly related to the level of day-to-day interaction between white men and black women, and slave women working as domestics and on small slave holdings faced the highest risk. While the size of the plantation can be treated as exogenous, a master may have brought a female slave who attracted his attention into his house.

Roughly half the ex-slaves who were children of white fathers did not comment on their mothers’ experiences. The remainder told of events ranging from brutal rape to a long-term relationship with obvious affection. Mary Peters related that her mother was raped at fifteen by all three of the master’s sons.

My mothers mistress had three boys, one twenty-one, one nineteen, and one seventeen.... While she was alone, the boys came in and threw her down on the floor and tied her down so she couldn’t struggle, and one after the other used her as long as they wanted for the whole afternoon... that’s the way I came to be here.13 Victor Duhan’s mother was also forced to have sex with the master’s son.

I didn’t have brothers or sisters, except half ones. It is like this, my mama was a houseservant in the Duhon family. She was a hairdresser. One day she barbered master’s son, who was Lucien. He says that he’ll shave her head if she won’t d o what he likes. After that she his woman till he marries a white lady. l 4

12. Rawick, vol. 7, OklahomaNarratives, p. 316.

13. Rawick, vol. 10 ( 5 ), ArkansasNarratives, pp. 328-29.

14. Rawick, vol. 4 ( l ), TexasNarratives, p. 307.

337 The Slave Family

–  –  –

Entirely different are cases where there was a lasting affection between the white father and the ex-slave’s mother. Thomas Ruffin reported that his father was his master: “He never married. Carried my mother around everywhere he went. Out of all the niggers, he didn’t have but one with him. That was in slavery time and he was a fool about her.”” Betty Brown’s white father and black mother also clearly cared for each other.

Our daddy; he wuz an Irishman, name Millan, an’ he had de bigges’ still in Arkansas. Yes’m, he had a white wife, an’ five chillem at home, but mah mammy says he like her an’ she like him.I6 About 8 percent of the slave families were broken by the sale of one of the parents. But the 8 percent figure is probably a lower bound estimate, because the sample is weighted toward ex-slaves who were very young when slavery ended, and thus may have been spared the sale of a parent. Looking only at the group who reached age 15 before emancipation, the proportion who experienced the sale of a parent rises to 11 percent. It is also likely that parental sales are disguised by such responses as “my father had a different master.”

15. Rawick, vol. 10 (6), Arkansas Narrurives, p. 97

16. Rawick, vol. 11, MissouriNarrurives, p. 52.

338 Stephen Crawford Adding this factor puts an upper limit on the proportion of slave children who saw their parents’ marriage broken through sale at 23 percent.

To assess the disruptive forces working on the slave marriage, having a white father must be grouped with parental sale. Using the black-interviewer sample, 10 percent of the ex-slaves had white fathers and 11 percent of those age 15 or under experienced the sale of a parent. Thus at minimum 21 percent of slave children in the narratives lived in families that were broken because of forces peculiar to slavery. Slavery strongly affected the permanence of slave marriage, creating a dual family structure with roughly two-thirds of the slave children experiencing two-parent families and one-third experiencing singleparent families.

The number of siblings might be expected to vary across the three main family types presented in the Family of Origin distribution. Although the exslaves were not directly asked about the size of the family, they often mentioned the number of siblings. Since ex-slaves may not have known about siblings who died or were sold, the family-size information is potentially measured with error but probably not systematically so across family types.

The average number of children in different family types is presented in Table 11.4. As might be expected, the number of children was larger in twoparent than in single-parent families. The difference, however, is smaller than one might anticipate. Female-headed families still averaged almost six children. This large family size could indicate either that the father was separated from the family after a considerable time or that the ex-slave’s mother continued to have sexual relations with other slave men after the father left.

Some ex-slaves reported that when their father left, their mother stopped having children. Other ex-slaves were just as clear that the loss of their father was not the end of the mother’s sexual activity and childbearing. As Emma

Watson related in her story of life under slavery:

My paw, I don’t know nothin’ bout. My sister Anna and me, us have de same paw, but my mammy’s sold out of Miss’sippi ’way from my paw ’fore my birthin’. My maw kept de name of Lucindy Lane, but Martha and Jennie, my other sisters, had different paws.’’ Continued sexual activity was part of the explanation for large femaleheaded families, and only infrequently did new two-parent families form.

Female-headed families lacked an adult male on a continuing basis. Thus for continued sexual activity to explain most of the family size, the ex-slave’s mother would have had to raise children whose father did not become a continuing part of the family.

The second explanation for the relatively large number of children in female-headed families is that fathers were sold away from already large families. The narratives include many profoundly sad descriptions of fathers being sold away which, by virtue of their detail, could only have come from

17. Rawick, vol. 5 (4),Texas Narrarives, p. 147.

339 The Slave Family

–  –  –

children old enough probably to have younger brothers and sisters. Thus both continued sexual activity and the sale of fathers with numerous children help explain the relatively large size of female-headed families. Nonetheless, these families were smaller than their two-parent counterparts, so slaveowners who interrupted a union forfeited some of their female slave’s fertility.

Family size was even smaller when the ex-slave claimed to have had a white father..Although the sample size is small, the average number of children in these families is approximately 4.5. This smaller family size, compared with regular female-headed families, indicates that black women who bore a child by a white man tended to bear fewer children.

Two-parent consolidated-residence families tended to be somewhat smaller than their divided counterparts. This finding confirms the regularity of visits between the divided husband and wife. Overall, the comparison of family size among the three major family types shows that female-headed families were one-to-two-children smaller than either consolidated or divided-residence two-parent families. On average, breaking up a slave family had a real economic cost to the slaveowner. Slave women separated from their husbands often continued sexual activity, but the absence of a husband led to smaller families.

The Family of Origin distribution focuses on the slave marriage and how slaves came to reside in a dual- or single-parent family. The narratives have, however, much more information on the slave family. The Family of Origin distribution has limited relevance because it does not allow for one of the most disruptive influences of slavery, the sale or transfer of slave children from their parents. The importance of the slave family can only begin to be understood if we know the age at which slave children were taken from their families.

And the overall effect of slavery can only be known by understanding the conditions under which children lived away from their families.

Table 11.5 presents a complete distribution of the households in which slave children lived just prior to emancipation.

At the time the snapshot was taken the ex-slaves varied in age from small children to young adults. The distribution includes the family types already discussed plus three new categories: living in the master’s house or in the quarters without parents, and married in own household.

Roughly 5 percent of the ex-slaves were raised for at least part of their childhood in the master’s house away from their parents. These slave children were largely, but not exclusively, female. They ended up in the master’s house Stephen Crawford

–  –  –

Note: Based on the ex-slaves’ actual living situation at emancipation.

primarily because they were transferred to a relative of the slaveowner or because they lost their natural parents through sale or death. The distinction between sale and transfer within the slaveowner’s family is important. Rarely were slave husband and wife separated by transfer. Children were transferred from their families but, unlike children sold from their families, rarely ended up alone in slave quarters. For example, Eliza Scantling told the following story about being given to her master’s daughter as a wedding present.

Both my missus wuz good to me. De last missus I own treat me jes’ de same as her own child. I stayed right dere in de house wid her, an’ if I wuz sick or anything she’d take care of me same as her own chillun. I nurse one of her chillun. An dat child would rather be wid me than wid her own mother. l8 Many of the ex-slaves who grew up in the master’s house were separated from their parents by such an intrafamily transfer. Other children were taken into the slaveowner’s home when their parents were sold away or died. Lola Chambers, who grew up in Kentucky, had such an experience.

I ain’t never seen my mother enough to really know her, cause she was sold off the plantation where I was raised, when I was too young to remember her, and I just growed up in the house with the white folks dat owned me,,.. I fared right well with my white masters. I done all de sewing in de house, wait on de table, clean up de house, knit and pick wool, and my old miss used to carry me to church with her whenever she went.I9 While most of the children who lived in the big house were permanently separated from their parents, some had family members on the farm. In certain cases the slave child performed household chores and slept in the master’s house until he or she was old enough to work in the field. In other cases the split with the slave family was more permanent.

18. Rawick, vol. 3 (4), South CarolinaNarratives, p. 80.

19. Rawick, vol. 11, MissouriNarrarives, pp. 79-80.

341 The Slave Family My young marster married a Miss Nannie Long, and then he give me to her for a maid. They taken me from mother on Christmas, and I was not six years old until March. I never lived with my mother; I lived right in the house with the white folks. I carried a white child on my arm most of the time. Of course I had company, but at nine o’clock I had to go into the house.2o The narratives suggest that slave children in the master’s house experienced an improved standard of living. In contrast, the 13 percent of the ex-slaves who lived without their parents in slave quarters experienced a harsher lifestyle. The distinguishing characteristic of these children is the lack of narrative information about their day-to-day living arrangements. The information on the family of origin and the tales of separation are extensive. After the separation, however, the information stops. This suggests that rather than joining a new family, the slave had to fend for her- or himself in the slave quarters. The narratives do not indicate that slaves moved easily from their biological family to a new protective family.

The risk a slave child faced of being sold from his or her family can be calculated from the narrative sample. Looking at the narrative collection as a whole, somewhat more than one hundred, or roughly 5 percent, of the slaves said they were sold away from their family at some time in their lives. The 5 percent is a lower bound since many narratives did not touch on family history. Restricting the sample to only those who provide family information increases to 7.5 percent the estimate of children sold from their family. Either figure, however, is significantly biased by the age distribution of the narrative sample at the time of emancipation. What is needed to evaluate the risk of sale away from the family is the probability at different ages.

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