Born in Bondage: Growing Up Enslaved in the Antebellum South / Edition 1

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Overview

Each time a child was born in bondage, the system of slavery began anew. Although raised by their parents or by surrogates in the slave community, children were ultimately subject to the rule of their owners. Following the life cycle of a child from birth through youth to young adulthood, Marie Jenkins Schwartz explores the daunting world of slave children, a world governed by the dual authority of parent and owner, each with conflicting agendas.

Despite the constant threats of separation and the necessity of submission to the slaveowner, slave families managed to pass on essential lessons about enduring bondage with human dignity. Schwartz counters the commonly held vision of the paternalistic slaveholder who determines the life and welfare of his passive chattel, showing instead how slaves struggled to give their children a sense of self and belonging that denied the owner complete control.

Born in Bondage gives us an unsurpassed look at what it meant to grow up as a slave in the antebellum South. Schwartz recreates the experiences of these bound but resilient young people as they learned to negotiate between acts of submission and selfhood, between the worlds of commodity and community.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books

Schwartz makes the original and useful point that there was an inherent conflict between paternalism...and the efforts of slaves to maintain a family life of their own. To the degree that masters took direct responsibility for slave children they undermined the authority of the parents and the unity of the slave family.
— George M. Fredrickson

Booklist

Historian Schwartz focuses on the parent-child bond in this nuanced study of the pressures that slavery placed on the families and how parents and children responded.
— Mary Carroll

H-Net Reviews

In Born in Bondage, Marie Jenkins Schwartz uses WPA slave narratives as well as diaries, letters, and account books left by slave holders to compare and contrast parents' and slaveowners' expectations, hopes, and meanings attached to a child born in slavery. Masters and parents both hoped to impart to the children their own beliefs about slavery, self-esteem, and the southern social system. Tracing the stages of a slave child's life from conception and birth to courtship and marriage, this book details the way that decisions were made about raising enslaved children and the way slave children learned to perceive their own lives.
— Angela Boswell

Journal of the Early Republic

Marie Jenkins Schwartz provides a masterful analysis..as she traces slaves' experiences from infancy and childhood through adolescence and into parenthood. In doing so, she adds to our understanding of the subtle power plays involved in plantation life and the extent to which children often become pawns in ongoing struggles over authority and identity...Schwartz's most original contribution lies in framing her findings in the arch of life stages from birth to adulthood.
— John C. Inscoe

Georgia Historical Quarterly

Relying primarily on the narratives with former slaves conducted under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, Schwartz focuses her attention on slaves in Virginia, along the rice coast of South Carolina and Georgia, and in Alabama. The result is a carefully constructed monograph that manages to offer new insights about familiar subjects...Her attention to the life cycle of slave children and families offers a fresh take on these familiar arguments, helping to strengthen them and to reaffirm the impressive accomplishment of slaves' survival.
— Marli F. Weiner

Choice

She is particularly insightful at describing 19th-century African American child-rearing practices and the relationships between slave children and their parents…Schwartz makes several major contributions to scholarly understanding of the history of antebellum slavery, the slave family, and childhood.
— E. W. Carp

New York Review of Books - George M. Fredrickson
Schwartz makes the original and useful point that there was an inherent conflict between paternalism...and the efforts of slaves to maintain a family life of their own. To the degree that masters took direct responsibility for slave children they undermined the authority of the parents and the unity of the slave family.
Booklist - Mary Carroll
Historian Schwartz focuses on the parent-child bond in this nuanced study of the pressures that slavery placed on the families and how parents and children responded.
H-Net Reviews - Angela Boswell
In Born in Bondage, Marie Jenkins Schwartz uses WPA slave narratives as well as diaries, letters, and account books left by slave holders to compare and contrast parents' and slaveowners' expectations, hopes, and meanings attached to a child born in slavery. Masters and parents both hoped to impart to the children their own beliefs about slavery, self-esteem, and the southern social system. Tracing the stages of a slave child's life from conception and birth to courtship and marriage, this book details the way that decisions were made about raising enslaved children and the way slave children learned to perceive their own lives.
Journal of the Early Republic - John C. Inscoe
Marie Jenkins Schwartz provides a masterful analysis..as she traces slaves' experiences from infancy and childhood through adolescence and into parenthood. In doing so, she adds to our understanding of the subtle power plays involved in plantation life and the extent to which children often become pawns in ongoing struggles over authority and identity...Schwartz's most original contribution lies in framing her findings in the arch of life stages from birth to adulthood.
Georgia Historical Quarterly - Marli F. Weiner
Relying primarily on the narratives with former slaves conducted under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, Schwartz focuses her attention on slaves in Virginia, along the rice coast of South Carolina and Georgia, and in Alabama. The result is a carefully constructed monograph that manages to offer new insights about familiar subjects...Her attention to the life cycle of slave children and families offers a fresh take on these familiar arguments, helping to strengthen them and to reaffirm the impressive accomplishment of slaves' survival.
Choice - E. W. Carp
She is particularly insightful at describing 19th-century African American child-rearing practices and the relationships between slave children and their parents…Schwartz makes several major contributions to scholarly understanding of the history of antebellum slavery, the slave family, and childhood.
New York Review of Books
Schwartz makes the original and useful point that there was an inherent conflict between paternalism...and the efforts of slaves to maintain a family life of their own. To the degree that masters took direct responsibility for slave children they undermined the authority of the parents and the unity of the slave family.
— George M. Fredrickson
Booklist
Historian Schwartz focuses on the parent-child bond in this nuanced study of the pressures that slavery placed on the families and how parents and children responded.
— Mary Carroll
H-Net Reviews
In Born in Bondage, Marie Jenkins Schwartz uses WPA slave narratives as well as diaries, letters, and account books left by slave holders to compare and contrast parents' and slaveowners' expectations, hopes, and meanings attached to a child born in slavery. Masters and parents both hoped to impart to the children their own beliefs about slavery, self-esteem, and the southern social system. Tracing the stages of a slave child's life from conception and birth to courtship and marriage, this book details the way that decisions were made about raising enslaved children and the way slave children learned to perceive their own lives.
— Angela Boswell
Journal of the Early Republic
Marie Jenkins Schwartz provides a masterful analysis..as she traces slaves' experiences from infancy and childhood through adolescence and into parenthood. In doing so, she adds to our understanding of the subtle power plays involved in plantation life and the extent to which children often become pawns in ongoing struggles over authority and identity...Schwartz's most original contribution lies in framing her findings in the arch of life stages from birth to adulthood.
— John C. Inscoe
Georgia Historical Quarterly
Relying primarily on the narratives with former slaves conducted under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, Schwartz focuses her attention on slaves in Virginia, along the rice coast of South Carolina and Georgia, and in Alabama. The result is a carefully constructed monograph that manages to offer new insights about familiar subjects...Her attention to the life cycle of slave children and families offers a fresh take on these familiar arguments, helping to strengthen them and to reaffirm the impressive accomplishment of slaves' survival.
— Marli F. Weiner
Choice
She is particularly insightful at describing 19th-century African American child-rearing practices and the relationships between slave children and their parents…Schwartz makes several major contributions to scholarly understanding of the history of antebellum slavery, the slave family, and childhood.
— E. W. Carp
KLIATT
By 1860, the U.S. contained four million slaves. Half of them were under 15 years of age. While material for this research is difficult to come by, Schwartz attempts to chronicle the childhood of these enslaved youngsters. Working from the WPA slave narratives of the thirties, slave memoirs and autobiographical works, plantation records, and, notably, the research of George Rawick, Schwartz organizes her material by developmental stages from the treatment of the pregnant mother through the birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence and finally marriage of the young slave. This book can be approached chapter by chapter. Each section contains enough repetition and such plentiful examples of the author's points that a sect ional treatment is possible. Most interesting, perhaps, is the dilemma faced by the young slave caught between the rules and expectations of the master and those of the slave community. The parents, too, are caught, as they attempt to retain some control over the lives of their children within a system that would allow them little or no such control. The reader of this book may indeed close it with great anger toward the slave system and the nation that tolerated it for so long. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Harvard Univ. Press, 272p. maps. notes. index., $17.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Patricia A. Moore; Brookline, MA , November 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 6)
Library Journal
In her first book, Schwartz looks deeply into the everyday ways masters and slave parents negotiated for "control" over slave children, a subject only recently plumbed in Thomas Webber's Deep Like the Rivers and Wilma King's Stolen Childhood. With a sophisticated reading of the WPA slave narratives, she reconstructs the experiences of slaves in Virginia, South Carolina, and Alabama, from birth, becoming "educated" to the world around them, reaching sexual maturity, and learning to work. Masters had ultimate power, in law and practice, and threatened slave families with disruption and sale, but they also sought to win over slave children with affection and favors. Slave parents simultaneously sought to protect their children by teaching them how to "put on ole massa" and to look to the slave community for identity and support. In her very readable book, Schwartz finds the masters' paternalism less generous than slaveholders boasted and more complicated than historians surmise today. An important addition to scholarship for all college libraries.--Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
A significant study of the hardships of raising children in antebellum slavery. Schwartz (History/Univ. of Rhode Island) opens by surveying the previous scholarship in the field. Past studies rarely treated the issues of slave children and their psycho-social traumas—and the earliest studies even apologized for the relatively benevolent, if condescending, Southern plantation owners. Caribbean slaves had more arduous field work and were given less time off for childbearing and -raising, but Schwartz is less interested in physical conditions and pays little attention to statistical data (such as estimations of the age at which slave mothers and children were put into the fields). Her focus is inside the shacks, families, hearts, and minds of bonded parents and children. Most born slaves did have two parents, and Schwartz wants to know how much parents could counteract the prevailing slave culture. She sees that this challenge was formidable, as paternalistic owners ruled over parents in more insidious ways than the merely economic. At their very births, masters would hover at slaves' bedsides like anxious, proud racehorse owners. The slaveholders' meddling co-opted parental authority, denied their ability to provide necessities, and subdued their attempts to provide alternative cultural and social identities. Parents "hoped the arrival of children would encourage owners to recognize the authenticity of slaves' personal relationships . . . [which] fostered the child's loyalty to family and community." So, despite the natural parental desire to foster independence in their children, they inhibited these feelings to dissuade owners from selling childrenandbreaking up their families. Caught in a dilemma, most mothers opted for the survival of their families. Schwartz feels that slaveholders involved themselves in the lives of slave children, from cradle to marriage, largely to earn their loyalty and justify their horrific institution. The fluid writing is enlivened by oral histories, chapter notes, and striking photos. Essential reading for all who want to understand the complex and long-lasting forces pulling at America's antebellum slaves. (17 b&w photos)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674007208
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 732,711
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Marie Jenkins Schwartz is Associate Professor of History at the University of Rhode Island.
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Table of Contents

Introduction

1. Birth of a Slave

2. New Mothers and Fathers

3. Young Children in the Quarter

4. Education in the Middle Years

5. To the Field

6. Risk of Sale and Separation

7. Young Love and Marriage

Epilogue

Abbreviations

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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