Cover image for Born in bondage : growing up enslaved in the antebellum South
Born in bondage : growing up enslaved in the antebellum South
Schwartz, Marie Jenkins, 1946-
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
ix, 272 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E443 .S39 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



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.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Historian Schwartz focuses on the parent-child bond in this nuanced study of the pressures that slavery placed on families and how parents and children responded. Three regions--"central Virginia, central Alabama, and . . . coastal South Carolina and Georgia" --are studied; this allows Schwartz to compare the impact of factors such as geography, major crop, and size of holding, though by 1860 between 38 and 46 percent of slaves in all three regions were children under 15. Schwartz organizes her analysis around the slave child's life cycle, from birth to adulthood. At each stage, parents were forced to negotiate with their owners to protect their children. Sometimes the slaveholders' paternalistic rhetoric helped parents in this process; at other times, slave parents resisted the loss of parental authority such paternalism represented. "The majority of slaves learned while growing up to demonstrate compliance with their owner's directives through outward appearance and work habits without internalizing the owner's understanding of class and race"; in the end, this is the hallmark of the parents' victory. --Mary Carroll

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Using Eugene Genovese's concept of slave-owner paternalism, Schwartz analyzes systematically the contested nature of slave childhood arising from the different interests of slaveholders and slave parents. In this important book she demonstrates convincingly that although slaveholders were powerful, slave parents often objected, sometimes successfully, to slaveholders' meddling in the way they raised their children. Moreover, she reveals that the struggle to control slave children's lives became more complicated when they reached adolescence and asserted themselves, to the dismay of both masters and parents. Schwartz carefully discusses slave childhood after infancy in developmental stages: being able to obey and serve; becoming capable of performing labor of various types; growing vulnerability to sale and sexual exploitation; maturing into marriage and parenting. She is particularly insightful at describing 19th-century African American child-rearing practices and the relationships between slave children and their parents. Her book offers an alternative interpretation of slave childhood, contrasting with that found in Wilma King's Stolen Childhood: Slave Youth in Nineteenth-Century America (CH, Apr'96). Schwartz makes several major contributions to scholarly understanding of the history of antebellum slavery, the slave family, and childhood. Recommended highly for all libraries. E. W. Carp; Pacific Lutheran University

Table of Contents

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