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Born a Child of Freedom, Yet a Slave
Mechanisms of Control and Strategies of Resistance in Antebellum South Carolina
Norrece T. Jones, Jr.

1990 • 344 pp. 14 illus. Map 6 x 9"
African-American Studies / American History

$27.95 Paperback, 978-0-8195-6246-3

The diverse strategies employed by Southern slaveholders to keep their slaves under control—and those employed by the slaves to resist

Born a Child of Freedom, Yet a Slave explores the diverse strategies employed by Southern slaveholders to keep their slaves under control—from threats of sale, shackles, screw box, or treadmill, to a peck of corn a week, a dram of whiskey, a pound of tobacco, the bribe of freedom, and the promise of heaven. It explores also the counterdefensive strategies employed by the slaves to resist control—among them, arson, theft, poison, subterfuge, murder, escape, and rebellion.

Norrece Jones, himself a descendent of South Carolina slaves, has written a powerful book based on intensive research in the archives of antebellum South Carolina. He has studied slave testimony, legal records, folklore, spirituals, autobiographies of whites and blacks, newspaper accounts, church records, and many other sources. He challenges views of slavery as an interdependent paternalistic system; he sees it instead as a harsh and unceasing conflict, with most slaves refusing to accept their masters’ dictates and most slave owners struggling to keep slaves servile and devoted.

Means of control were both subtle and brutal. For example, there were festive holidays and gifts of liquor but also sadistic punishment: recalcitrant slaves—men and women alike— were staked to the ground or trussed from rafters with “nigger cord” to be whipped; some were branded; others were hanged or torched. Many of the same masters who provided a sick room for slaves also maintained a private jail.

But of all the means of control, the most sinister and the most effective was the threat of sale and separation from family. Troublemakers were routinely sold. The weak, the sick, the malingering, the disobedient, the impudent, the “incorrigible” were disposed of on the block. Slaves often aided and abetted runaways, although some, in hope of favor, were informants—every antebellum conspiracy in South Carolina was betrayed. Yet self-respect and pride survived nonetheless. “You no holy,” slaves told one mistress, “We holy.”

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Reviews / Endorsements

“With admirable cogency, Norrece Jones lays bare the harsh conflict between slaveholders’ multiple mechanisms for trying to keep their slaves servile and the slaves’ determined efforts to resist the domination of those who claimed to own them…Resonates with passion and power.”—Charles Joyner, University of South Carolina

“This fierce volume, especially in its emphasis on selling slaves from each other as a means of controlling them, reopens the debate of the nature and extent of planter paternalism.”—William W. Freehling, John Hopkins University

NORRECE T. JONES, JR., born in Philadelphia and raised in the urban North, spent his summers with four generations of family in the rural South, where he first saw the large plantations of antebellum South Carolina, symbols of the society of slavery. After a year at the University Of Ghana as an exchange student in 1972-73, he was graduated from Hampton in 1974. He received his Ph.D from Northwestern University in 1981. Jones is an associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Fri, 9 Nov 2018 09:30:13 -0500