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Ante-Bellum North Carolina: A Social History: Electronic Edition.

Johnson, Guion Griffis, 1900- 1989

CHAPTER XVIII SOCIAL LIFE OF THE SLAVE

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CHAPTER XVIII
SOCIAL LIFE OF THE SLAVE

           IT WAS often said that a slave was two persons, the one who worked in his master's field by day and the other who "pleasured" himself by night. Certain it was that a slave so considered himself, for no matter how hard he had labored during the day as his master's property, he shed his chattel state as he left the field behind, and he entered his own cabin as a person. This life which he led with his own people, apart from the ever-watchful eye of his master, was the life that made slavery endurable.

LIVING CONDITIONS

           It was generally held that a slave who had plenty to eat did not object to his work, however hard.

           "They say, Toney, that the Doctor is a hard man to live with. He wants a great deal done," said one slave to another.

           "Yes," replied Toney, "but he gives plenty of good fat pork, which helps mightily. Where they ain't no work, they ain't no eating." 1

           It was not difficult to tell whether a Negro had sufficient rations. If his skin was dry, scaly, and grayish, it was certain that he was underfed; but, if he was sleek and greasy, that he had frequent access to mess pork. "There are many farmers who feed their negroes sparingly, believing that it is economy," wrote the Farmers' Journal, "but such is not the fact." 2

Dr. John F. Tompkins, editor of the Journal, allowanced each hand, giving men in winter five pounds of pork, clear of bone, and a peck of meal a week and women four pounds of pork and a peck of meal. In the summer he reduced the meat allowance by one pound and added a quart of molasses. 3

           Meat, meal, molasses, and sweet potatoes were the rations which planters customarily issued to their slaves. Other provisions the slaves ordinarily supplied themselves, either from their



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own garden patches or with money which they made in various ways. 4 On the D. L. Russell plantation in Brunswick County where there were 150 slaves, in the winter of 1854-1855 there were slaughtered 150 hogs and "as many cattle as were needed for domestic use." 5 On the T. P. Devereux plantations on Roanoke River the slaves were divided into two classes for purposes of feeding, hands and idlers. The hands got 156 pounds of meat during the year and 52 pecks of meal; the idlers, rations according to their ability to consume them. In Polly's family, for instance, where there were six idlers; they received an average of 69 1/3 pounds of meat and 32 2/3 pecks of meal. 6

           S. B. Carraway of Lenoir County gave his Negroes coffee every morning. He began the practice when cholera was prevalent in that section of the State to prevent their taking the disease. "He was so struck with the advantages that arose from its use," said the Farmers' Journal, "that he has continued it ever since." 7

James C. Johnson, owner in 1850 of one of the largest plantations on the Roanoke, set aside a special cook for his slaves and fed them "at a table common to all, upon food well cooked, and nutritious in quality." 8

           Most planters provided all essential clothing for their slaves, either by the garment or by the yard, which the slave mother made into clothes for her family during her spare time. Some planters, however, as, for instance, Ebenezer Pettigrew, who owned a plantation on Phelps Lake, required his slaves to provide their own shoes. 9

The master issued clothing twice a year, in the spring and autumn. In the winter the men wore shoes, jacket, trousers, and shirt; the women, shoes, chemise, petticoat, and dress. Sometimes as often as every other year, the men received wool caps, and the women had a yearly allowance of head cloths. In summer their garb was scanty, indeed, shirt and trousers for the men, chemise and dress for the women, with a sunbonnet for those

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who worked in the fields. The master usually issued blankets every other year.

           "Negro cloth" was either plain homespun, cotton for summer and wool for winter, dyed blue or brown and made on the plantation, or blue checked osnaburgs bought from a local merchant or in Petersburg, Norfolk, or some northern city. In 1809 Joseph Brevard of Camden, S. C., bought tow cloth for his slaves. "Inform me," he wrote to his brother in Lincoln County, North Carolina, "whether I may procure from the county above you Tow cloth of a tolerable good quality, which will answer instead of Oznabgs. for Summer clothing for negroes, . . . If I could obtain such coarse tow Linnen as will answer for negroes, cheap, for cash, I would take about 300 yards." 10

           On some plantations, the spinning, weaving, and sewing were done by slave women unable to do field work, but on others the master employed white women to do the work and the mistress herself sometimes helped. Phillips Moore of Person County regularly employed a white woman to spin, weave, and sew for his Negroes and a man to make their shoes. In 1803, for instance, he paid a Mrs. Hogue £3 for making Scipio "overhalls and Jacoat." 11

Stephen A. Norfleet of Bertie County also employed white women to weave the summer and winter clothing for his people. The bill for weaving in 1846 amounted to $6.75 for 184 yards of summer cloth and $12 for winter cloth. He also had to buy the cotton and wool yarn for the weaving. In the late antebellum period he acquired a tradesman who made the shoes for the hands, but until then he regularly hired the work done, paying, for instance, $9.50 in 1849 for thirty-three pairs of shoes. 12

           Most Negroes were not content with the simple clothes their masters provided, and sought, whenever possible, to obtain a "Sunday best" with their own money. The North Carolina Standard of December 25, 1835, thought that Negroes too often "appropriated" their money for "expensive costume, whereby very respectable white dandies are scandalized, being insulted by the successful



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imitation of the style and manner of exquisite and exclusive gentility." When Sion ran away from home in 1802 he had with him "a superfine Broad Cloth blue Coat and Breeches, and a snuff coloured Suit, both very good." 13 In 1834 a certain slave, Peter, had "one mixed Coat, one Sattinet Coat, mixed Waistcoat half worn, black silk Waistcoat, one pair of Ticking Pantaloons, striped lengthwise of northern stuff, also one pair of Tow and Cotton, home manufacture, also a half worn Fur Hat and a black Leather Cap." 14

           The Negro cabins, grouped together in a single or double row back of the master's house, were made of clapboards or of poles chinked with clay. Each had a large fireplace and stone hearth where the family cooking was done, a table, some shelves, and perhaps a rude bed, a chest, and a few plantation-made chairs. It was a common practice for Negroes to sleep in a heap of rags or on a corn shuck mattress on the floor, or on a plank or chair.

           The row of Negro cabins was known as the quarters and the surrounding grounds as "the street" or the "Nigger-house yard." The cabins might contain one large room or two small ones divided by a thin partition. As a rule, the houses were unsealed, and their occupants, to keep out the cold as well as to satisfy their sense of the beautiful, plastered the walls with whatever paper they could obtain. Some planters, for purposes of cleanliness, whitewashed the houses inside and out once a year. The slaves on some plantations had to gather their own fuel as they returned from the field at night; on others the cabins were abundantly supplied with wood in cold weather, several teams being constantly employed for this purpose. 15

           All who visited Panola in Edgecombe County commented upon the excellence of the slave quarters. Dancy and Norfleet, who bought the plantation in the early fifties, at once built new quarters. Professor Emmons, who visited the plantation in 1853, thought "the removal of the cabins to an airy, healthy, and central position" one of the most important improvements which the new owners had made on the plantation. They added outhouses,



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a convenience seldom thought necessary for Negroes. 16 In October, 1854, the Farmers' Journal wrote of the cabins, "From their outside appearance, they seem of superior order to any I have seen elsewhere, and each family more comfortably lodged, than any known agricultural laborers, whether slave or free." 17 Visitors also frequently mentioned the excellence of the quarters on the Burgwyn plantations on Roanoke River. "We were particularly struck with the provisions made for the comfort of the negroes on the plantations," wrote the editor of the Southern Weekly Post. "Their houses are all good framed buildings with a garden attached to each." 18

           Masters were required by law to provide for the essential comforts of their slaves and to care for the superannuated as well as the able. Only a few instances are on record in which the law had to be invoked for this purpose. In 1800, for instance, the Carteret County Court ordered a certain Thomas Russell to pay the wardens of the poor £5 annually "for the maintenance of a certain negro woman named Chris who is turned off by the said Russell and is past labour." 19

           The Carolina Cultivator divided North Carolina farmers in 1855 into "two well-known classes." One class owned slaves who were "ragged, filthy, and thievish"; the other, slaves who were well clothed, fed, and housed, cheerful, industrious, and contented. 20

Travelers who knew North Carolina and Virginia chiefly by what they saw along the post-roads thought the Negroes of Virginia better cared for than those of North Carolina. Adam Hodgson, a British traveler in North Carolina in 1820, thought that both "the black and white population, altered very sensibly for the worse," as he passed into North Carolina from Virginia. 21 Frederick Law Olmsted, a New York journalist, reporting upon conditions in the South in the fifties, thought, however, that slavery in North Carolina was less lamentable than in Virginia and that the Negroes of both Virginia and North Carolina looked better

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than those of South Carolina. They were better clothed and appeared brighter. 22

SLAVE HEALTH

           On most plantations the young and the sick received special attention. Enceinte women usually worked at half task until the last few months of pregnancy when only a fourth task was required of them. Midwives, either white or slave, always attended the women. Phillips Moore, of Person County, employed a Mrs. Bumpass in Chatham County to attend his slave Annica. He paid the midwife her expenses and 10 shillings. 23

As a rule, no work was required of the mother until the infant was a month old. From that time until the child was two or three months old the mother returned to the quarters to suckle the infant. Later the nurse, usually a child, carried the baby into the field to the mother.

           All plantation children were left in the care of an elderly nurse who was assisted by several children from seven to twelve years of age. The nurse prepared the children's food as well as looked after them during the day. From the time they were six months old until they were two or three they were usually given soup, molasses, corn meal mush, and vegetables.

           The Burgwyn brothers, like other planters on a large scale, had "regular hospitals for the sick." It was much easier to care for an ailing Negro if he was in "the sick house" in charge of a competent person. Dr. Robert W. Gibbs of Columbia, South Carolina, writing of his work in caring for the slaves on several South Carolina plantations, said: "On every plantation the sick nurse, or doctor woman, is usually the most intelligent female on the place; and she has full authority, under the physician, over the sick. The overseer sends her to all cases and she reports to him; if the cases are slight, he or she (oftener she) prescribes for them--if they are at all serious, the physician is sent for, and at any hour of the night. Often I have ridden twelve or fifteen miles on a cold and rainy night to an infant, or even to an old and useless negro." 24

           On plantations where there were no hospitals, the slave mother or father stayed from work to look after the sick one, but if the



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physician found the parent inattentive or inefficient, he selected another nurse. "Often have I done this," wrote Dr. Gibbs, "and every planter knows it is to his interest to approve." The mistress of the plantation or the overseer's wife also did a great amount of nursing. "I have seen the mistress give the same attention habitually to the sick negro child as to her own, and sit up all night to see that it was not neglected," wrote Dr. Gibbs.

           Owners of large plantations habitually employed their family physicians to look after the slaves and paid them a yearly fee of perhaps $1.50 per slave for their services. Dr. Gibbs thought there was no class of working people in the world better cared for than the southern slave, from the cradle to the grave. "I have," he said, "often received a large fee for a surgical operation on a superannuated or useless negro, when humanity dictated it to relieve suffering, or for the removal of a cataract to allow old age the precious privilege of a restoration to sight."

           The illnesses which the planter feared most were pneumonia and cholera. It was generally considered that "negroes bear cold badly," and for this reason those who had much work in the open during the winter months wore wool clothing, knitted caps and flannel shirts for the men and wool stockings for the women. The small children invariably wore flannel. The use of wool clothing, "with good blankets and abundant fuel," were found to be the best means of decreasing the slave death rate from pneumonia. Cholera came in epidemics, and the planters combatted this disease by changing the diet of their slaves and by moving the quarters to new ground. 25

           In 1856 Stephen A. Norfleet of Woodbourne and Indian Woods plantations in Bertie County carefully kept a record of all illnesses among his slaves. He had at this time forty-two black polls. During the year Norfleet listed twenty-seven cases of illness severe enough to keep the Negroes indoors. One man who had "fits" accounted for three of the cases. Clara, who was pregnant, was "in the house" twice. Of the remaining twenty-two cases, two were sprains; one was burns, "almost to death"; one was cramp colic; two were biles; and six were chills. The nature of the remaining thirteen cases was not mentioned, being so mild as to keep



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the sufferers indoors only a day or so. The Negroes on the Indian Woods plantation were unusually healthy. Late in August Norfleet wrote, "Visited Indian Woods today. All hands at home & well--the health of the Negroes has been remarkably good this Season, not a days work having been lost by any hand since the crop was planted." 26

           When planters required the slaves to clean their quarters regularly and launder their clothes frequently, they found that there was less sickness among them. A South Carolina doctor, Dr. J. H. Simons of Charleston, said, "I have observed that those negroes who were the most filthy in their persons, were generally, the most unhealthy, and many diseases of the skin which are supposed to be Scrofula, and treated as such, arise entirely from filth of the body." He thought planters should supply their slaves with combs and require their daily use. "Many of the eruptions which appear to be diseases of the scalp, are caused entirely by vermin, and consequent scratching." 27

THE SLAVE AND HIS MONEY

           It is a mistake to assume that the southern slave had no money and no means of earning any. It has already been pointed out that the planter often rewarded his slaves for extra work by giving them small amounts of cash. Planters found that their slaves worked better and were more contented if they had the means of obtaining small luxuries for themselves, tobacco, molasses, clothing, furniture for their cabins. It was customary to give slaves small amounts of money at Christmas as well as at other times during the year. A planter who hired a slave often gave him twenty-five cents at the end of every week as an inducement to good behavior. 28

It was customary on the turpentine plantations to pay a small amount for all boxes over the usual task which a hand cut, chipped, or dipped. Some planters also paid for all cotton picked over a certain amount, usually a hundred pounds, and for extra bundles of tobacco hung up to dry in the barns. Stephen A. Norfleet always paid his hands for "extra work," which he listed as mauling, ditching, or setting out apple trees. In March, 1858, he paid his Woodbourne people $35 and his Indian Woods people $49 for extra work. In addition, he bought them tobacco to the amount of $5. He also paid

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cotton picking premiums, $20 in 1854, and the usual granny, or midwife, fees. 29 He bought corn and fodder of his Negroes, a crop which he permitted them to make during the regular day's work rather than during their own time "after task." In 1855 he paid the Negroes $125.30 for their crop of corn and fodder. 30 In 1859 Judge Manly handed down a decision in which he implied that the system of rewards was necessary to preserve the system of slavery and that the gratuities might "be developed to any desired extent without violating either the express law or general policy of the country." 31 But when Milly, slave of Nathaniel Lea of Caswell County, had accumulated $1,500 from the sale of fowls, butter, ice cream, and various articles of bed clothing which she made, the Supreme Court thought that her master had "developed" the system beyond the "desired extent." "It would seem," declared the Court, "to be against the policy of the law for a master to allow his slave freedom and privilege to work and traffic in this State, to the extent of acquiring so large a sum as $1,500." 32

           It was long a custom in North Carolina as elsewhere in the South to give each slave family a small plot of ground to cultivate. Here the slave might grow vegetables for his own table and corn for his chickens. The master was usually willing to take any surplus vegetables, eggs, or chickens which his slaves might have and pay for them the regular market price; or he might permit his slaves to sell their produce elsewhere. "I have recently purchased two hundred and fifty bushels of corn from the negroes of one plantation in my care," wrote Dr. Gibbs in 1858, "and the overseer has just informed me that there is as much more for me. I have known a single negro [to] receive one hundred and twenty dollars, for his year's crop of corn and fodder, raised by his own labor, when his own task had been done." 33

           James H. Martin, a wealthy planter of Anson County, permitted his slaves to make small crops of cotton and other produce in patches of their own. The slaves did not sell the cotton themselves. Their owner required them, as they picked it, to bring the cotton to his gin where he had it packed, taken to market, and sold



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with his own. After deducting a due proportion of the expenses, he paid the Negroes their share of the proceeds. In reviewing the case which arose when the executor of Martin's estate deducted the proceeds of the Negroes' crops from the expenses of the estate, Chief Justice Ruffin said, "Experience has proved so fully the advantages of these minor benefactions to a dependent race, which humanity at first prompted, that there is scarcely an owner of slaves who does not act" as this planter did. These "petty gains and properties have been allowed to our servants by usage, and may be justified by policy and law, upon the same principle that the savings of a wife in housekeeping, by sales of milk, butter, cheese, vegetables, and so forth, are declared to be, by the husband's consent, the property of the wife. . . . It is true a slave cannot have property; . . . But it is equally true that a married woman can have no property in money or personal chattels in possession." 34

           As Judge Ruffin pointed out, it was unlawful for a slave to possess chattels, for he was a chattel himself. Accordingly, he could not raise horses, cattle, or hogs for his own use. Stock belonging to a slave or bearing a slave's mark was subject to seizure. The proceeds from the sale of such property went to the support of the poor. 35

Nevertheless, there were instances in which slaves did own stock unmolested. The slaves of Robert McNamara of Rowan County were in the habit of raising hogs for themselves and kept them in pens within sight of their master's house. At last, however, the wardens of the poor seized the hogs and the court upheld the seizure. 36

           A slave who had been taught a trade, such as that of carpentry or bricklaying, sometimes did not have enough work on his master's plantation to keep him employed the year round. The master, therefore, hired the slave to his neighbors, but, even then, the craftsman might not find sufficient employment. The practice arose of permitting such a Negro to go about the country looking for work. He carried with him a written statement to that effect, constituting a sort of license to work at large. A slave often bargained with his master, agreeing to pay him a certain sum each year in return for the privilege of working wherever he chose, and he was said to have "hired his time." In 1794 it became unlawful



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for a master to permit a slave to hire his time "under any pretense whatever." In cases of violation, the master was to be fined $40 and the slave hired out at public vendue for a year. 37 Wilmington and New Bern obtained exemption from this law, "owing to the difficulty of obtaining white laborers," 38 and the act was disregarded in a great many places.

           Until 1831 violations of the act were winked at, but the Nat Turner insurrection in Virginia and the threat of insurrection in Eastern North Carolina made the whites uneasy. A petition from Lenoir County pointed out that black peddlers traveled in carts from county to county and that slaves who hired their time had for many years regularly come into Lenoir County on all public occasions to sell cakes, tobacco, and liquor. 39

The act of 1831 passed in response to this appeal forbade a master's permitting a slave to hire his own time or to keep house as a free person on penalty of a $100 fine. 40 But the law was easily evaded, and a few slaves hired their own time until the close of the ante-bellum period. 41 The merchants of Wilmington pointed out in 1835 that in a town where there was much produce being loaded there were many small jobs for which it was impossible to depend upon white labor and that it was inconvenient to seek out the owner of a slave each time before hiring him. 42

           Since the slave had money in his pocket, he was a potential buyer, and slave money was as good as master's money. Indeed, unless the planter kept his own store and required his slaves to buy of him, as did Ebenezer Pettigrew of Phelps Lake, the slave was more likely to patronize the small tradesman than was the planter, who frequently bought his supplies in large quantities at a distant market. The accounts of merchants frequently show, as did those of Phillips Moore of Person County, that the neighborhood slaves were in the habit of buying small articles. The Moore Account Book, 1810-1816, records, for instance, that "on the 26th. of Sept. Old Jim had little better than ½ a pint [of liquor] for



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white onions" and that on April 17 Scipio had "Shoe Leather, supposed to be abt. a balance for Tobacco bot. of him." 43

           The practice of trading with slaves was the subject of much controversy and of numerous laws. In 1741, 1788, 1791, 1805, 1819, 1826, 1828, 1830, and 1831 the Legislature passed acts "to amend the several acts of the Assembly of this State to prevent dealing or trafficking with slaves." The act of 1819 made it unlawful for anyone to "deal, trade, or traffic" with a slave for any commodity without the written consent of the master upon pain of being fined $50. The offense was indictable, and, in case the offender was a retailer of liquors, he was to forfeit his license for two years. 44

In a later law the forbidden commodities were enumerated in detail and the fine raised to $100. 45

           A planter who did not object to his Negroes selling and buying on a small scale frequently wrote blanket permits for them. In 1809, for example, a Mrs. Sneed of Person County gave her Negro Jim the following permit:

           As long as a slave had the price of an article, a tradesman was not likely to ask him to show his trading permit. Because of this laxity, John Faddis of Orange County issued the following warning in the Hillsborough Recorder of January 16, 1822:

           I HEREBY warn all persons not to trade with any of my negroes, particularly with Jim, Joe, Alfred and Peter, in any way whatever, unless it be by permission from me in writing. Some persons, unknown to me, having been in the habit, for some time past, of letting my negroes have spirituous liquors, and thereby have rendered them useless to me in a considerable degree; I am determined hence forward to enforce the law to the utmost extent against all persons who may trade with them, in however slight a degree, in violation of the laws of the country.



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           John Faddis' threat may have been effective, but storekeepers elsewhere in the State continued to deal with slaves. A citizen of Hertford County wrote the governor in 1824: ". . . the practice of trading with Negroes is common in this Sec. of the State with all traders, however respectable may be their standing, notwithstanding the law." 47

In 1829 a correspondent of the Raleigh Star thought that if the law was enforced "every person in the State who is now engaged in business of any kind, either merchandising, the equally honorable vocation of tilling the earth, or any other" would be found violating it. 48 In 1844 Judge Ruffin declared that "trading with slaves is an acknowledged common mischief," 49 and in 1848 a petition from Pasquotank County carrying fifty-seven signatures informed the Legislature that the planters of that county suffered "to a very great extent from thefts committed by the slaves" because the culprits could always find a ready market for their produce in any grog shop. 50

FAMILY LIFE

           As important as money in the pocket in building up a wholesome morale among slaves was the master's observance of family life among his black people. He gave each family a place to live; he issued rations by families; he encouraged slave marriages and respected the grief of a family when a member died. Some families built up a strong feeling of solidarity and loyalty. Thus a committee, appointed to investigate the estate of John Haywood, stated that his slaves would not be willing to have their families broken up and separated. They would prefer to take the risk of running away to a free state. 51

"I would rather you would buy negroes for David J. White and Ann J. Calvin, than to separate families," wrote Ann J. White in making her will. "I wish all this done at once, so as to save their being scattered." 52 Chief Justice Ruffin was of the opinion that "the greatest solace" which a slave had was that of having a family of his own. 53



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           Slavery tended to make the Negro family matriarchal in form. The slave cabin was usually known as the wife's house. Thus, Stephen A. Norfleet wrote in his plantation book on January 4, 1856, "Hands . . . building a Negro house for Rachel." 54

Since children legally took the status of the mother, slave children were considered as belonging to the mother and were referred to as such in every-day conversation and on the plantation records. It was not uncommon for a Negro man to go through life known, for instance, as Suky's Toby or Mary's Tom. When a planter did list a Negro family under the name of the father, it was usually as Joseph Brevard of Camden, South Carolina, did in 1798: "Jumper & his family, viz., Amey and her children, Sam, Frank, Hester, Valentine, Molly." 55 A planter might have no compunctions against separating a man from his wife, but he would generally go to great length to keep a mother and her young children together. Thus, family stability tended to center about the mother as the head. It was she who usually went to the corncrib and storehouse for the weekly rations; she who did the family cooking; she who made the cloth into garments when the master issued clothing by the yard instead of the piece; she who hoarded her little savings to make the cabin more comfortable.

           The planter who owned a great many slaves usually preferred that they select mates on the plantation to avoid the confusion of having another planter's Negroes coming and going among the quarters at night and in the early morning hours. If one of his men coveted a wench on a neighboring plantation he might even be willing to purchase her so that his slave might have the wife he loved. 56

A great many slaves, however, preferred to choose their wives elsewhere so that they might have greater freedom in leavin the plantation. An act of 1729 passed for the purpose of restricting the mobility of the slave population added by way of proviso that nothing in the act should be construed "to hinder neighbors' negroes intermarrying together, license being first had of their several masters."

           In 1823 L. V. Hargis of Point Pleasant in Person County wrote the following note to Phillips Moore, giving permission for Ben to marry:



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           When slaves decided to marry, they went to their master, or to the overseer in the absence of the master, and signified their intention. The master might immediately ask the couple to join hands while he pronounced them man and wife or he might set a day for the ceremony. The wedding 58

might take place in the quarters, the yard, or in the master's kitchen, and the master might himself perform the ceremony or yield his place to a minister or to a religious leader from among the slaves. After a simple celebration with sweetened water and a meat stew, singing and dancing, the couple went to their new home, a cabin which the master assigned them.

           Separation was equally casual. The marriage might be dissolved at the pleasure of either party or by the sale of one or both, being dependent, therefore, upon caprice or the necessity of their owners. The master, however, found it to his advantage to encourage marriage stability and to insist that his slaves abandon their African tradition of polygamy in favor of monogamy. After a certain slave named Samuel of a near-by plantation had lived with Mina, the slave of A. M. Lea of Caswell County, and had had five children by her, he quarreled with her, and bundling up his clothes, he started away, saying that he intended to part with her. Lea, however, compelled Samuel to leave the clothes until he obtained a written permit from his master sanctioning the separation. 59

           Slave marriages were not recognized by law on the ground that a slave was incapable of entering into a contract. 60

The relation which existed between slaves, Judge Ruffin declared in the case of State v. Samuel, was "only that of concubinage, which is voluntary on the part of the slaves, and permissive on that of the master."

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This relation, consequently, did not include any of the civil rights or disabilities incident to marriage. A slave's wife might give evidence against him even in a capital case, but a slave could never be held guilty of bigamy, for the law saw no difference between the case of slaves who entered into the relation of man and wife by the express permission of their owners and the case of those who "took up" with each other from a mere impulse of nature. The criminal law, however, recognized the marriage relation between slaves in so far as to admit the application of the rule that when a person finds one in the act of adultery with his wife, and instantly kills him, it is but manslaughter, because of the legal provocation. 61

           Likewise there was legally no such thing as bastardy among slaves. In a case, Alvaney v. Powell, where a mother and children were emancipated, the court held that a child, born while the mother had no husband, was entitled to the same share of her estate as the children who were born while she had a husband, on the ground "that in regard to slaves, after they become free Negroes, there is no necessity growing out of grave consideration of public policy for the adoption of the stern rule of the common law." But in a later case, Howard v. Howard, the court held that slaves who had been married before emancipation were guilty of a misdemeanor in living together as man and wife without being married as the law required upon receiving their freedom, and that children born after their parents' emancipation were bastards.

           While the courts held that a slave was incapable of maintaining the relation of husband and wife, the church took the opposite view. In 1805, for instance, Bear Creek Baptist Church sent to the Sandy Creek Association the following query: "What do we consider as a valid marriage between black people; and if any marriage be valid, is it in our fellowship to part them on any occasion?" After deliberating the question, the Association decided that a valid marriage existed "when they come together in their former and general custom, having no [other] companion." As to the separation of slave families, the Association advised its member churches as follows: "Owners of slaves should use all reasonable and lawful means to prevent them from being separated. To effect this, they



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should put themselves to some inconvenience, in buying, selling, or exchanging, to keep them together. Both moral obligation and humanity demand it." 62

           Before the Sandy Creek Association adopted such a course, the Baptist Church at Wheeley's Meeting House was disciplining slave members for violations of the marriage relation. In 1801 the church conference recorded: "As Jinny, belonging to Mrs. Woods, is said to be with child which she says is by a man who she always looked upon as her husband, the church appeared in doubt about it as the said negro man had been parted from her some years. We therefore conclude to send her by Brethren Isaac Rainey, John Terrel and Bailor Burch to examine further into it and try to git her to next church meeting." The following month, Jinny came to church "and appear'd to think herself Justifyable," but the conference "upon conversing with her mistress and inquiring into circumstances" voted that "she sin'd against God in not asking leave of her mistress or asking council of any of the church, but suffer'd herself to be decoy'd by the said negro Peter under promise of living with her as a husband." Jinny was, accordingly, put under the censure of the church. 63

           On other occasions the church took up the cases of Peter who had "a notion of taking another wife" when there appeared "to be a difficulty in the way of his gitting his former wife"; of Charlotte who married "when her former Husband was yet alive and in reach of her"; Spencer whose wife turned him away and who was instructed not to take another wife until the church gave him permission; and of an unnamed "Black member" who had "2 children laid to him." 64

           Chief Justice Pearson, in reviewing the case of Alvaney v. Powell, thought that slaves made "a wide distinction" between cohabitation as man and wife and indiscriminate sexual relations. "As a general rule," he said, "they respect the exclusive rights of fellow-slaves who are married." 65

When a slave husband found that his rights were being violated, he was likely to become as enraged as was a free man. For example, Jacob, the property of

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William Lightfoot of Raleigh, suspected that Trueman Goode, a free Negro, was consorting with his wife. Upon returning home unexpectedly one day, he found Goode there and immediately attacked him with a stick. 66

           A slave named John, a house painter by trade, frequently quarreled with his wife Flora because he suspected her of adultery with a slave named Ben. John and Flora frequently separated and came together again. One day, complaining that his dinner was not properly prepared, John became angry, whipped Flora and turned her out of his house, telling her not to return. Flora pretended that she was going to her mother, but actually went to Ben's house. When John learned of Flora's whereabouts, he declared that "he would have his wife out of Ben's house," and killed Ben in the scuffle that followed. 67

           As a rule, members of slave families seemed to have great affection for one another. When Judge John H. Bryan moved from New Bern to Raleigh his Negro woman Winney refused to come with him because her husband, the slave of another, could not come also. Rather than break up the family, Judge Bryan permitted Winney to stay in New Bern, hired out at a yearly wage, until her husband died. 68

           Slave families were often large. The girls usually matured at an early age and, if their health continued good, bore children at frequent intervals just as their mistresses did. In twenty-two years, Liley, slave of Stephen A. Norfleet of Bertie County, bore ten children, seven of whom were living in 1858. She was twenty-one when her first child was born and forty-three when her last was born. She had the record, remarkable for both whites and Negroes, of having lost only one infant. Louisa, another of Norfleet's slaves, had seven children between 1849 and 1859, only one of whom was living at the close of the ante-bellum period. All except one, who died as an infant, lived more than a year, indicating that their deaths were probably due to neglect and improper diet. 69

           Slave parents, as a rule, were as harsh in disciplining their



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children as their masters were in disciplining them. They spoke abruptly and punished severely, justifying themselves on the ground that they did not want "no-manners" children. Adam Hodgson, a British traveler in North Carolina in 1820, mentioned seeing "the young Black fry" crawling about the door and, "if the family are indulgent, about the house." He found the children "frequently quite naked, as sleek and glossy as may be, . . . When very young, they seem to mix almost indiscriminately with the White children, who, however, occasionally demonstrate their acknowledged superiority, though less peevishly than I should have expected." 70 Bryan Tyson, a North Carolinian of Union sympathies who wrote a defense of slavery in 1863, referred to the slave children as "running about, kicking up their heels, and seeing their pleasure." 71 It was not long, however, that slave children enjoyed these indulgences, for there were light tasks, such as minding child, which even five-year-old hands could perform.

           When a slave died, his family mourned for him a great while, and the lamentations at the time of the funeral were fraught with emotion. Slaves who were members of a church were sometimes buried in the church cemetery. Planters also frequently set aside a burial ground for the use of their black people. It was not uncommon for slaves to have tombstones, erected by the master or bought from the savings of the slave family. 72

In the early ante-bellum period, it was customary with the black population, as with the white, to have a feast at the time of the funeral. The Reverend James Jenkins, a Methodist circuit rider in the Carolinas, thought the Negroes carried the feast beyond the point of decency. "They would have a great supper," he wrote, "and after this what they called a play for the dead, which was nothing but a frolic, which lasted to the dawn of day, when they went to the grave of the deceased, making great lamentation over it, and broke a bottle of spirits on the head board, or if they could not be had, meal and water were substituted in its place." 73 Jenkins also remarked upon the custom among both whites and blacks of assuming that the deceased one had gone to heaven, "no matter what had been his

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manner of life," if he had appeared willing to die and if no remarkable incident, such as a storm, had occurred at the time.

           In 1850 a slave funeral occurred in Salisbury which the Carolina Watchman, of June 6, thought would have "staggered the faith" of northern abolitionists. When a Negro woman belonging to Hamilton C. Jones died, the master asked the Reverend M. Ricaud to preach a sermon at the plantation Sunday afternoon, and sent out a notice to that effect. "At the appointed hour," said the Watchman, "the slaves of this Town were seen moving out--not on foot, like beasts of Burden, or like friendless, unrespected human wretches, but like genteel and able folk, in carriages, barouches, buggies, carryalls, on horse back, &c. It is estimated that there were some five hundred in attendance at the funeral. The masters and mistresses of these slaves, had lent their horses and vehicles for the occasion."

EDUCATION AND RELIGION

           Until 1830 the amount of education which a slave might receive was left entirely to the discretion of his master, but the high rate of illiteracy among the whites, even of the planting class, makes it safe to assume that few slaves could read and write. A great number of slaves, no doubt, knew how to count and to "cipher," but the chief education necessary for a plantation slave was a knowledge of the plantation routine. Only the most likely were taught a trade. The ordinary procedure in teaching a slave a profession was to bring him up under the tutelage of a slave craftsman or to apprentice him to a free tradesman. "You spoke at one time of giving me one of those African Boys," wrote John F. Brevard to his father in 1812. "If this is still your intention I would be glad that you would . . . send down Nero or any one that you might think ingenious, and I will immediately bind him to some carpenter or Bricklayer." 74

           Some devout planters thought it their duty to teach their slaves sufficiently to enable them to read the Bible. In 1796 the Synod of the Carolinas passed an order "enjoining upon heads of families . . . teaching the children of slaves to read the Bible." 75

After visiting the Negro Methodists in Wilmington in 1803, most

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of whom were hiring their time of their masters, laboring, and growing "wealthy," Bishop Asbury wrote that he hoped to establish a school for their children. 76

           Most slaves who learned to read and write did so at Sunday schools, although at least one master ordered that his slaves be sent to school. In 1804, when Jehu Whithed of Orange County made his will, he gave instructions that his mulatto slave Fanny "be put to school for the Term of Six months & the expenses thereof be defrayed by my executors." 77

Almost as soon as Sunday schools were organized for white children, religious leaders were at work with slaves. In 1818 Poplar Tent Church in Mecklenburg County was conducting a Sunday school for "the black people," from which "great advantages" had been derived. 78

           The Moravians began their religious work among the Negroes about Salem in 1822, but it was not until 1827 that the Reverend Abraham Steiner established a Sunday school for them. Two years later, with the assistance of several white teachers of Salem, the Reverend Mr. Steiner was teaching about forty slaves every Sunday. Twelve "now can read fluently in the Testament," said the pastor; "the rest are more or less advancing in spelling. As an encouragement, the readers have been presented with a Bible, or Testament, accompanied with some tracts. Some coloured persons are now employed to assist in teaching." 79

           As early as 1800 a bill arose in the General Assembly "to prevent all persons from teaching slaves to read or write." 80

In 1818 a legislator from Wilmington asked for a similar law, and in December, 1827, a resolution on this subject reached the Committee on the Judiciary. John M. Morehead reported for the committee: ". . . if the education of Slaves be unpolitic the instances of educating them are so few, that little inconvenience or danger is to be apprehended from it at this time. And your Committee must be impressed with a strong conviction, that the public welfare absolutely required such restraint before they would recommend legislative interference to keep unfortunate human beings in a state of utter ignorance and to deprive them of an opportunity of reading

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that Word on which the hopes of the world depend." 81 Such an occasion did arise three years later when the State was alarmed over finding abolition literature in circulation among the Negroes. The law of 1830 made the teaching of slaves to read or write, the use of figures excepted, an indictable offense. The law also forbade slaves to teach one another and forbade anyone's giving or selling books or pamphlets to slaves upon pain of punishment or fine of from $100 to $200. 82 The law had infinite possibilities of evasion. If a master chose to instruct his slaves, it was difficult to prevent his doing so. In the North Carolina Presbyterian of February 12, 1859, a correspondent "commended to our Legislature, now in session, the propriety of repealing our statute on that subject," except as to the prohibition against slaves' learning to write "on the ground that, if a radical southern journal, such as De Bow's Review, should advocate the education of slaves, the Legislature of North Carolina ought not to prohibit it." 83

           Masters had come by the ante-bellum period to regard religious instruction as one of the duties which they owed their black people. 84

Many slaves had been converted during the Great Revival at the opening of the century, and many masters had come more closely under the influence of religion. The missionary work among the Negroes, upon which the churches placed more and more emphasis as the period advanced, came to make of slavery almost a holy cause in the eyes of the South. 85 "Everybody who believes in religion at all, admits that it is the duty of Christians to give religious instruction to the slave population of the Southern States," wrote the North Carolina Christian Advocate of December 15, 1859. "To deny the safety and propriety of preaching the Gospel to the negroes, is either to abandon Christianity, or to admit that slavery is condemned by it."

           Most of the churches had special catechisms for the use of slaves. In 1787 Henry Pattillo, pastor of the Hawfields Presbyterian Church, published in Fayetteville The Plain Planter's Family Assistant which contained "The Negroes Catechism." Pattillo's catechism taught a strange doctrine of racial equality and submission



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In answer to the question, "Do you think white folks and negroes all come from one father?" he had his black pupils give an affirmative reply, "Because, except the black skin, and the curled head, their bodies, I believe, are just alike, within and without." Pattillo pressed the point still further, "Do they show their relation any other way?" ". . . we all seem to think alike," was the reply. ". . . The same sins that one loves, the other loves too. The one talks and lives as wickedly as the other. It is as hard for one to turn to God, as for the other: and when they get God's grace, it works the same way upon both." But Pattillo also taught the slave how he should behave toward his master: "honest, diligent and faithful in all things, and not to give saucy answers; and even when they are whipped for doing well, to take it patiently, and look to God for their reward." 86

           Charles C. Jones' Catechism . . . for the Oral Instruction of Coloured Persons, which the Presbyterian Church recommended to North Carolina planters and missionaries in the late ante-bellum period, emphasized obedience, patience, and fidelity, and warned against lying, stealing, and running away. 87

           After planters had overcome their fear that the baptism of a slave automatically set him free, they were willing, for the most part, to give the slave church fellowship. In 1766 the Reverend John Barnett, minister of St. Philip's Parish, was shocked to find that the Separate Baptists permitted Negroes to speak in their prayer services. 88

The Baptists also gave slave members letters of dismission just as they did white members whenever they moved out of the bounds of the church, 89 and at least one Baptist church, Linville Creek in Western Virginia, permitted slaves to sit with the whites on days of business when cases of discipline arose. 90 The Kehukee Association in North Carolina also thought that slaves should be allowed some liberty of conscience. In answer to the query as to what a master should do when his slave refused to attend family prayers, the Association advised: "We think it is the duty of every master of a family to give his slaves liberty to attend the worship of God in his family; and likewise it is his duty

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to exhort them to it, and endeavor to convince them of their duty; and then leave them to their choice." 91

           It has already been pointed out that the Methodists were persecuted in North Carolina during the early days of the church because they made a deliberate effort to preach to Negroes. 92

James Jenkins, a circuit rider in the Eastern Carolinas, was often forbidden to administer the sacrament to slaves, and on one occasion he was run out of the church building because he insisted upon doing so. 93 Bishop Asbury spoke of Carolina masters who would not let their slaves hear the Methodists speak and of congregations that would not permit slaves to enter the church. After preaching in 1802 at a church on New River, he wrote, "It was not agreeable to me to see nearly a hundred slaves standing outside and peeping in at the door, whilst the house was half empty: they were not worthy to come in because they were black!" 94 But the Bishop also found entire congregations of Negro Methodists in North Carolina. In 1802 "the African Methodists" were about to build a place of worship in New Bern. In 1803, after visiting "the people of colour, leaders and stewards," of Wilmington, he wrote, "We have about eight hundred and seventy-eight Africans, and a few whites in fellowship." 95 He also mentioned African meeting houses at Fayetteville and near Edenton. 96 Later Raleigh also had an African congregation.

           Most of these African Methodist churches maintained their identity throughout the ante-bellum period, and the Conference regularly appointed white ministers to serve them. 97

The Reverend Joseph Travis, who was minister of the Negro congregation in Wilmington, thought that the society had "as much prudence, discretion, and Bible godliness as you may find in any place whatever. . . . I made it a point to guard them against fanatical expressions, or wild, enthusiastic gestures. On one occasion, I took a summary process with a certain black woman, who, in their love-feast, with many extravagant gestures, cried out that she was 'young King Jesus.' I bade her take her seat and then publicly read her out of membership, stating that we would not have such wild fanatics among us, meantime letting them all know that such

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expressions were even blasphemous. Poor Aunt Katy felt it deeply, repented, and in an month I took her back again." 98

           In 1859 it was "mooted on the streets . . . as to whether the African churches under the care of the North Carolina Conference ought not to be suppressed, and the colored congregations be allowed to worship only in the same churches with the white people." The North Carolina Christian Advocate made a strong appeal for the Negro churches on the ground that the type of preaching which appealed to slaves would be distasteful to whites and that there was not sufficient room in the white churches to accommodate the Negroes. 99

           The Methodists also maintained African missions in the State, located in sections where the Negro population was greatest. In 1844 there were three such missions, Neuse, Dan River, and Roanoke; in 1856 there were four, Cape Fear, Beaufort, Bladen, and Halifax. 100

The missionaries worked with the plantation Negroes, organizing them into classes, appointing class leaders from among them, conducting Sunday schools and prayer meetings for them.

           The Presbyterian, Lutheran, Moravian, and Episcopal churches also made a serious effort to give religious instruction to the slaves belonging to their communicants, but they were not as aggressive in Christianizing the Negroes as were the Baptists and Methodists. It has already been pointed out that the Moravians built a church for the Negroes in Salem in 1823. The other denominations usually built galleries in their churches for the use of the Negroes and accepted them into church membership along with their masters. In 1814, for example, the Lutheran Synod resolved, "That it is our duty to preach the Gospel to the negroes, and after proper instruction to admit them to all the means of Grace of the Church, and for this purpose to make room for them in our Churches." 101

In 1821 the Presbyterian Synod of North Carolina reported, "We are happy to learn, from the report of our congregations, that the people of color have not been neglected. An attention to their religious interests is evidently increasing throughout our bounds. Many additions, among this class of people, have been made to our churches during the past year; many sabbath schools have been

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established for their religious instruction, and many private exertions are making in families for their salvation." 102

           Most of the Episcopal ministers devoted a part of their time to missionary work among the Negroes. In 1823, the Reverend W. M. Green of Williamsboro wrote, "I have generally devoted the afternoon of Sundays to the instruction of the blacks." In New Bern the pastor gave over the Sunday evening service "to lectures on the scriptures and catechetical instruction for the benefit of the coloured people." At Salem Chapel the slaves had "instruction adapted to their capacity" on Saturday afternoons once or twice a month. 103

In 1832 the Committee on the State of the Church rejoiced at "the unusual accession of our coloured brethren to our Communion," adding by way of explanation, "This class of the community has hitherto withheld itself from our Churches, and preferred other teachers." 104

           The first African Episcopal congregation in North Carolina was organized in Fayetteville in 1832 under the supervision of the rector of the white congregation. There were 220 in the congregation, and they used a "suitable modification of the Liturgy." 105

In 1833 Bishop Ives mentioned visiting the Negro congregation in New Bern, which he found in a "flourishing condition," and he attended the newly organized colored congregations in Washington and Wilmington. In Wilmington the average attendance was about 300. 106 Later Raleigh had a Negro congregation, and at various times there were slave congregations at Pittsboro, Wadesboro, and Elizabeth City.

           Many masters felt, as did a correspondent of the North Carolina Presbyterian, that, next to their children, their servants had "the highest claims upon their benevolent feelings." 107

Some masters insisted that their slaves attend family prayers once a day; some built churches for the exclusive use of the plantation, and black and white worshiped together as one family. In 1827 Judge Cameron erected a chapel, "a neat and pleasant place of worship," on his plantation between Hillsboro and Roxboro. That year the Bishop baptized twenty-six, only one of whom was a white child. 108



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           Prior to 1836 Josiah Collins, Jr., erected a chapel on his plantation at Phelps Lake, and, later joined by Ebenezer Pettigrew whose plantation lay near by, he made a serious effort to give his slaves religious instruction. "The slaves had long been in habits of great irregularity on the Lord's Day," wrote Bishop Ives, in describing the work done at Phelps Lake; "of wandering from one place of worship to another." The Phelps Lake Negroes had for a number of years been Methodists. They tended to "carry themselves proudly towards their masters," who were Episcopalians, as if they regarded them "in great ignorance of religion." Collins was quick to realize the significance of a family divided against itself. He built a chapel and employed an Episcopal missionary, E. M. Forbes. After three years of patient work, the missionary won the slaves to their master's faith. "So great is the change already," wrote the Bishop, "that I was assured, the voluntary increase of labour and the diminished necessity for discipline, would amply compensate a much greater effort in their behalf." 109

           The Phelps Lake Negroes had careful instruction in the catechism, the responses in the services, and in the Biblical narrative. Bishop Ives himself prepared a catechism for their special use. "A young lady of the family" taught the children between the ages of five and twelve and the Reverend Mr. Forbes instructed the adults. In the absence of the missionary, the master read the service. The missionary also performed the marriage ceremony for slave couples, christened their infants, and pronounced the benediction over them when they died.

           In 1857 the Reverend George Patterson was the missionary on the Collins and Pettigrew plantations. He conducted a daily morning and evening prayer. The Collins family, the Negro children, and the servants not employed in the fields attended the morning service. The night service was for the Collins field hands and all of the Pettigrew servants. Patterson also conducted a day school for the children, about a hundred in all, giving them instruction in the catechism. On Sunday the Collins family supervised the Sunday school which was attended by the children from the day school and about 126 of the older servants. 110

           Negroes had not long been instructed in the Christian religion



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until there arose among them a few religious leaders of their own. The white preachers, especially the Methodists, more or less encouraged this tendency, believing that a leader of their own color might have a greater influence with them. The first to introduce Methodism in Fayetteville, for instance, was Henry Evans, a free Negro shoemaker and preacher. 111 The Reverend Joseph Travis, a Methodist minister of Wilmington, mentions a certain Roger Hazel whom he always used as his church clerk. Hazel, he said, "was a black man of uncommon mind, and of praying and exhorting talents that would have done credit to many a white man, though a Latin or Greek scholar; yet he was humble, teachable, and every way pleasant and agreeable." 112 James Jenkins, however, a circuit rider in the Carolinas, did not think highly of Negro preachers. "I have generally found," he said, "that these people cannot bear promotion: like too many white people they become proud." 113 In 1831 there were four licensed Negro exhorters and one licensed preacher on the Stokes Circuit. 114

           The Baptists and Presbyterians also licensed Negro preachers. Wheeley's Baptist Church near Prospect Hill had considerable trouble for five or six years with Squire, a slave who insisted upon preaching before he had obtained a license. The church excommunicated him twice prior to 1829 when a conference took his case up and, "after a good deal of conversation on the Subject," admitted him again into membership. But he was not to preach; he could merely "sing and pray in a private way." In 1830 the church stopped another slave, Shaderack, from preaching without license, and in 1831 excommunicated Squire, this time for "getting drunk, fornication, and all manner of wickedness." 115

           As early as 1800 a bill arose in the General Assembly to "regulate the divine worship" of slaves. The bill, had it passed, would have confined divine worship to those occasions when the owner of the plantation was present. 116

In 1824 a similar bill arose and another in 1825, after a conspiracy in Edgecombe County was thought to have been planned at "pretended religious meetings." 117

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In 1827 a complaint arose in Eastern North Carolina against a Negro preacher who was advocating abolition doctrines, and in 1830 abolition literature was discovered in the hands of free Negroes. In 1831 "a very intelligent Negro Preacher named David" was involved in the plot of insurrection among the Negroes of Sampson, Duplin, and New Hanover counties. 118 In that year the Legislature, after having considered a more drastic bill, passed a measure to prevent a slave or a free Negro from preaching or exhorting in public, "or in any manner to officiate as a preacher or teacher in any prayer meeting, or other association for worship, where slaves of different families are collected together" upon pain of receiving thirty-nine lashes on his bare back. 119 This law, together with the one against educating slaves, was thought to be a sufficient safeguard against the abolitionists.

RECREATION

           The life of the slave was hedged about by law and by public opinion, but it is incorrect to assume that he had no leisure. He had to spend his leisure, however, to a large extent upon his own plantation, for the whites jealously watched the slave's mobility. An act of 1715 made it unlawful for a slave to leave his master's premises without a certificate in writing from his master or overseer, but many communities were lax in the enforcement of the law, and it was a general custom among masters to give an orderly slave a pass whenever he asked for it. It took a threat of insurrection or the rumble of abolition to persuade a master to make a daily check on his slaves after nightfall, for the master was reasonably sure that most of his Negroes were unwilling to incur his displeasure by leaving the plantation without permission. 120

           It was generally customary to give slaves considerable freedom on Saturday afternoons, Sundays, and on general holidays, such as the Fourth of July and Christmas. The old custom in the South of a lady's keeping off the streets on Saturday afternoon 121

arose from the presence of great numbers of slaves in town at that

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time. In the villages, the local authorities frequently made efforts to clear the streets of Negroes on Sundays, but, after a short period of vigilance, they would become indulgent again and the slaves were always quick to take advantage of the laxity.

           In 1797 the commissioners of Fayetteville directed the town constables to flog to the extent of fifteen lashes "negroes, that shall make a noise or assemble in a riotous manner in any of the streets on the Sabbath day; or that may be seen playing ball on that day." 122

In 1816 a group of "honest Artisans, Mechanics, and Laborers" of New Bern, "by far the largest portion of white citizens" in the town, complained to the Legislature of the "intemperance and disorder" which the local slaves "exhibited . . . in our Streets every Sabbath." 123 In Edenton at one time the streets were so crowded with slaves on Sunday that the "fair sex" found it difficult to walk without being jostled. 124 In 1854 the Supreme Court upheld the commissioners of Washington in arresting two slaves, Frank and John, for scuffling and laughing boisterously on the main street on Sunday when ordered to be quiet. "Slaves compose so large a portion of the population of our towns and villages," said Chief Justice Nash, "that, in passing rules and regulations for their government, much must be left to the judgment and discretion of those who are to enforce them." 125

           A muster, an election, or a political gathering was often as exciting an occasion to the local slaves as to their masters. In 1831 a slaveowner, after having attended a general muster where he noticed several intoxicated slaves lounging about "where spirits appeared to circulate freely," resolved that no servant of his should be seen on the grounds "until the practice of treating on such occasions is entirely done away." 126

At various times legislators attempted to obtain laws to restrict the movement of slaves on special occasions, but the General Assembly consistently refused to interfere with the rights of the master and of the local communities in this respect. In 1809, for instance, Christopher Dudley of Onslow County presented a bill to prevent the meeting of

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Negroes on Sundays and at night. 127 In 1818 a petition came to the Legislature from Iredell declaring "that evils have arisen . . . from the many negroes who are permitted to attend at military parades." 128 In 1822 Matthew Baine of Mecklenburg wanted a law to prevent slaves' attending general musters and elections, and in 1860 a legislator proposed to fine masters $100 if they gave their slaves permission to attend political meetings. 129

           Christmas was the holiday which the slaves enjoyed most, for it was a general custom to give the hands a rest from the labors of the field for three or four days or even from Christmas until New Year's Day or until "Old Christmas." Masters were usually liberal in issuing passes at this time, and the slaves made little journeys to town and to near-by plantations, visiting relatives or former masters. The slave usually had more money at this time than at any other during the year, for, no matter how straitened or how penurious, the master seldom failed to distribute money 130

as well as presents on Christmas morning while the slaves gathered about happily shouting "Chris'mus gif'!" The presents were usually gay headcloths for the women and "hands of tobacco" for the men, barbecued pork, molasses, and weak liquor. On a South Carolina plantation which Captain Basil Hall visited in 1828 the slaves had three days at Christmas, "when they have plenty of beef and whisky." At the end of the holiday, they were often "completely done up with eating, drinking, and dancing." 131

           One of the diversions of the slaves on Christmas Day was called "John Canoeing" in Edenton and "John Kunering" in Wilmington. The Negroes arose early Christmas morning, singing their John Canoe songs and shouting "Chris'mus gif' " at their masters' doors. With liquor on their breaths and money in their pockets, they spent the day in one long jubilee. In 1824 Dr. James Norcom explained the custom as practiced in Edenton:

           In Wilmington the "Kuners" danced through the streets to the rhythmic chant of

With the rattling of bones, the blowing of cows' horns, and the tinkling of tambourines, the singing slaves, grotesque in their "Kuner" costumes, would halt wherever an appreciative crowd gathered. Strips of bright colored cloth which had been sewn to their usual garments fluttered gayly as the Kuners danced. They wore masks, some with horns, beards, staring eyes, enormous noses, and grinning mouths. All were men, but some were disguised as women. After a few songs, one of the dancers would approach the spectators with his hat extended and collect the pennies which were the Kuners' reward. Shouting again their chant, they were off again in search of another crowd and more pennies. This custom seems to have died out in North Carolina in the eighties, but it is still a part of the Christmas celebration of the Negroes of the Bahamas and Jamaica. 134 There the custom is known as John Canoeing as it was in Edenton.



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           Christmas was not the only time that slaves danced and frolicked. Many masters habitually gave corn huskings for the neighborhood slaves as a reward to their own hands for work well done during the planting season, and they were careful to provide bountifully of barbecue, whisky, and brandy. After the corn had been shucked and the food cleared, dancing would begin to the music of the fiddle and banjo. In almost any gathering of slaves, at least one could be found with a musical instrument. Sometimes a master, in advertising a slave, would mention his musical ability, as, for example, Thomas Hudson of Halifax County, who said of his slave Ben, "He plays the fiddle very well and formerly played for a black dancing master by the name of Hardy Artiss." 135

           By an act of 1794 it was unlawful for a person to permit the slaves of others to dance and drink on his premises without the written permission of their owners, but the law not always was observed rigidly and the Negroes, both slave and free, sometimes danced to the music of a banjo until a late hour. In 1822, for instance, a correspondent of the Raleigh Register complained of the house of a certain free Negro where slaves danced and frolicked without restriction. 136

Many a Negro was willing to walk five or six miles after a day of hard work for the pleasure of a "drap to drink" and the privilege of flinging head, hands, and legs about in a manner which threatened dislocation. At such a dance, the laughing, jumping, dancing, and singing of favorite ditties, such as, "Virginny Nigger Berry Good" and "I Lost My Shoe in an Old Canoe," might continue far into the night.

           Jacob Boyce, a planter of Perquimans County, always permitted his slaves to dance on holidays or at log-rollings and quiltings. Sometimes they made so much noise, so the patrol claimed, that they could be heard three-quarters of a mile away. The Negroes danced in their quarters and occasionally Boyce would call them in to dance for the amusement of his visitors and the children. On one such occasion, the patrol, angered by the noise, burst open the door of Boyce's residence, began tying the Negroes, and, despite a fight with Boyce's son-in-law, they whipped fourteen of the slaves, and brought suit against Boyce for keeping a disorderly house. Chief Justice Ruffin, in reviewing the case when



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it came to the Supreme Court, rebuked the patrol: "It would really be a source of regret," he said, "if, contrary to common custom, it were denied to slaves, in the intervals between their toils, to indulge in mirthful pastimes, or if it were unlawful for the master to permit them among his slaves, or to admit to the social enjoyment the slaves of others, by their consent." The keepers of the law should expect a Negro dance to be accompanied with "hearty and boisterous gladsomeness and loud laughs." "If slaves would do nothing tending more to the corruption of their morals or to the annoyance of the whites than seeking the exhilaration of their simple music and romping dances," said the Judge, "they might be set down as an innocent and happy class. We may let them make the most of their idle hours, and may well make allowances for the noisy outpourings of glad hearts, which Providence bestows as a blessing on corporeal vigor united to a vacant mind." 137

           Slaves also "pleasured" themselves with hunting and fishing, although the law carefully limited the Negro's equipment on such occasions. Until 1831 a master could obtain a license for one of his men to carry a gun to provide the plantation with game or to kill the crows and other birds which harmed the growing crops. In 1831, however, it was made unlawful for any slave to be in possession of a "gun, sword, club, or other weapon" or to hunt or range with a gun in the woods upon pain of receiving twenty lashes. The law also required the master of an offending slave to pay a fine. 138

The Legislature went a step further by making it illegal to sell or deliver firearms, powder, shot, or lead to a slave. 139

           What the Negro lacked in weapons for the hunt he made up in the number of dogs he took with him. Throughout the antebellum period a constant complaint went up over the dogs belonging to the Negro population. "Show me a Negro," said one man, "and I will show you a pack of half-starved dogs sniffing at his heels." Stock raisers complained that it was impossible to raise sheep until the State was cleared of the slaves' dogs. 140

In 1809 the grand jury of Halifax County presented the Negroes'

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dogs as a nuisance, and the editor of the Edenton Gazette of March 9, 1809, urged the grand jury of his county to do likewise. In the same year a "Citizen of Halifax" asked that a law be passed inflicting corporal punishment upon all Negroes found hunting at night. "The evil is great and calls for redress," he said, "for some careless men, who have large families of Negroes, have between twenty and thirty Dogs on their Plantations of no real use, but serve to ruin the constitution of the Slaves, by hunting when they ought to [be] asleep." 141

           The slave was as skilful at fishing as he was at hunting, so skilful, in fact, that the whites complained that the Negroes monopolized all the good fishing holes and that they sold their fish in competition with white fishermen. They angled lazily with hook and worm on a shady bank on Saturday afternoons in early spring and autumn or they set fish traps and collected about them on Saturday nights to shoot craps and sing. In 1831 fifty-six petitioners, living upon Neuse River and the adjacent creeks above the town of New Bern, asked the Legislature for a law to prevent slaves' fishing unless accompanied by a white person. The petitioners declared themselves to be much injured "both in their avocations, and in the management of their farms and negroes, by the large gangs of slaves, who come up from the Town of New Bern and the neighbourhood thereof, in boats, with passes from their owners or those having controul of them, to sell, buy, traffick, and fish." 142

Despite the petition from Craven County, the slaves of North Carolina continued to enjoy "indiscriminate permission . . . to fish at large upon the waters of the State" throughout the ante-bellum period.

           Some newspaper correspondents thought that the slaves were as fond of gambling and drinking as they were of hunting and fishing. In 1812 the editor of the Edenton Gazette pointed out a certain house in the village, "frequented by Negroes who are in the nightly practice of assembling there to gamble and drink." 143



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There was no specific law in the early ante-bellum period aimed at Negroes' gambling, although occasionally there were arrests for this offense, as, for instance, in Halifax County in 1814 when three white men were indicted for playing cards on Sunday with slaves. 144 In 1829, however, the Supreme Court handed down the decision that "it is not an offense either at common law or by statute to gamble with a slave." 145 The following year the Legislature prohibited slaves from playing "at any game of cards, dice, nine-pins, or any game of hazard or chance, for any money, liquor, or any kind of property, whether the same be staked or not" upon pain of receiving thirty-nine lashes. 146 The same act made it unlawful for free Negroes to gamble with slaves or to permit slaves to gamble at their houses. An act of 1838 attempted to strengthen the law by punishing a white man for gambling with a slave, but gambling continued nevertheless. The rapidity with which all signs of crap shooting might be effaced made arrests infrequent, and, in case of an arrest, the difficulty of proving that betting took place made the convictions few. 147

           On a Saturday night in 1840 two white boys of Person County, Thomas Chatham, eighteen or nineteen, and John Brooks, fourteen, went to a fish trap in the neighborhood where several slaves were collected and remained there until two or three hours before day. Two of the Negroes, Jarrott and Hughes, were playing cards, placing their bets upon a handkerchief spread over the ground for the purpose. A difference arose between them and they called on the older white boy to keep the game for them, which he did for some time when the Negroes quarreled again and Hughes refused to play longer. Jarrott had up a 12½ cent coin which fell among the leaves when he jerked up the handkerchief at the close of the game. Failing to find the coin, he said that "he saw his nine pence walk into a white man's pocket, and that any white man who would steal a negro's money was not too good to unbutton a sheep's collar" and that Chatham had been "raised and lived on stolen sheep." In the quarrel and scuffle which followed, the slave killed the white boy. 148



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           The law attempted to protect the rights of the master and to maintain temperance among the slave population by making it unlawful to sell a slave intoxicating liquors. In 1798 the Legislature declared that an ordinary keeper or retailer of liquor by the small measure who entertained slaves against the will of their owners should forfeit his license. 149

In 1818 the Legislature prohibited slaves from selling liquor upon pain of receiving thirty-nine lashes, and in various acts passed prior to 1833 made it illegal for anyone to sell an intoxicant to a slave under any condition whatever. 150

           Nevertheless, slaves were not without their liquor, for, as Dr. James Norcom explained in connection with the John Canoe custom, "drunkenness was too common" on holidays and was "habitually overlooked and never punished" unless "grossly offensive." In 1837 the editor of the North Carolina Standard thought it much better for the Negroes of Raleigh "to throw their money into the Church, than into the grog shops" as they were accustomed to do. 151

In 1838 more than one hundred citizens of Robeson County petitioned the Legislature for a law to prevent free Negroes from selling liquor. As soon as a free Negro had more than enough money to supply his immediate wants he invested it in a keg of whisky or a jug of brandy and traded it to slaves for stolen goods. The petitioners were hopeful that "in process of time" the white population would "totally abolish" the use of liquor, but they thought that only "rigid enactments" would cause the Negroes to give it up, for with them, "public sentiment runs with the most extravagant use of it, and . . . they are usually destitute of moral sense & character." 152 Twenty years later fifty-eight citizens of Onslow County offered a similar petition to the Legislature. Free Negroes induced slaves to enter their masters' barns, and they paid for the loot in whisky. "This the poor slave imbibes until he becomes intoxicated, when he is ready for a general fight, or any species of rascality." 153 When Robert Russell, a British agriculturist, was in Wilmington in the fifties, an

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acquaintance pointed out several fine houses and assured him that the owners of them had made their fortunes by selling "three-cent drinks" to the Negroes "on the wink." 154 Nevertheless, it is doubtful that "the poor slave" as a class drank heavily. If slaves became drunk on holidays, they were only following the example of a great many of their white brethren. 155

           The holiday which saw the greatest amount of drinking among the slaves was Christmas, for it was at this time that they enjoyed the greatest amount of freedom. The slave also had his Saturday afternoon and Sunday, his celebration at the laying by of crops, and his corn husking frolic. He might sing and dance, hunt with dogs, and fish on his master's land, but the law otherwise jealously guarded the slave's mobility. The master found it to his advantage to make the slave as nearly like him as possible. He encouraged a monogamous family life and provided a family house with its patch of ground, but the slave system itself placed the Negro family life upon a matriarchal rather than a patriarchal basis. The master sought to stimulate the slave's self-interest by encouraging him to earn a little money of his own, but here again the law closely hedged the practice. Before 1830 a few masters educated a few slaves, and all joined in the effort to convert the Negro to Christianity. The nearer the process of acculturation brought the Negro to the standards of the whites, the more repugnant slavery became to those few in North Carolina who doubted its humaneness.

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